In a landscape where Corona won’t stop it with the beach commercials and Mexican craft beer is growing at a rate of about 50 percent per year, there’s Modelo, a beer with surprising staying power for all its squat-bottle modesty.
Modelo is the second most popular imported beer in the U.S. And all the brewery had to do was invent two styles (they make Cheladas, but we’re still mainly hot for Especial and Negra). But don’t let looks fool you: In that squat little bottle of effortlessly pleasant suds are influences ranging from political dealings with Napoleon III to American Prohibition.
Here are 12 things you need to know before cracking your next Modelo.
It’s all 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.
It’s part of a big booze family.
As noted in this Corona article, Modelo is owned by a large, New York-based conglomerate called Constellation Brands, making it economic step-cousins with brands like apparent competitor Corona, not to mention Ruffino Prosecco, Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, Arbor Mist, and Svedka. 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.)
The lions on the label are there for pride.
Considering it’s made by one of the two largest brewing companies in Mexico (Grupo Modelo and Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma), Modelo represents a mini-empire of sorts. No shock then the label features two lions standing guard in a stance very similar to the lions on Mexico City’s own coat of arms.
We owe Modelo (in part) to an Austrian Emperor.
Speaking of empire, 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 (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.)
It’s 95 years young.
Modelo might seem like a casual, easy-drinking beer, ideal for things like barbecues and beer pong, 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 2020, the brand will have been around for 95 years.
The brand benefited greatly from Prohibition.
Once American Prohibition took hold in 1920, all consumption of alcoholic beverages radically ceased in the U.S. (kidding!). Consumption of alcohol did decline, as it was tough to produce it 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.
We love it so much we drink an ungodly amount of it.
Modelo is the second most imported beer in the U.S. In 2018, we drank almost 64 million cases of the stuff. And even though Modelo came second to Corona in total consumption, Corona only had a 9 percent growth in sales from the previous year while Modelo consumption rose by 15 percent from 2017 to 2018. Both Corona and Modelo (and all Mexican beer) outpaced other countries in imported beer in 2018 and 2019.
It’s Mexican beer with German/Austrian 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.
Your Negra Modelo 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).
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.
It makes decent ice cream (that won’t get you buzzed).
Beer isn’t a stranger to the kitchen, and especially the dark, subtly spicy, caramelly notes of a Negra Modelo seem made for the kitchen. In 2014, Modelo had the wise idea of partnering up with a celebrity(ish) chef who also had a reasonable claim to Mexican culinary savvy — Rick Bayless, who has a mini-Mexican 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).
You should treat bottles of Modelo like little vampires.
As in, keep them out of the sun. Modelo comes in that uniquely shaped squat bottle, which is fun, but the glass is clear, which is less fun if you want to avoid your beer getting skunked. Since UV rays in sunlight are the main cause of skunking — which happens much faster than people tend to think — you can either store your Modelo in the fridge or small nearby cave — or simply avert the problem by consuming it quickly.