The History of Mexican Lagers

What do you think of when you hear ‘Mexican Lager?’ For many, the image of beach chairs, crystal clear water, and a cooler filled with fizzy yellow beer might jump to mind. But it may surprise you that the origin of this now-seemingly ubiquitous cerveza lies not in the sandy white beaches of Mexico, nor even in the Americas at all, but in a city 6,200 miles away: Vienna, Austria. How did this unlikely transatlantic influence come about? Crack open a can of Mexican Lager with Lime, and let’s find out!

Like their English neighbors to the north, the Spanish colonists who settled the area now known as Mexico had difficulty brewing beer in the New World. Hops were hard to come by, and imports of malted barley were inconsistent, forcing brewers to use unrefined whole cane sugar (or piloncillo) and corn as sources for fermentable sugars. Heavy taxation from the royal crown overseas further stymied Spanish colonial brewing. 

But after the people of Mexico achieved their independence in 1821, the country’s door was opened to immigrants from other parts of Europe. By the 1860’s, an influx of Austrians increased many times over when Mexico’s European creditors briefly installed an Austrian puppet emperor. Needless to say, the move didn’t sit well with the people of Mexico, and their resistance to French aggression resulted in the Cinco de Mayo celebrations we have today. However, even after the Battle of Puebla was won, many of the Austrian transplants were there to stay, and so was their main trade of choice: brewing.

Eliot Ness Amber Lager with Mug

Naturally, these Austrian brewers had a thirst for Vienna Lager, a bready, toasty, and amber-hued favorite from their homeland not unlike our own Eliot Ness Amber Lager. (Fun fact: Eliot Ness was actually the first beer GLBC brewed 35 years ago!) But brewing a cold-fermented beer in Mexico presented some obvious challenges. Due to the region’s warm temperatures and lack of available technology, it wasn’t until the 1890’s that brewers were able to successfully lager beer in Mexico. The first to do so was Santiago Graf, who, thanks to the development of railroads, was able to ship proper lagering equipment from the U.S. to his brewery in Toluca, Mexico. Graf crafted a lager of utmost quality, importing his hops from Europe, malting his own barley sourced from the U.S., and taking advantage of Mexico’s alkaline water to soften the sharpness coming from his darker malts. The result was a deeper yet mellower Vienna Lager that gained widespread popularity. In fact, some “Graf-style” Vienna Lagers are still brewed today. 

However, this darker, fuller style is more a cousin than a direct relative to today’s modern Mexican Lager. As Graf’s version of Vienna-style lager gained popularity in Mexico, the style was almost completely out of fashion in his home country thanks to the incredibly fast-growing popularity of Czech-style pilsner. It was only a matter of time until the new “it” beer of Austria made its way across the Atlantic. Once Mexican-based brewers realized a pilsner-style lager could easily be made with the ingredients available to them, the once dark and toasty Mexican Lager evolved into the light and refreshing brew we know today. 

Mexican Lager with Lime, Pint Glass, and Chips

And now, almost 130 years after the first Mexican-brewed lager was created, Mexican-style lagers have firmly found their place within the craft beer landscape. Our brewers honor the style’s storied tradition by crafting our own Mexican-style lager with flaked corn, but keep things innovative with the addition of real lime peel and purée for a zesty yet refreshing zip of citrus. The result? A laid back lager that shines as bright as the summer sun.

Mexican Lager with Lime is available now for a limited time! Use our Beer Finder to help you track down Mexican Lager with Lime, Eliot Ness Amber Lager, and all of our year-round and seasonal releases wherever GLBC beer is sold. 

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Questions? Email GLBCinfo@greatlakesbrewing.com for more information.

Words by Michael Williams
Pictures by Haven Hodges

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