The stealthiest of Mexican beers, Modelo may be the lesser known in a lineup of beach beers served with lime, but its relative anonymity hasn’t stopped it from becoming the fastest-growing beer in the United States.
With origins in the 1920s, Modelo was first brewed alongside fellow local beer Corona at the Mexico City brewery Cervecería Modelo in 1925. For decades, these two beers dominated Mexican beer culture before eventually making their way to the U.S. In 1990, Modelo Especial introduced American beer drinkers to a different kind of Mexican beer: a full-flavored lager rich with a smooth taste and crisp finish.
Modelo stayed under the radar until it quietly became the top-selling imported beer in America. Sure, it’s smaller in stature, but don’t let looks fool you: In that squat little bottle of effortless refreshment is a story with details ranging from an Austrian-born emperor’s political dealings with Napoleon III, to an unlikely boost from American Prohibition.
Here are 12 more things to know before reaching for your next Modelo.
Modelo is ‘Hecho en Mexico.’
In an era where a product can be emblazoned with a brand touting cultural authenticity but be made somewhere entirely unrelated, it’s encouraging to know Modelo is still brewed in Mexico. Although the company has changed ownership in the last several years, the Grupo Modelo headquarters is still in Mexico City, and the breweries producing Modelo beer are all located in the country.
Modelo is almost 100 years old.
Modelo might be the perfect casual and easy-drinking beer, ideal for things like barbecues, game days, and tacos with friends, but it’s actually a venerated elder among beers. Modelo Especial was first brewed in a northwestern part of Mexico City called Tacuba all the way back in October 1925. By Halloween 2022, the brand will have been around for 97 years.
There is more to Modelo’s label than meets the eye.
At first glance of the beers logo it’s easy to note the standing lions that flank both sides of the brand’s name. But there is more meaning to their stance. The lions appear to be guarding the name and are positioned very similar to the lions on Mexico City’s coat of arms. With a closer look at the 2018 version, a signature can be seen just below the Modelo name. And an even closer look will reveal it reads Pablo Diez Fernández who is one of the founders of Cervecería Modelo, and an honorary chairman of Grupo Modelo. It’s safe to say: The lions on the label are there to rep Mexico City.
Modelo is part of a big, boozy family.
Modelo is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev everywhere except the U.S., where it’s owned by the New York-based, world-dominating conglomerate Constellation Brands. Constellation manufactures and distributes a long list of liquor and wine brands, too, including Kim Crawford Wines and Svedka Vodka. The beverages have no actual correlation beyond ownership (unless you decide to test family ties and mix Modelo, Svedka, and a can of Arbor Mist Strawberry Margarita and end up with… probably a stomach ache). Like many family dealings, it’s complicated.
Back up, Bud. Modelo is the official sponsor of the UFC.
Most of us consume Modelo in decidedly non-pugnacious moods — e.g., at barbecues, lounging poolside, hiding from the sun under a schmear of zinc and a beach umbrella. But Modelo isn’t afraid of attaching itself to a little professional violence, as it proved in 2018 when it beat out none other than Bud Light for exclusive sponsorship rights to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Among other things (like money), the sponsorship yielded this uplifting commercial featuring UFC featherweight Brian Ortega and Modelo’s “Fighting Spirit” campaign.
More recently, Modelo came on as “an extremely visible sponsor” of Lucha Underground, “the El Rey network’s outlandish pro-wrestling television series,” writes Ericy Shorey in a 2018 VinePair article. “The ring’s ropes are now Modelo’s colors, fights take place atop conspicuously branded floor mats, and announcers occasionally shout out the brand.” Fans of the show were sharply divided on the mega-brand’s presence.
Modelo has a softer side… sort of.
Since the many fighting and wrestling matches, Modelo’s “Fighting Spirit” campaign has gone on to include other cultural influences, including street art and fashion. In December 2021, Modelo partnered with Dallas-based graffiti artist Tex Moton for a limited-edition line of gear. The connection, of course, is that Modelo is an official partner of the Dallas Mavericks. So much for not fighting.
It’s probably one of the only beers that benefited from Prohibition.
When American Prohibition took hold in 1920, all alcohol disappeared from the U.S. (Kidding!) Consumption of alcohol did decline, as it was illegal to produce or sell, thus difficult to do so safely and proficiently. So, thirsty Americans turned to their neighbors to the south, where beer was still flowing freely. We got our first taste of Mexican beer then and haven’t lost a taste for it since.
Modelo is Mexican beer, but has German roots.
You might recall from history class that Germans were migrating to America in droves in the 1800s, and many stopped in places like Pennsylvania (where, among other things, they basically invented American Christmas). But plenty of immigrants continued west and south to places like Texas and northern Mexico, bringing with them farming techniques, trades, crafts — and brewing habits. By the early 20th century, when Modelo was born, Mexico had around 35 breweries.
We might owe Modelo to an Austrian-born emperor.
At least part of the reason Modelo emerged is thanks to the little-remembered reign of Austrian-born “Emperor of Mexico” Maximilian I. Maximilian, who got into his unlikely position by the regular means (wheeling and dealing with Napoleon III, for example). His reign in Mexico was short-lived — lasting from April 1864 to 1867 — but he did bring with him a pronounced taste for German- and Austrian-style beers, which continued to influence the growing world of Mexican brewing. (Maximilian, FYI, was a fan of Vienna-style dark beers, so he would have gone for Negra Modelo over Especial.)
Negra Modelo makes award-winning chili.
Beer isn’t a stranger to the kitchen, and the dark, subtly spicy, caramel notes of a Negra Modelo make great additions to sweet and savory cooking. In 2014, Modelo partnered up with a celebrity(ish) chef who also had a reasonable claim to Mexican culinary savvy — Rick Bayless, who has a mini culinary empire running out of Chicago. Out of that beautiful partnership we get a host of recipes fusing Mexican flavors and Modelo beer, including this one for Chocolate-Chile Negra Modelo Ice Cream and this award-winning chili recipe that pairs Negra Modelo with beef broth (and dares you not to drink it instead of cooking with it). No, these recipes won’t get you buzzed.
It would fit right in at Oktoberfest.
Modelo Especial is a light, crisp, pilsner-style beer. But its younger sibling, Negra Modelo, is modeled after the super-popular Munich-born dunkel style, made with roasted caramel malts and brewed longer for a slightly richer, dark-brass-colored beer. As far as we know, it’s also the most successful German-Mexican culinary hybrid out there (that is, until schnitzel finds its way into a taco, and we pray it will).
Modelo makes canned beer cocktails, too.
Being an authentic Mexican beer, Modelo also produces a line of Cheladas stemming from the traditional tomato juice and beer cocktail known as a Michelada. There are five variations, each delivering a unique flavor experience. The Chelada Especial features the cocktail’s classic flavors of tomato, salt, and lime, while the Piña Picante flavor, the newest of the lineup, delivers a sweet and spicy flavor.
Modelo has a mini-me.
Modelito has the same clean and crisp taste as Modelo Especial with one tiny difference: its size. Packaged in a 7-ounce bottle that is as Instagram-worthy as it is convenient, Modelitos allow drinkers to enjoy Modelo’s rich taste in moderation. Since its arrival in 2020, these little bottles have become a prevalent novelty at bars but remain an elusive find at liquor stores and bottle shops. While the motive behind the mini-me’s production is unclear, it’s safe to say they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
We just can’t stop drinking it.
Although Modelo has been around since the 1920s, its popularity outside Mexico was not all that great. That is, until June 2013, when Modelo’s selling and marketing rights became exclusive to New York-based beverage conglomerate Constellation Brands. Owing success to Constellation’s distinct regional marketing tactics, Modelo has been the No.1 imported beer in America and a top-five beer brand since 2018. As a matter of fact, in 2020 89,854,860 cases were sold in the U.S alone.