From beer experts, to beer novices, we’ve all raised a glass of a Mexican beer from time to time. Most reaching for a cold Corona by a pool on a hot day. Perhaps with a squeeze of lime and a dash of salt. Yet, the majority of us don’t realize the revolution and worldwide consequences that had to take place for the general beer lover to enjoy these delicious, underrated and historical beers.
Let it be known that I am from the west coast, and I am a lover of craft beer. But more importantly, I am a STUDENT of beer, and for the most part, I have an unbiased palate. (Although co-workers would disagree). As much as I love my Wild Fermented Ales, Saisons, IPA’s and so forth, I can still enjoy an ice cold Corona, Tecate, Pacifico, etc. Especially on a Cinco de mayo with 4 street style carnitas tacos.
As an educated beer enthusiast and brewer, the history of these beers and their predecessors are what remained mostly a mystery even to myself; until finding out that these Mexican beers were in fact Vienna (Austrian) Lagers, or derived from Austrian recipes and brewing techniques. The history stretches from the mid 1800’s. The styles and it’s traditions have survived immigration, revolution, and was even influenced by the American Civil war. It survived under the pressure of modern macro-brewing acquisitions and is seeing a revival in craft breweries across the U.S. The most popular brands being Negra Modelo, Dos Equis Amber, and Cerveza Bohemia. Although this style has not gone overlooked by the American craft beer and homebrewing scene. The BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) has its own recognized category for Vienna Lagers.
Maximillian The First of Mexico was of Royal Austrian decent and had ties through marriage to the French throne. In 1861 after most of the British and Spanish forces had left Mexico, Napoleon III of France offered Maximillian the title of Emperor of Mexico to establish a monarchy after an illustrious career in the Austrian Navy. Much to the disgust of the newly ousted Mexican President, Benito Juarez. Maximillian also brought a small army of skilled workers to help establish his new monarchy. Some of which included Austria’s best brewers such as Santiago Graf who was a prodigy of Anton Dreher. Dreher has been credited for developing the modern version of a Vienna Lager in 1841.
Emperor Maximillian of Mexico
Juarez and his followers, with the help of the United States after the Civil War, eventually overthrew Maximillian’s monarchy in a violent revolution after the French Army pulled their forces out of Mexico, eventually resulting in Maximillian’s death by firing squad.
The variations of these beers brewed in Mexico can be as diverse as the culture and climate they are brewed in. Yet, some stick to the true categorized styles they have been designated. They can range from pale straw to garnet in color, or crisp to roasty. Malt complex, but some slightly rich. What little spicy or floral hop notes present, they should be slight or barely detectable. The roastier and more copper colored being the more authentic Vienna style. But still have the dry, refreshing “lager” finish; little to no lingering hop bitterness.
Current examples of craft Vienna Lagers:
“Vienna Lager” Devil’s Backbone Barrelhouse and Brewery. Lexington, Va.
“Velvet Revolution” New Bohemia Brewing Co. Santa Cruz, Ca.
“Taco Truck” Dust Bowl Brewing Co. Turlock, Ca.
The short-lived French/Austrian occupation of Mexico was enough time for the Austrian brewing techniques to take root in this new world. The natives took these brewing methods and grew it from an obscure, if not obsolete style of beer, to cultivating a blossoming style of beer that blurs the line between craft/traditional brewing and a popular beer available worldwide. At the same time, it is a microcosm of the undeniable pride of the Mexican people who have been through countless occupations, wars, revolution, as well as border expansions and contractions. In other words, this beer was popularized on the shoulders of revolution, pride, celebration, and obviously… great taste.
I hope that I have opened a mental doorway that can lead you into seeing beer as not simply a beverage, but history in a glass.
Barrelhouse and Brewery. Lexington, Va.
Bohemia Brewing Co. Santa Cruz, Ca.
Dust Bowl Brewing Co. Turlock, Ca.