American brewers craft their own mexican lagers

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“Sometimes you just want a beer,” says Shaun O’Sullivan, co-founder and brewmaster of 21st Amendment Brewery.

While the San Francisco brewery produces plenty of well-regarded, complex beers like 21st Amendment IPA, Hop Crisis (a double IPA) and Marooned on Hog Island (a stout brewed with Hog Island Sweetwater oyster shells), sometimes you just want to drink something crisp and refreshing. You know, like a Pacifico or a Dos Equis.

If you look at beer rating websites or apps like BeerAdvocate or Untapped, you’ll see a broad consensus that Mexican lagers are, quite frankly, terrible beers. But those sites, which are populated by a relatively small (but vocal) contingent, don’t tell the whole story, says Dave Thibodeau, co-founder and president of Durango, Colo.-based Ska Brewing.

Mexican lagers grew out of Vienna lagers, a crisp style featuring subtle hops and residual sweetness. Over time, Mexican breweries began adding adjunct malt, namely flaked maize, to their mashes. The beers got lighter and, Thibodeau argues, better suited to Mexico’s arid climate. That climate, he adds, is similar to the one Ska operates in.

“It’s so hot in Durango,” he says. Because of the heat, he and Ska co-founder Bill Graham drank a lot of Mexican lagers like Dos Equis and Pacifico around the same time they were opening the brewery in 1995. “But because we were craft brewers, we didn’t want people to see us drinking them,” he says.

Rather than hide their affection, they decided to make a beer that captured what they like about the style – it’s crisp and refreshing – while making their version more flavorful, with a slightly fuller body. In a tongue-in-cheek homage to their inspiration, they called the beer Mexican Logger.

For years, Ska was the lone American brewery with a so-called Mexican – style lager. But that’s changed over the past few years as other breweries, including 21st Amendment, Oskar Blues, and Flying Dog, have put their own spin on Mexican lagers (respectively, El Sully, Beerito and Numero Uno Summer Cerveza). Like Mexican Logger, most of these beers are similar to, but bolder than, a typical Mexican lager.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that American breweries are putting their spin on yet another style. After all, over the years they’ve reinvented English IPAs, Belgian witbiers, and countless other styles. But the fact that they’re taking inspiration from an often-maligned style reflects that tastes are changing.

“A lot of people want something lighter,” Sullivan says. “But they still want it to be a well-crafted beer.”

Source: The Chicago Tribune, July 21, 2016 – reprinted in the Orlando Sentinel.

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