The sensual allure of alcohol is tangled deep within us. For many Chicano and South and Central Americans, the first tastes of these forbidden beverages were taken from the likes of Corona, Modelo, and Tecate bottles. These brands not only represent a staple of the Mexican experience, but also a step in acceptance and integration by the American population of their southern neighbors.
Expert marketing, Mexico’s proximity and America’s prolific cultural appropriation have made Corona the number one imported beer in the US. In fact, 6 of the top 10 imported beers are of Mexican origin – including Modelo Especial, Tecate, Dos Equis, and Pacifico. The United States imports roughly 2.9 billion dollars’ worth of these beers a year, but it was not always this way. In fact, Mexico’s adoption of beer was a slow and stalled process.
Before the introduction of barley-based beer by the Spanish in the 1500s, Mexico’s primary alcoholic beverage was a form of fermented sap derived from the same plants used to make Mescal or Tequila – maguey and agave. The fermented sap, called pulque, is a raw, undistilled, thick and viscous drink with a pungent smell. Described by Anthony Bourdain as “Mexican Viagra”, pulque is still available, albeit rarely, throughout Mexico, and has even gathered a small following throughout the US.
After Spanish settlement and the introduction of their beer brewing techniques, Mexican adoption of the drink was slow. Heavy regulation, taxation, and lack of ingredients would ultimately stall the popularity of beer in Mexico until it gained its independence in the 1820s.
The industry did not truly begin to flourish until German immigrants began to pour into Mexico during the 19th century’s Second Mexican Empire. Headed by Austro-Germanic emperor, Maximilian I, and his brewers, beer’s popularity began to grow. The influence of Maximilian’s brewer and his Vienna-style dark beers can still be seen in the popular brands, Negra Modelo and Dos Equis Ambar.
With the rise of prohibition in the United States and the influx of European immigrants, the beer industry saw a boom in 1920s Mexico, though most of the native population still held a strong preference for pulque. Around this time, European immigrant beer brewers began to campaign against native drinks such as pulque. These campaigns made claims of unsanitary production methods such as the use of feces as a fermenting agent in pulque and promoted beer as a “hygienic and modern” alternative. By the end of the 1920s, pulque was generally looked-down-upon and imbibed by relatively few people, with Mexican-brewed beer ubiquitous and extremely popular.
Throughout the rest of the 20th century, larger brewing companies began buying out smaller ones, assuming their brands, until only two major producers were left, Grupo Modelo (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev as of 2012) and Cervecería Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma (now a subsidiary of Heineken International). Grupo Modelo’s brands include Corona, Modelo Especial, Victoria, Estrella, Léon, Montejo, and Pacifico. Cervecería Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma’s brands include Tecate, Sol, Dos Equis, Carta Blanca, Superior, Indio, Bohemia, and Noche Buena. Together these brands make up the flagship beers of Mexico and are a subtle nod by American culture to its strong ties with its southern neighbor.
The popularity in Mexican beers is evident in the rise of consumption of imported beers from Mexico to the US. From 2009 to 2016, there was an average 8 percent growth in Mexican beer imports every year. Some observers point to a growing Mexican population in the US, but this can’t be the only thing in play.
“Growth in the Hispanic population can’t be the only driver,” says the Beer Institute chief economist Michael Uhrich. “Imports very clearly skew toward Millennials and Gen X, and obviously those generations’ share of the drinking-age population has been growing … so those two generations are more than half of all drinking-age Americans. As that continues, more and more people who drink beer are more and more likely to be people who drink Mexican imports.”
According to the results of a fall 2016 study conducted by Simmons Research 34 percent of non-Hispanic beer drinkers say they drink Mexican beer regularly. Compared to those in the study that say they drink craft or micro-brewed beer (43.4 percent) regularly, it’s clear that the US has an affinity for this piece of the Mexican experience.
So, while tensions rise between US conservatives and Mexican immigrants, some Americans are beginning to embrace this small facet of Mexican culture. As small adoptions such as this one grow larger, perhaps we can find hope in one day amicably quelling our hostilities over a Corona con limon.