A Brief History of Mexican Lager

By John Moorhead

Taco lovers, guac-makers, and salsa-dippers take note: Mexican-style lagers are in and for good reason. They’re sessionable, flavorful, crisp, and smooth. The U.S. craft beer market has been slow to adopt its southern neighbor’s most popular style, the Mexican-style lager, until recently. With more and more craft brewers having a go on the style, Mexico’s beer roots are much deeper than you may know. Let’s take a look.

First New World Brewery

The term Mexican-style lager is misleading. Prior to the Spanish conquest, fermented beverages made from corn (tesgüino), agave (pulque), and honey (tepache) were common, and to this day, Mexico is home to diverse groups of people who still brew these pre-Hispanic libations the ancient way. However, the first European-style brewery in the New World was built by Don Alonso de Herrera of Spain. He’s first mentioned on August 23, 1541, with his brewery opening in 1542 in the city of Najara—though the brewery didn’t last very long.

Origins of Mexican-Style Lager

Fast forward a couple hundred years. Mexico’s brewing history is one of ups and downs. Unlike its neighbor to the north, there is no established European-style brewing tradition for much of the colonial period, but it kicked off in the 19th century after that small scuffle called the Mexican War of Independence concluded in 1821.

After the war, German and Austrian immigrants began settling in what is today Texas and Mexico, but there isn’t a direct line from those settlers to modern day, mass-marketed beer. In fact, the Mexican-style lager has more in common with Vienna lager than with the light, fizzy beers many associate with the country today, and for many years it was easier to find Vienna lager in Mexico than in its native land.

Dos Equis Origins

Mexico’s first large-scale brewer Cerveceria Cuauhtémoc, opened in 1890 and began production of a Czech-style Bohemian Pilsner.

A few years after Cuauhtémoc’s founding, German-born Wilhelm Hasse brewed a beer called Siglo XX (20th Century) to welcome in the new century. It became known best for its two Xs, and was soon renamed Dos Equis.

Dos Equis Homebrew Recipe

Originally developed by Anton Dreher in Vienna in the mid-19th century, the malty, copper-colored beer began to fall out of favor in Europe as pale lagers took over. However, brewers trained in the Vienna style made their way to modern-day Mexico, where they continued the Vienna lager tradition.

The beer’s influence greatly grew when Maximilian I, a Vienna-born member of the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine, was proclaimed Emperor of Mexico in 1864. He and his band of beer drinkers brought a love of Vienna lager with them, and although Maximilian I did not last long as Emperor—he was executed in 1867—a taste for Vienna lagers continued.

Resurgence of a Style

These German and Austrian beer origins are still around today, and there are signs that a new wave of microbreweries in Mexico are beginning to tap into their country’s roots, and the German lager tradition is getting a new look from smaller brewers.

Balanced, palate-pleasing and smooth, these lawnmower crushers will change the way you view Mexican beers. Below are a few prime examples that we think you’ll enjoy—with or without lime.

¡Viva México! ¡Vivan las cervezas mexicanas!

Mexican Lager Recipes

Sweet Mischief Vienna-Mild

After Charlie Papazian visited Bohemian Brewery in Salt Lake City, he was sold on the Vienna-style lager, but planned to brew an English mild ale. So, in true homebrewing fashion, he combined the two.

OG: 1.040, FG: 1.010, ABV: 3.9%, IBU: 25, SRM: 14

Since This is NHC I’ll Keep The Beer Names Nice and Clean…Vienna Lager

In 2015, Andy Wiegel of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania earned gold for his Vienna lager recipe in the National Homebrew Competition. Thanks for “clean” name, Andy!

OG: 1.050, FG: 1.012, ABV: 4.9%, SRM: 14

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John Moorhead, the National Homebrew Competition Director, lives in Boulder, Colorado. If he isn’t tasting, brewing, or talking beer, you’ll see him running, roaming or biking around the mountains – or cooking Thai food and blasting vinyl. Occasionally, John will write about homebrewing happenings, and if he plays his cards right, they might show up here on HomebrewersAssociation.org.

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