"I don't drink much Mexican beer," laughed Justin Vann over the phone on Tuesday afternoon.
I'd called on the beer and wine manager at Central Market in hopes of getting some recommendations for off-the-beaten path Mexican beers for Cinco de Mayo. What I got instead was a lesson on colored glass and pairings, two subjects which Vann feels strongly about and two subjects which are often overlooked when it comes to Mexican beer.
"If I could tell everyone one thing, it would be this," Vann stated emphatically. "Don't buy the beer in clear bottles. I mean, Corona skunks in an hour. If it's in sunlight, an hour; in halogen light, a couple of hours." Clear and green bottles, he said, are the equivalent of purposely packaging your milk in a container that makes it easier (and quicker) for the milk to spoil. Brown glass bottles or cans are the best way to go.
But, he continued, "beer nerds are on the lookout for that stuff anyway. I will audibly complain about Corona and its skunkiness. The packaging is making it taste that way. It's something we should weed out," he finished.
So that's a "no" to recommending products like Corona and other so-called "international lagers," then? "It's like encouraging someone to eat McDonald's," Vann said.
But that doesn't mean there aren't Mexican beers he does recommend for your Cinco de Mayo celebrations tomorrow. Just make sure not to look for them in a Tex-Mex restaurant.
"I see [Cinco de Mayo] as a Tex-Mex holiday," Vann said. Like, this is the day we go shopping at Macy's and eat Tex-Mex food." He's not too far off; Cinco de Mayo is rarely celebrated in Mexico outside of small-scale festivities in Puebla. And although beer companies like to capitalize on Cinco de Mayo as a beer-drinking holiday on par with Saint Patrick's Day, Vann says the ironic truth is that Mexican beer doesn't really pair well with Mexican or Tex-Mex food.
"Mexican food is probably the least well paired with beer," he lamented. You go to a place like Xuco Xicana or El Real and the food is amazing but their beer selection is as authentic as the queso is. It's all adjunct lagers like Miller Lite or Coors Lite." And that's frustrating to Vann.
"Texan beer deserves more support than these international, adjunct lagers do," he said. In their places, he'd like to see more craft beers, more beer from Texas and, he gushed, "I'd love to see an IPA in a Mexican restaurant."
As for the beers that most places do have available, however, Vann has one solid recommendation: Negra Modelo. "It's just like a Vienna lager. It's really an exact clone of an Oktoberfest," he said. And in that vein, he recommends non-Mexican beers like Ska Brewing ESB, Real Ale ESB or Phoenix Double ESB to those who are cooking at home or have a BYOB option at their local Tex-Mex joint.
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Otherwise, Vann says, always opt for the Mexican beers in cans: "Just the regular Modelo in a can is delicious," he said. "And Victoria is a really good Mexican beer; it's somewhere in between the regular Modelo and the Negra Modelo in style and taste."
As for me, I'll be celebrating with a few cans of Sierra Madre, a microbrew from Monterrey that's a pilsner, yes, but a damn good one. And, of course, it's in a can.