To call a Michelada a beer cocktail is as inaccurate as it is simplistic. I see a Michelada as a work of art that was painted on the canvas that is beer. Let me explain… —INGRAIN, Fall/Winter 2019
STORY / Miguel Miramontes
Every Michelada takes me back to those summer family parties in Mexico, the banda music blaring in the background and every sip taken to fight off that almost unbearable heat. All of the flavors in the glass sprinkled with hints of nostalgia fueled my adoration—no, near-obsession—with Micheladas.
The history of the drink is divided; on the one side, you have the belief that the word Michelada is merely a Mexican portmanteau of mi chela helada. Chela is slang for beer, so the phrase mi chela helada essentially means “my ice-cold beer.” Mexicans love stories, and as one tale goes, Micheladas were the happenstance creation of fútbol rec-league player Michel Esper. As the legend goes, Esper would order his beer with lime, salt, and a straw in a cup known as a chabela; it was like a beer lemonade of sorts.
Other members of Esper’s soccer club caught wind of this refreshing concoction and started ordering these beer creations as “Michel’s lemonade,” which was eventually shortened to Michelada. As more folks became privy to this beverage, the flavor combinations became even more adventurous and vast. (There are other different, yet remarkably similar, stories, including one of a Mexican civil engineer named Michel Esper Jorge who developed the icy drink one day in the 1970s while playing a particularly sweltering round of tennis at his local sports club.)
Micheladas made it out of Mexico and onto drink menus all over Central and North America, first at Mexican restaurants and later wherever a cold beverage was in order. Bars began adapting the drink. Those without full liquor licenses took particular advantage, creating a “cocktail” while avoiding a fine.
As the popularity of Micheladas grew, beer manufacturers took notice, hoping to gain market share by releasing their own packaged versions of Michelada-inspired beers. (Insert eye roll, followed by sad head shake here.) Today Micheladas are making their way onto brunch menus everywhere and inspiring mixologists; there’s even a Michelada festival held every summer in Chicago and a handful of companies making and selling Michelada mixes.
But ultimately, the great thing about Micheladas is that they can be made a multitude of ways with endless flavor combinations. Most have evolved from those early lime, salt, and spice days to include Clamato juice and some sort of hot sauce.
But there is no right or wrong way to love–or make–a Michelada.