This blog documents my attempt to drink a beer from every country in the world and every state in the United States.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Country #10: Mexico

Beer: Cerveza Sol

Brewery: Cervecería Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma, Monterrey, Mexico

ABV: 4.5%

A caguama of Sol, with the sol shining on it. I poured it into my seldom-used big pilsener glass to give it some dignity.
¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!  I can still sing a Corona radio jingle from the 1990s: “The fifth of May, that means big holiday!” But guess what: nobody in Mexico really cares about Cinco de Mayo. It’s about as big a holiday there as is, say, Flag Day here.

So why all the fuss here in the States? Why are these monstrous, ten-seater bike things lurching up and down my street all day, pedaled by margarita-fueled gringos wearing sombreros, while 14 miles south the fine citizens of Tijuana are enjoying just another Saturday?

Escuche, gabacho! If this is going to be you tonight, maybe you should keep reading so you at least know what you're punishing your liver for!
It turns out there’s a good reason for us to celebrate: Cinco de Mayo commemorates a Mexican military victory against the French in 1862. The French were inclined to support the South during the American Civil War (also going on at the time), but their defeat at the hands of the Mexicans made it difficult to exert any influence in our war, and possibly helped the Union army prevail (this article sums it up pretty well). So, in a nightmare scenario for any Southern, racist xenophobe: we celebrate because Mexicans prevented the French from helping the South keep their slaves. Ouch!

In much of the developing world, you often pay a large deposit (ten pesos, or about a dollar) for big bottles of beer. Not Sol: no deposit necessary, but it also no retornable, meaning you can't take it to the store and get money for it.
It sounds like a pretty good reason to raise a glass to our neighbors to the south, and so I did. I recently went to Baja for the weekend to celebrate my 30th birthday, and I brought back a caguama of Cerveza Sol (Spanish for sun, and not to be confused with this stuff). The word caguama, slang for sea turtle, implies that the beer is big—940 millilters, in this case. Other Moctezuma beer brands, such as Tecate and El Indio, also call their big beers caguamas, while Pacifico calls theirs ballenas (whale). 

Here's me suckling from a ballena of Pacifico in Baja in 2008, being perhaps the Least Interesting Man in the World. It appears that the caguama painted on the wall behind me does not approve of my antics.
These big boys are all about quantity over quality. Pacifico is decent, El Indio wasn’t bad (I had it in Baja, but you can’t get it here in the states), and Tecate beats most beers at its price point, but none of them are anything to write home about. Sol is unfortunately the worst of this bunch, as it hasn’t gotten the skunky beer memo and insists on putting their product in big clear bottles. It's still far better than Corona, but that’s not saying much. The only reason I brought the Sol back from Mexico is because it was one of the few beers that somehow survived the weekend without anyone opening it. And yes, there is a nascent craft brewing movement in Mexico, and particularly so in Baja, perhaps due to its proximity to San Diego. But at least I can say I bought this beer in the country where it was made. 

Friendly advice from our kind neighbors to the south that will be ignored by millions of drunken gringos tonight.
So, even if it is an Americanized holiday, and really just a commercialized excuse to sell bad beer (my friend Sam, a native of Mexicali, was derisively calling it “Drinko de Mayo” all day yesterday), I still say ¡salud!

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