By Claudia Alarcón
Photography by Whitney Arostegui
Adding a squeeze of fresh lime and a dash of salt to light lagers or pilsners has been a tradition across Mexico for decades. But in the 1980s, the Mexicans’ penchant for slightly salty-sour flavored beer evolved one step further into a full-fledged beer-based drink known as a michelada.
There are a few theories behind the name and origin of the drink. Many maintain it’s merely a contraction of the phrase “mi chela helada,” Spanish for “my ice-cold beer” (chela is Mexican slang for beer). A more elaborate and widely believed account, though, says the libation was created at the bar of the Club Deportivo Potosino in the state of San Luis Potosi, where club member Michel Esper liked his beer served over ice and seasoned generously with lime juice and salt. Eventually, other club members started asking for the drink—calling it “Michel’s lemonade”—until it finally came to be known as a michelada (or sometimes simply a chelada).
The popularity of the drink swept across Mexico and, thanks to the influx of immigrants, finally made its way into the U.S. Today, even beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch sells its own premade version called the Budweiser Chelada. In Mexico, patrons can still find micheladas made using only the three original ingredients, but many variations have evolved over the years, as well. In fact, many bartenders boast of their own secret recipes. For example, a spicy variation known as a michelada Cubana is made with varying combinations of Maggi Seasoning (available in Asian or Mexican groceries), Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, bottled hot sauce, liquid chamoy (a Mexican pickled-fruit sauce), cayenne pepper, powdered chili and black pepper. But contrary to popular belief, Clamato and tomato-juice mixes were never used as traditional michelada ingredients in Mexico. (There, a beer cocktail made with Clamato is known as Clamato con cerveza—a popular cantina offering that’s perfect on a hot afternoon or as a tried-and-true morning remedy to ease a previous night’s overindulgence—and adding Bloody Mary mix to a michelada is definitely a north-of-the-border adaptation.)
In Austin, Ranch 616 was one of the first non-Mexican restaurants to feature the refreshing aperitif, and still serves its Michelada Negra made with Negra Modelo beer. And many others have followed suit. The bar at Hotel San José offers a Cubana-style michelada made with freshly squeezed lime juice and Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces topped with freshly ground pepper, and El Chile Café & Cantina’s house michelada is served in a frosty goblet with a generous rim of their secret salt-and-chili spice mix.
Downtown newcomer El Ceviche Grill features three variations of the drink on its menu—including one cradling fresh oysters and poached shrimp. And the East Side’s Takoba serves an authentic, slow-food version where the bartenders squeeze a whole lime into a large, frozen goblet, rub the rim vigorously with the lime halves to leave as much pulp as possible then shake salt directly over the pulp while turning the glass to salt the whole rim. Once the glass is ready, a shot of homemade michelada mix is added then topped with the frosty beer of your choice.
“A michelada should always be ice-cold,” says Takoba’s owner Jose de Loera, the creator of their signature recipe. “We freeze the goblets so that when you pour the beer in, it forms ice crystals. That way, it remains cold longer without having to add ice, which would dilute the beer.” Freezing the glass also helps the lime pulp stick. “That way you get the taste of fresh lime with every sip,” he says. “It requires a lot of work and takes longer to prepare, but I think it’s well worth it.”
Folks in Mexico believe there’s a michelada recipe for every beer drinker, which may very well be true. Here are a few recipes to get you started on the path to your own custom michelada concoction. Salud!
Makes 1 drink
1 lime, halved
1 t. kosher salt
1 cold lager of your choice
Rub the cut lime on the rim of a tall glass. Put the salt on a shallow plate and dip the glass in the salt to coat the rim. Add a few ice cubes and squeeze the rest of the lime into the glass. Pour in the beer and stir gently.
Variations: To the salt, add ¼ t. ground chile piquín, Thai chili or cayenne pepper. To season the beer, add any of the following, or a combination, to taste: Maggi Seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, liquid chamoy or bottled hot sauce.
WILLY'S MICHELADA CUBANA
Courtesy of Willy Larson
Makes 1 drink
This is my husband Willy’s take on the cocktail. It’s a fantastic, lighter alternative to a Bloody Mary for brunch or served with seafood cocktail on a warm Austin afternoon.
For the salt:
1 t. kosher salt
¼ t. ground chile piquín
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
For the drink:
Juice of 1 lime
2–3 dashes Maggi Seasoning
Dash of Valentina, to taste
1 cold beer
Rub the edge of a chilled tall glass with the cut lime and dip in the salt to coat the rim. Add the rest of the ingredients to the glass and pour in the beer to mix well.
Courtesy of Ben Craven
Makes 1 drink
Ben Craven, former beverage director at Lamberts, Elizabeth St. Café and Clark’s Oyster Bar, first prepared this michelada version from behind the bar at Starlite. The flavor of Sriracha definitely adds a twist. Ben recommends using a nice, light beer like Asahi Super Dry.
½ of a lime
¼–½ oz. Sriracha sauce, to taste
¼ oz. soy sauce
¼ oz. Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of black pepper
Pinch of minced garlic
1 cold beer
Rub the edge of a chilled tall glass with the cut lime and dip in the salt to coat the rim. Add the rest of the ingredients (including lime juice) to the glass and pour in the beer to mix well.