Mexican lager: Does anyone truly know the definition?
An increasing number of craft breweries are producing Mexican lagers, but the beer style is not a category for judges at the Great American Beer Festival, the Grammys of the brewing industry. So, I asked three breweries selling Mexican lagers to provide their definitions.
“They are lager beers that have brewing techniques that were passed on from Germany,” says Josh Pfriem, the brewmaster and cofounder of pFriem Family Brewers in Hood River, Oregon. “Many of these beers use high levels of corn as adjunct for fermentability and flavor. These beers range from being bright, light and blonde in color to varying depths of flavor and color that go from amber to dark brown.”
A Mexican lager, says Jerry Siote, the co-owner of Lone Tree Brewing Company in Lone Tree, Colorado, is “crisp, light and well-balanced.” It’s “decently carbonated” and uses highly flavorful adjuncts, he says.
The definition of a Mexican lager is “really pretty nebulous,” says Dave Thibodeau, the cofounder and CEO at Ska Brewing in Durango, Colorado.
“In the 1860s, Austria’s Maximillian I declared himself emperor of Mexico and brought his own brewer to Mexico,” he explains. “The beers they made were Austria’s popular Vienna lagers. They have a bit more of a malt backbone and are amber/brown in color. In the 20th Century, many pale versions of Mexican lager emerged. They were lighter in color, very clean and crisp, and often used nonmalted cereals like corn or rice in their recipes.”
Ska’s Mexican Logger is a pale version and the base of another beer, Rue B. Soho, which has added grapefruit. Mexican Logger was the brewery’s first Mexican lager, released on draft and in 12-ounce bottles in 1999. Today, it’s a summer seasonal offering that’s one of Ska’s flagship beers. A dark version was introduced this year.
Pfriem released its first Mexican lager in summer 2016.
“The beer was originally inspired by a moment of creativity rather than a planned marketing strategy,” Josh Pfriem says. “I was on a surf trip in Mexico and really enjoying the local lagers. This was before craft brewers were taking a stab at their own interpretations and about the time when craft lagers were really starting to take off in the craft beer scene. I was enjoying a fresh Modelo Especial and thought it would be fun to brew a beer in this realm. It was a huge hit, and now we bring this beer back and brew it each summer.”
Lone Tree, located outside Denver in Lone Tree, began brewing its Mexican Lager in 2015.
“At the time, this style was not very prevalent in the craft sector, and we believed there was some opportunity to compete on a larger scale with the light lager macro brands,” Siote says. “Most craft breweries had a good handle on the hoppy side of the board, but we felt an approachable, crisp lager would serve as a gateway beer for new craft beer drinkers. Our goal was to test the market and evaluate how this style could stack up against our current core beers.”
Lone Tree’s Mexican Lager won a silver medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival in the American-Style Lager or Light Lager category. Two years later, it won a gold medal at the festival, and Lone Tree started packaging Mexican Lager in 12-ounce cans, as well as brewing it for draft-beer customers.
Like Pfreim, Ska’s Thibodeau says his brewery didn’t have a marketing aim when it began brewing Mexican Logger.
“We border the desert in Durango where it’s really hot and dry in mid-summer,” he explains. “At the time, lighter-body lagers — fizzy yellow beers — were far from in vogue in the craft beer world, and we were closet Pacifico drinkers. We personally preferred the style in the summer, and it just seemed silly to buy Pacifico, so we began brewing a version ourselves. The extent of our marketing was showing up with it at summer festivals along with a giant bowl of limes, but, of course, we were shunned. It satisfied our thirst, though.”