Look no further, sweaty summertime drinkers: This is the one drink that will singlehandedly get you through this muggy season. High-maintenance mojitos can take a backseat, syrupy margaritas should step aside, and plain ol’ beer can park it; for the mighty — and crazy simple — michelada is here.
While the history of the michelada — like the origin stories of many a classic cocktail — is suitably foggy and changes by the region, all that you really need to know is this: A michelada is Mexican lager over ice, served in a pint glass with a salted rim, sometimes just with lime, sometimes with tomato juice, hot sauce and lime, and sometimes with a kicky pour of clamato (tomato juice with a hit of briny clam juice) for good measure. No matter which way you choose to tweak them, though, they’re the perfect blend of carbonated, citrusy and spicy, and they never weigh you down — a crucial quality in a summer drink.
Max Toste, owner and barman extraordinaire of Allston’s Deep Ellum/Lone Star Taco Bar one-two punch, became a devout michelada drinker after a trip to Mexico a few years back.
“Depending on who you ask, cheladas and micheladas can be interchangeable,” he explains. “We were staying at this hotel in Mazatlán by the beach. Every morning, I would drink beer over ice with lime and salt with breakfast and I thought, ‘This is just the greatest thing ever.’”
Toste soon realized that his Mazatlán poolside version of the michelada wasn’t the only interpretation. After ordering one at the Mexico City airport, he was given a similar concoction that included tomato juice and hot sauce.
One of the popular theories of the drink’s name is that “michelada” is simply a vernacular evolution of chela, Mexican slang for a beer. Thus, when you ask for a cold beer, you’ve got mi chela helada. Wherever the rest of it came from, be it an ancient Aztec recipe (lots of Modelo Especial in those days), or just a combo that some dude in a bar somewhere made up out of boredom one slow night, any bar with lime, salt and a little bloody mary mix should be game to hook you up.
On Toste’s menu, they fall into three categories. The chelada is just straight-up beer (they use Dos Equis lager) over ice, with a few ounces of fresh lime juice and a salted rim. The michelada is beer combined with their house bloody mary mix (a spicy, delicious creation for those familiar with their incarnation of the drink), with a salted rim. And last, but not least, the terra chelada, a nod to the concoction on the menu at the South End’s El Centro, combines clamato juice with the beer, topped off with a chili-salt rim.
For those moments when it’s too hot to make the trek to a bar, it's easy enough to whip one up at home. The michelada is all about easy drinking, not sweating over a muddler or shaking a cocktail until your arms want to fall off.
“First, salt the rim of the glass by running a lime wedge around it. Then, squeeze half a lime into a glass, and throw the whole thing in there. Add ice and a can of light Mexican lager and you’re done,” Toste says, emphasizing the need for a light lager like Pacifico or Modelo Especial. “It’s one of those things that, if it gets too good, it tastes weird. It needs to be really light-bodied, so it doesn’t just taste like someone watered down your beer on accident.”
If you want the extra bump from the tomato, Toste recommends going all in and stocking the fridge with clamato. It plays off the salt just enough, and hits the high notes right alongside the lime. From there, you can play around with your preferences, making it as spicy or laid-back as you like.