You can blame my bias on the inner Texan and a predilection for anything spicy or beer-related, but contrary to many opinions, one of the best – and possibly most underrated – cocktails known to man is Mexico’s michelada. Ironically enough, the first time I enjoyed the drink’s fiery kick a few years ago was not in my home state of Texas, but around 2000 miles northeast in New York.
After a tossing back a number of beers with friends in Brooklyn earlier one night, I began craving something bizarrely different at the last stop that still adhered to the night’s beer-driven theme. “I’ll see what I can do,” the barkeep told me with a smirk. Lining a glass rim with salt, the cocktail aficionado proceeded to horrify my group by filling the bottom with reddish spices while dumping in a hefty amount of ice and half a can each of Tecate and tomato juice. The end result, garnished with a lime, looked like something Dracula might drink for breakfast, but damn that blend of tangy-spicy-savory flavors was good.
While many people like myself will agree that micheladas are delicious, they often argue over how the name actually came about. Some claim that it was Don Augusto Michel, a general in the Mexican Revolution in 1910 from San Luís Potosí that gave the drink its name by enjoying his beer with salt, hot sauce, and other condiments; some say it was Michel Ésper, also from San Luís Potosí, who liked his beer with the different fix-ins; others don’t really bother with this history and just go with a linguistic theory on how the drink got its name. “Michelada is a truncated slang word,” Alex Stupak, the chef at New York’s taqueria and michelada-heavy bar Empellón Al Pastor, explained to me. “It comes from three words: mi, chela, helada. Chela is a slang word for beer. So, [it means] ‘my cold beer.’”
Just like determining the origin of the cerveza preparada, pinning down the michelada’s rise in popularity in the United States is no easy task. It’s likely that the drink first found its stateside home along the West Coast or the Southernwestern states which have a strong Mexican culinary scene, but slowly the beverage enjoyed niche pockets of stardom across the country thanks to the Internet and various food blogs posting michelada recipes in the early 2000s. Budweiser and Miller even hopped on the chelada trend to give those too lazy to head down for an extra corner store run a pre-mixed can version (trust me though, when I say fresher is better). Nowadays, you can find the beverage beyond local taqueria joints, most prominently seen on brunch menus battling it out with the Bloody Mary as the choice hangover remedy.
After sampling various micheladas, it becomes apparent that no two recipes are exactly alike—a fact that allows for a lot of interpretation. “A michelada is nothing but beer, salt, ice, and lime.” Stupak explained to me. “We simply broke down [the michelada flavor-profile] components and started to build them up with different ingredients.” The menu at Al Pastor offers micheladas similar to the more “traditional” versions described above that you’ll find in Mexico (the Oaxaca region in particular features micheladas with more spicy components), but there are also the unconventional rockstars. Al Pastor’s Emoticon, a mix of aromatic Yuzu (a super citrus fruit) and savory white miso, a seasoning responsible for your addiction to ramen’s umami-loaded kick, is a crowd pleaser that doesn’t stray too far from Mexico’s traditional recipe. The Thai-inspired Green Beer “Bia Sii Khiaw,” on the other hand, attracts more adventurous drinkers with its green sludge-ish appearance and herbal, earthy notes from its inclusion of naam jim (Thai sweet chili dipping sauce). “Even though there’s nothing Mexican about [those] drink[s], [each is] still a michelada in terms of technique and discipline.”
Before you start prepping your own fiery rendition of the michelada at home, get started with a simple recipe such as the one listed below, courtesy of Empellón Al Pastor. From there, the various combinations of ingredients and flavors are endless.
Simple Michelada Recipe
via Empellón Al Pastor
-Rim a frozen beer glass with salt and add:
- 3/4 oz of Fresh Lime Juice
- 1/2 oz of Valentina hot sauce
- 1 Drop of Agave Nectar
Fill glass halfway with ice.
Top with your favorite light-style lager (they recommend Mexicali, Modelo Especial, or Tecate) and stir gently.