Adding a squeeze of fresh lime and a dash of salt to a lager or pilsner has long been Mexican tradition, and in the 1980s, this practice evolved into the refreshing beer cocktail known as michelada. The popularity of the drink grew across Mexico and, thanks to the influx of immigrants, it translated well to restaurants and bars across the U.S. Today, even beer giant Anheuser-Busch sells a pre-made version and Mexican brands Modelo and Victoria are importing theirs. However, there is widespread confusion as to what exactly makes a genuine michelada.
There are a few theories behind the origin of the cocktail. Some claim it’s a contraction of “mi chela helada,” Spanish slang for my ice-cold beer. A more elaborate yet substantiated account says the cocktail was created at the bar of the Club Deportivo Potosino in San Luis Potosi, where club member Michel Esper would order his beer over ice and spiked with lime juice and salt. Eventually, other club members started asking for “la limonada de Michel,” until it finally came to be known as michelada.
In Mexico, the traditional michelada, also known as chelada, consists of a light-bodied beer seasoned with fresh lime juice, served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass. This is the most refreshing version, which goes down super easy on a hot summer day. But many variations exist, and there are as many recipes as there are bartenders and drinkers. For instance, a michelada cubana includes additional ingredients like Maggi seasoning sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, bottled hot sauce, cayenne pepper, powdered chile piquin, or commercially available salt and chile blends. Some like to use liquid chamoy, a Mexican seasoning made from pickled plums, to make the salty rim stick to the glass.
Contrary to popular belief, tomato juice, Bloody Mary mix and Clamato are not traditional michelada ingredients. In Mexico, a beer with Clamato and spices is known as Clamato con cerveza, a popular cantina offering that’s perfect on a hot afternoon or as a tried and true remedy for the morning after. In my family we know this simply as un Clamatito. Adding Bloody Mary mix, whether store-bought or house-made, is a north-of-the-border invention, and it seems to have taken root as the most widely accepted recipe in the U.S.
Tomato-based micheladas are an excellent accompaniment to chilled seafood, ceviches and the like. At ATX Cocina the mix includes smoked chipotle powder and olive juice for extra zing – it’s the ideal companion to their campechana, made with poached shrimp and octopus in a chile guajillo sauce. Josh Prewitt, general manager at Austin’s La Condesa agrees. “Micheladas and ceviches can complement one another or provide the same healing properties of the ever-elusive hangover cure as is the case of vuelve a la vida, where the raw or lightly poached seafood is prepared with a spicy citrus and tomato base.”
Two of my favorite spots in San Antonio even add poached shrimp as garnish. The ones at El Bucanero are the closest I’ve had to what I’m used to in Mexico, while Southerleigh’s is a nod to the Texas Gulf, made with their house-brewed Gold Export lager.
Having embraced this evolution, I gravitate toward more unusual takes. At Ramen Tatsu-Ya in Austin they serve a Kimchilada made with Sapporo beer, house-made Bloody Mary mix, kimchi, bonito, house katsu sauce and a togarashi salt rim which adds the pleasant pop of sesame seeds. At Peruvian outpost Yuyo, they season a Native Texan pilsner with leche de tigre and aji Amarillo.
I make my own mixes and salts for rimming, and I recommend you do the same so you can control the amount of salt, lime, and heat – I’ve had them made with so much lime juice that they’re rendered unpotable. In a pinch, I rim with Tajin or Twang, which has a special blend for micheladas and one flavored with Clamato. They are also releasing a bottled michelada mix based on a family recipe.
“For 33 years, Twang products have been created with our family and friends in mind and the good times we’ve spent together,” says Elysia Treviño-Gonzales, chief executive officer for the San Antonio-based company. “Micheladas have always been a symbol of enjoyment which is why many of our salts are designed to rim micheladas.”
If you must use a commercial Bloody Mary mix, look for high quality. At El Alma in Austin they use Red Eye because it’s vegan, which is something to consider.
Salud to National Michelada Day!
La Condesa’s Michelada Mix
46 oz. Tomato juice
4 oz. Lemon juice
1 oz. Grapefruit juice
1 oz. Simple syrup
3 Tablespoons Worcestershire
2 Tablespoons Tabasco
1 Tablespoon Bitters
2 Tablespoons Horseradish
1.5 Tablespoons Paprika
2 Tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
1.5 Tablespoons celery salt
1 Tablespoon black pepper
0.5 Tablespoon Kosher salt
Mix all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.
200g Sugar in the Raw
500g Grey salt
20g Chile pasilla, toasted and ground
20g Aleppo chile
Mix all ingredients well and store in an air tight container. Use for rimming the glass.
The Mazatlan Post