Adding a squeeze of fresh lime and a dash of salt to a lager or pilsner has long been Mexican tradition, and in the 1980s, this practice evolved into the refreshing beer cocktail known as michelada.
The popularity of the drink grew across Mexico and, thanks to the influx of immigrants, it translated well to restaurants and bars across the U.S. Today, even beer giant Anheuser-Busch sells a pre-made version and Mexican brands Modelo and Victoria are importing theirs. However, there is widespread confusion as to what exactly makes a genuine michelada.
There are a few theories behind the origin of the cocktail. Some claim it’s a contraction of “mi chela helada,” Spanish slang for my ice-cold beer. A more elaborate yet substantiated account says the cocktail was created at the bar of the Club Deportivo Potosino in San Luis Potosi, where club member Michel Esper would order his beer over ice and spiked with lime juice and salt. Eventually, other club members started asking for “la limonada de Michel,” until it finally came to be known as michelada.
In Mexico, the traditional michelada, also known as chelada, consists of a light-bodied beer seasoned with fresh lime juice, served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass. This is the most refreshing version, which goes down super easy on a hot summer day. But many variations exist, and there are as many recipes as there are bartenders and drinkers. For instance, a michelada cubana includes additional ingredients like Maggi seasoning sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, bottled hot sauce, cayenne pepper, powdered chile piquin, or commercially available salt and chile blends. Some like to use liquid chamoy, a Mexican seasoning made from pickled plums, to make the salty rim stick to the glass.
Contrary to popular belief, tomato juice, Bloody Mary mix and Clamato are not traditional michelada ingredients. In Mexico, a beer with Clamato and spices is known as Clamato con cerveza, a popular cantina offering that’s perfect on a hot afternoon or as a tried and true remedy for the morning after. In my family we know this simply as un Clamatito. Adding Bloody Mary mix, whether store-bought or house-made, is a north-of-the-border invention, and it seems to have taken root as the most widely accepted recipe in the U.S.