There I was the other day, before the college football national championship game, in the store near my house, browsing the shelves for something game-worthy. I looked at the microbrews from all over and the intriguing imports that I should want to taste. But deep inside, I knew what I was going to buy.
I lingered, aware that the game had already started and that my football buddy would be arriving at my house at any moment. Finally relenting, I bought the one I desired, even though $8.50 is an absurd price to spend for a six-pack of beer as simple as Pacifico, when other, much more serious brews cost the same. But I brought it home and drank three during the game—with a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime in each.
I know I’m supposed to like microbrews and Belgian imports, beers with sharp hops, malty complexity, high alcohols, and rich heads … and I do. But Mexican beer, the light, vapid, pedestrian type, is a guilty pleasure. There’s something about that faint, citrusy zest, pale gold hue, and light carbonation that is soothing and refreshing. And not only with spicy Mexican food, but with Indian and Asian food, sandwiches, and fish. I drink finer, more complex beer with heavier foods or when my body craves something more substantial and enriching. My affection for Mexico’s listless beers puts me in a minority, as demonstrated by the fact that the paladins of RateBeer score my beloved Pacifico abysmally low. “A drinkable beer, but prefer not to,” says one of the raters.
I like many of them—Tecate, Sol, Bohemia, Dos Equis, Carta Blanca, Mexicali—but my favorites are Pacifico and Modelo Especial. There was the beer I once drank down in Baja that haunts me, Estrella, though I’ve never found it here. The first beer I ever bought for myself was a Bohemia. I was 15 and in Paris on a family trip to Europe. My parents left me and my 11-year-old sister in our Latin Quarter hotel while they went out for dinner. I was given permission and francs to get something to eat. Just outside the hotel was a stand selling gyros and beer. I bought one of each, and I still remember the flavor.
I like the way Mexico does innocuous more than the way the United States does. I don’t buy the American analogues to the cheap Mexican beers: Bud, Miller, etc. There’s a brightness to Mexican brews that I just don’t get from domestic options. The one Mexican beer I will never buy is Corona. Perhaps it goes back to elementary school in Austin, Texas (Corona’s first major American market). For a time in the ’80s it was exceedingly popular for fifth- and sixth-graders to wear oversized white Corona Beach Club T-shirts (the girls snipped the sleeves off at the shoulders). I, the self-aware iconoclast, disdained the trendy people who wore them (it’s possible that I subconsciously wanted to be one of them). The grudge lasted. A couple of months ago, an article about health codes and that ubiquitous Corona-with-lime came out. My friend, a Manhattan bar owner, predictably scoffed at the ridiculousness of restricting bartenders from touching the limes they place in the necks of bottles of Corona, while all I could do was rant about the fact that the only beer mentioned in the story was Corona: “Why do they just assume that the beer is Corona in every example?” I cried. “Are no other Mexican lagers served in New York?”
I know I will go on for the rest of my life spending my money on comforting, feeble Mexican beer, which is really just a vehicle for a watered-down taste of lime with a touch of salt. But upon last month’s news that Bill Gates dropped $392 million on Tecate, I was glad to see that I was not the only one.