Micheladas are Mexican beer spiked with sauces and condiments, often resulting in something like a fizzy, lower-alcohol Bloody Mary. Food trend-predicting firm Baum + Whiteman has named this drink a top trend to watch in 2015, with increasingly sophisticated, even “chef-driven” micheladas showing up on menus nationwide. To learn more about this spicy sipper, Rico headed to Santa Ana, California to meet with Gustavo Arrellano, editor of alternative newspaper OC Weekly and author of both the syndicated column “Ask a Mexican” and the book “Taco USA,” about the history of Mexican food in America.
Want to make a michelada of your own? Our friends at The Splendid Table suggest this recipe.
Rico Gagliano: Where does the word “michelada” comes from?
Gustavo Arellano: No one really knows what the etymology of the michelada is. There is one crazy theory that it was named after a Michelle, a male Michelle, which is absolutely not true. That’s as true as a margarita being named after Rita Hayworth, whose real name was Margarita Consino. I personally think that a michelada is a contraction of many words. Michelada could be ‘michela,’ which is a slang for a beer. ‘Elada’ is going to be a cold beer. So, it could be ‘my cold beer.’ But, even then…
Rico Gagliano: There is a lot of things that could be ‘my cold beer.’ Like, just plain beer.
Gustavo Arellano: Exactly. That doesn’t take into account the spiciness of it, the Worcestershire sauce that might be in there, the tomato, everything. I have not found a clear origin story just yet. When I wrote “Taco USA” in 2012, the michelada still wasn’t the phenomenon that it currently is now.
Rico Gagliano: What would be a standard michelada? They are being upscaled, if you can use that term. What would be the classic?
Gustavo Arellano: The classic michelada, you’re going to have a Mexican beer, preferably Negra Modelo, although you could substitute with the swill that is Corona…
Rico Gagliano: So, thanks for destroying Corona as a possible underwriter of our show.
Gustavo Arellano: You don’t want them as an underwriter. You want Negra Modelo. John Steinbeck’s favorite Mexican beer, by the way.
You have your beer. You have some spiciness. It could be Tabasco, depending on how you like your hot sauce. Maybe something a bit more savory like Tapatillo or Valentina, some Worcestershire sauce, just to give it a bit more savoriness. Decorate the rim of either your bottle or your glass with some salt, and also, some chili powder. Then, a bunch of lime.You want something that’s going to be spicy, that’s going to be a little bit sour, that’s going to be savory. In essence, you basically want to drink Mexican food.
Michelada is not a beer cocktail, so much as it is Mexican food. That’s why, you compare a Bloody Mary to a michelada, the michelada is far superior to the Bloody Mary.
Rico Gagliano: Why do you think?
Gustavo Arellano: Because it’s more savory. You could drink more of them, frankly. The bloody mary, really, even if you tried to spice it up, it’s just vodka. Or, if you want to Mexicanize it, call it a Bloody Maria. Tequila, canned tomato juice, or whatever.
At least, with most Mexican bars, they try to have some sort of class with the michelada. They’ll try to do in-house ingredients. Every one will be a little bit unique. With Bloody Mary, you can just get your Bloody Mary mix at your CVS, and that’s that. Although, you’re starting to see michelada now at CVS, too, which is crazy.
Rico Gagliano: So, we’re here at a place called Chapter One, in Santa Ana. Why did you pick this joint to take me to?
Gustavo Arellano: Chapter One, the modern local, it’s this great hipster place. Good food, not really Mexican. Great cocktails. And they have a michelada that is part-Mexican, part-American, and also, part-Japanese. So, you’re going to have your classic tomato in there. The Worcestershire sauce. Your mystery stuff. Then, they include some wasabi, some uzu, and I forget the other part until I drink it. Then I’ll remember. It’s magic, that’s the other part. For me, it’s indicative that the michelada is no longer in the domain of Mexican.
Rico Gagliano: In Mexico, is it more of a working-class thing? How would you encounter it?
Gustavo Arellano: The michelada, you’re going to probably get it in your working-class bars. Really, you’re going to find the michelada at seafood restaurants, at a mariscos place.All the great beer innovations have come, in Mexico, from seafood places. Your cuberta, which is a huge bucket of beer, is a staple of these Mexican seafood restaurants. The michelada makes sense, because Mexicans would also love shrimp cocktails. Anything involving tomato and the sea.For me, at least, I can easily see some drunk guy saying “Here’s the rest of my shrimp cocktail. Now have this great, spicy broth. Let me just pour it into my Negra Modelo and see what happens.” The results are perfect.
Rico Gagliano: All right. These have now arrived. Going to take a sip. Oh yeah. Telling me that background of the briny shrimp cocktail, there is that brininess in it, because of the salt you’re adding to it. But, also, there is that kind of seafood essence. I believe there is fish sauce in what they’ve put in this.
Gustavo Arellano: Yeah. In this particular michelada, it’s almost like eating sushi. The seaweed, you get that sort of umami, savoriness. Here, you have a little spice at the very end. You have a really heavy flavor at the very beginning of that fish sauce. Then, you have the beer. Of course, this is a hipster place, so we’re going to have some craft beer from god knows where. It all makes sense. I would say this is a great michelada and very indicative of where micheladas are going to in this country.
Rico Gagliano: What do you think about this being taken to the hipster domain?
Gustavo Arellano: Micheladas are now conquering American bartenders and American drinkers.Yes, we’re here at a hipster bar, but I’ve seen micheladas at working class white dive bars in Wisconsin, for crying out loud. That’s great, though. That means that Mexicans are taking over, and anything that means that, I’m for.