Mexican-style Lager – Boon to Craft

In recent years this category has burgeoned. I’ll call it here MSL, partly a seasonal phenomenon in the way imperial stout is for winter, or bock in the spring. Writers have addressed the trend, in The Full Pint GT Wharton sets out various categories: blonde, amber, flavoured, etc.

His first category, blonde lager that emulates macro Mexican brands – Dos Equis, Pacifico, Modelo, Corona, etc. points up the similarities with American-style lager.

I agree with this, but craft use of corn seems often to give better results. One reason perhaps is craft makers often use flaked corn, as many brewers did historically, vs. the corn syrup ubiquitous in macro-level brewing today. Also, the craft MSLs I’ve had seem less thoroughly fermented than macro examples, which adds to their body.

(Flaked corn is the degermed grits hot-rolled but still a solid when blended with malt in the mash. It can add a fresh, “cereal” savour where not over-fermented. Corn syrup is said by some to be more neutral in its effects but I am not sure of that, based on tasting certain beers using it. All things equal, using a less processed form of the kernel seems salutary).

MSL appeals to many for its sun and fun image, which resonates in our ever-short northern summers. Some buy the beers to make a Chelada or Michelada, a beer cocktail popular in Mexico with many variants. Macro brewers market their packaged versions, e.g., Bud Light Chelada.

In MSL I look for a character that’s a step or three above the macro norm but still recalls its broad lines. I’ve had two recently that are prima, and will try others over the summer.

First, there is Fría Cerveza from Amsterdam Brewery in Toronto. The grist is pale barley malt with some flaked corn – not too much judging by the palate. A classic Hallertau note denotes German-style hopping, and a little lime zest is added (no juice). The taste is excellent: malty but not sweet, with the corn giving a light, tortilla-like note. The lime is subtle but adds almost a creamy note if that makes any sense.

The other is Reminiscence, from Rorschach Brewing in east Toronto. The current canning uses no lime, I believe, but I think a lime version was issued earlier. The website states Vienna malt is added to a pale malt base and a touch of flaked corn. Reminiscence has a pleasing maltiness balanced by emphatic, mineral-like hopping. It reminds me of a good craft lager with “something different”.

Two appealing but different takes on a style that in the hands of big industrial brewers so often seems lacklustre.

Using a historical lens, a good MSL can be seen to resemble many pre-Prohibition lagers. The latter were often full-bodied with firm bitterness. Frequently they used flaked corn or corn grits* but not too much, 10-20% for best quality (imo).

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*Corn grits is still used by some large brewers. This discussion on Home Brew Talk explains how it differs from flaked corn. Basically it is less processed but requires correspondingly a more thorough mashing.