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Low Proof: The Savory South Of The Border Flavors Of The Michelada

By Staff in Food on Jul 1, 2014 6:00PM

By far the most popular cocktail in the U.S., the margarita—that tequila-lime-triple sec concoction grand enough to spur #lime crisis nationwide—is surprisingly under-appreciated on its home turf. More often, Mexican natives indulge in the likes of a Paloma (tequila, lime, salt, fresca), a domestic brew, or a Michelada. This summer, we foresee patio tables dripping with the condensation of a marriage between hot sauce and cerveza.

The going rate for Micheladas at local bars and restaurants ranges from $5 to $9. With a half-ounce of fresh lime juice, it’s not a particularly costly cocktail. Add a 12-ounce can or bottle of beer (like Tecate, Modelo Especial, Negra Modelo, or our local Latin-inspired 5 Rabbit or 5 Vulture) and essentially a spiced up hot sauce, and boom! Pour over ice and enjoy—no muddle, shake, or stir required, making it a perfect at-home cocktail and Bloody Mary brunch alternative. A standard Michelada is as low-proof as the beer it’s made from.

One issue hindering at-home imbibing here is fear of making the Michelada mix, a proprietary blend that, to some bar owners, might justify a price tag over the typical price of that can of beer. Though theoretically Cholula in a glass could stand in for a serious homemade mix, the drink calls for a little more love from any tasty combination of the following: Cholula, Tapatio, or other Mexican hot sauce; Worcestershire; Maggi (a soy sauce alternative to which more Americans should pay heed); Clamato (a clam-tomato juice combo); salt and pepper. Don’t be afraid to get creative and don’t let the idea of hot sauce and beer turn you off. In some states, adding a few drops of Tabasco to your average brew is shockingly commonplace. Think of it as tossing a bit of spice on that bowl of mac’n’cheese. Would you rather have it any other way?

Simplicity is key here and teaches a valuable lesson in cocktailing for both novice and professional alike. The Michelada, or even its older sibling the Chelada, is akin to our beloved Bloody Mary. Savory, enhanced with similar spicy tomato flavoring agents, but rather than hard liquor, the Mexican version opts for beer.

Lore tells that at a private sports club (where else would folks indulge in cocktails? the layman chose simplicity over frivolity every time) in San Luis Potosi, a fellow named Michel Esper enjoyed his beer with a bit of lime, over ice in a salt-rimmed chabela - what we would recognize as a giant Margarita glass a la Applebee’s. This beer lemonade, if you will, is today’s Chelada, to which various spices and sauces have been added over time to create the Mi Chela Helada: my cold beer. Chelada your way.

What’s devastating is that technically Miller Chill qualifies as a Chelada, and Anheuser-Busch’s answer to that catastrophic marketing ploy, Bud Chelada, is a Michelada, flavored with Clamato. But (hopefully) you won’t find these bastardized products at any respectable Mexican, inspired or otherwise, outpost.

Because a Michelada is a cocktail, for all intents and purposes, we feel it should be treated with such care that its counterparts receive. It should be served the way it should be imbibed. However, most Micheladas are served, yes, in a salt-rimmed glass filled with ice, a half-ounce or so of lime, and an ounce of spicy sauce (recipe below), topped with beer. The rest of that can of beer is served on the side. My issue here is the balanced cocktail part of this serving suggestion falls to the wayside, as the drinker pours additional beer over an at-that-point diluted drink. We encourage drinking the rest of that beer separately, as a back to your balanced Bloody stand-in.

MICHELADA (makes 1 drink)

½ ounce Cholula or Tapatio
½ ounce Clamato
1 teaspoon Maggi
½ ounce lime juice
dash salt and pepper
Mexican or domestic lager

Add to salt-rimmed glass (chile salt works well here), fill with ice, and top with beer. For a chile salt, on a plate mix a few teaspoons of kosher salt with a couple shakes of paprika and cayenne, and a pinch of sugar. Use the lime to wet the rim before juicing. For extra spice, add a dash or two of ground cayenne or your favorite extra spicy ghost pepper sauce. But please, be wary of heartburn.

By Kristine Sherred

This is part of a series here at Chicagoist focusing on low-proof cocktails. We hope to highlight the best, so stay-tuned for further chapters in the Low-Proof series.