A blind taste test to determine the best Mexican lager

Graphic: Allison Corr

Taste-testing Mexican lagers for Cinco De Mayo seemed cliché to me at first. But as much as I love a refreshing Mexican beer in the backyard on a hot day, I admit I’ve never sat down to blind taste the major brands side-by-side. Was my favorite empirically the best-tasting one out there?

If this taste test taught me anything, it’s the importance of tasting beers “blind”—tasting beers without knowing which sample represents which brand. We can’t help our preconceived notions of quality and our personal histories and preferences, so methodology is necessary to eliminate these biases. I had someone else pour the beers for me so I could remain impartial. When I’d finally finished taking notes and finally matched the numbers to the beers, I was surprised to find many of my assumptions upended.

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While we’re talking methodology, some notes: I limited my six selections to the most common supermarket brands. I also kept them to the brewery’s flagship beers, excluding amber lagers or beers with roasted malts so as to evaluate styles that are mostly similar to each other. A Dos Equis Amber in the mix, for example, would have been an incongruity and ruined the “blind” portion of this. I did pour all these samples into glasses, to better evaluate their aromas and flavors. Without further ado, I present my evaluations.


Sol

The aroma is super subtle; there’s hardly anything wafting off the liquid, even as I stick my nose deeply into the glass. I get whiffs of cracked corn, if anything. Yet the flavor is entirely pleasant: Light corn sweetness, a proper carbonic bite to close the sip, no stale flavors even after I let it warm to room temperature. It’s effervescent and properly refreshing (read: watery) and I estimate I could drink a dozen of these. I’d considered Sol an also-ran Mexican beer for years, but I’ve been incorrect.

Pacifico Clara

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There’s something nefariously artificial yet familiar about the aroma, like airplane air. The actual taste isn’t as sweet as some of the other contenders, leaning more toward neutral, cracker-like malts. If you’re afraid of saccharine malt sweetness, this beer doesn’t have any, though the effect is a one-note, neutral-malt sip. In short: There are no off-flavors, but it’s not bringing a lot to the party. I do have to give Pacifico credit for boasting far and away the best can art of the whole lot.

Dos Equis Lager Especial

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The aroma is corn-sweet with some Cheerio-like notes. It’s also the most substantial aroma so far. Flavor-wise, it has a similar corniness to the other beers, but with some honey-leaning malts, too. It has less oxidation (paper or cardboard flavor) than some of the other beers, and the carbonation remained throughout the taste test. Once I learned which beer this was, I was shocked—I’d written off Dos Equis. My bad.

Corona Extra

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The pour gives off a floral-sweet scent, with a strange candied-ginger undercurrent. The sip suffers from some paper-like oxidation, a common pitfall for imported beers, as well as a little bit of skunked flavor when I exhale. It’s overall reasonable simple and inoffensive to drink, though there’s metallic edge to it, like sucking on a penny. I guess the lime wedge really helps.

Tecate Original

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There’s a strong citrusy/lime component to the aroma, which I find pleasant. Sadly, the flavor is artificial and cheap-tasting, as though no malts were harmed in the brewing of this beer. The body is watery, sweet like malt extract, and still vaguely papery. It’s the least beer-like of the samples. Bummer, because I used to drink a lot of these as the beer component of boilermakers. Double bummer, because these only come in 12-packs near me. I have a lot of leftover Tecate.

Modelo Especial

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Oh, this beer smells like an air freshener. I get rose petals off the pour, which isn’t entirely gross—just off-putting. It smells like old person soap. The actual flavor doesn’t have much character; it’s sweet and dull with a slight staleness. The staleness builds with each consecutive sip, making me not want to drink more. That’s a huge red flag against a warm-weather lager.


Winner: Sol

I can’t believe I’m declaring Sol the winner, as I’ve long pledged allegiance to Pacifico. But that’s why these blind tastings are important, right? To shake up expectations. Sol was the most clean and refreshing, with no oxidation (despite its clear bottle!) as it warmed. Honorable mentions go to Pacifico and Dos Equis, and I regret I was unable to track down Victoria. I still think that in terms of Mexican beers overall, Modelo Negra is king, but if we’re talking straight fizzy, yellow lagers, I’ve seen the light. Er, Sol.

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About the author

Kate Bernot

Kate Bernot is managing editor at The Takeout and a certified beer judge.