How we tested
When a southwestern or Mexican-inspired recipe calls for beer, our instinct is to reach for a Mexican lager. While developing our Cook's Illustrated recipe for our Drunken Beans, we decided to give this category a closer look. We narrowed the lineup to the four best-selling imported Mexican lagers (priced from $7.69 to $9.69 for six 12-ounce bottles) and then sampled them plain (after all, we’d likely be investing in a six-pack, plus recipes rarely call for more than a cup) and in our Cook's Illustrated Drunken Beans.
All four lagers were developed at Mexican breweries and continue to be brewed there, but big-name marketing and distribution companies based in Europe now own them all. (Heineken, for example, owns two of the four in our lineup.) They’re also often classified as American Adjunct Lagers. Technically, any ingredient beyond those used in traditional German brewing—water, yeast, barley, and hops—is considered an unessential, or adjunct, ingredient, rice and corn being the most common. While these grains can be used to enhance the beer’s flavor, body, and aroma (corn in particular imbues beer with a crisp, refreshing flavor and subtle sweetness), they can also be used to cut costs. All four lagers in our lineup use corn.
All four Mexican lagers were straw colored and light bodied. The best beers of the group had a crisp, clean, lingering bitterness, while the lowest-ranking one had decent fizz but little flavor, “like a bland champagne.” In Drunken Beans the playing field leveled off a bit; all but one performed acceptably well (the most “watery” brew lacked balance, delivering beans that tasted too boozy).
Finally, we compared our favorite Mexican lager with our go-to mild lager, Budweiser (also an adjunct lager, made with rice). There was a clear difference. Tasted plain, Budweiser was deemed “fruitier” and “sweeter,” yet still “weak” in both flavor and body compared with our imported favorite. In the beans, Bud contributed a one-note sweetness that was underwhelming compared with our favorite import. Deemed “off-dry but not sweet,” with “mild bitterness on the finish,” our winner offers nice complexity and balance. We’ll grab a six-pack for cooking up a batch of beans or simply for serving at our next taco night.