The ritual of drinking
There are several reasons offered for why the lime is added to the neck of a Corona bottle, none of which have any credence. The main reasons suggested for the lime are masking the light struck odors, protecting the lip of the beer from bugs big and small, or because a bartender wanted to start a fad.
Masking the odors from the beer being light struck is silly, because large macro beers like Corona use light stable hop extracts. The beer is unlikely to become light struck. The lime would not sanitize the lip of the bottle, nor would it be particularly helpful for keeping flies out of the beer. The book Buy-ology, by Martin Lindstron, claims a bartender wanted to start a fad, but I cannot find any other evidence or reference to this (I did email asking for a reference, but received no reply). This sounds like a story from a “friend of a friend”.
In the 1980s, Modelo, the company who owns the Corona brand, changed the bottle to the iconic clear longneck with raised letters and marketed Corona heavily to the American college students on spring break at the Mexican resorts of Cancún and Cabo San Lucas. The best explanation I’ve heard for the ritual’s origin is American college students just started adding the lime and the idea took off.
Regardless how the ritual started, Modelo’s marketing efforts had a dramatic effect on the Corona brand. Corona’s U.S. sales rocketed from 1.8 million cases in 1984 to 13.5 million in 1986. Barton Beers, Ltd., Modelo’s Chicago-based importer for the 24 states west of the Mississippi, advertised the beer featuring young attractive people (go figure) on tropical beaches with the beer and lime. The beer isn’t especially tasty, but this ritual helped take the Mexican beer to the top of American imports.
The ritual of the lime sparks an emotion in the consumer. You think of vacations on beaches, relaxing in the sand, and sipping beer. Even rapper Shwayze has a song “Corona and Lime” where the lyrics “baby will you be my corona and lime” reinforce the connection. Other Mexican brands have tried including the lime in their bottles, but when you see a beer with a lime in the top, you associate it with Corona.
Shaken not stirred
If you’ve ever seen a James Bond film, you know the line when he orders a martini – “Shaken, not stirred”. The reason for stirring a martini is to prevent the gin from becoming “bruised”. The ritual implies sophistication and wealth. Only the truly sophisticated would know why you do not shake the martini. Why Bond shakes it, who knows. Maybe to be different?
There is a huge amount of debate on the “whys” of stirring. W. Somerset Maugham declared that “martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lay sensuously one on top of the other”. This sounds like a rich people version of “hippie” to me.
Believe it or not, the James Bond famous catch phrase “shaken, not stirred” was the subject of a medical study. In the 1999 paper, “Shaken, not stirred: bioanalytical study of the antioxidant activities of martinis”, University of Western Ontario biochemistry researchers determined there were health benefits to shaking the martini. The paper claimed “Shaken martinis were more effective in deactivating hydrogen peroxide than the stirred variety, and both were more effective than gin or vermouth alone”. This means shaken martinis are a superior antioxidant (that’s good). The researchers did not look into any benefits to adding the olive, so take note graduate students–there’s at least a paper, and possibly a thesis, in the olive.
Why is Guinness so foamy?
When your beer is poured, usually the bartender will avoid foam. The point is to pour the pint to the top as quickly as possible. Ever notice it is the opposite for Guinness? The bartender will pour a very foamy pint ¾ full. Then let it sit until more can be poured into the glass. You might even get a shamrock on the top of your Guinness if your bartender is particularly adept at pouring. The reason? – clever marketing.
Since Guinness uses nitrogen in their beer, it loses its head much quicker. The nitrogen escapes the beer much quicker than carbon dioxide. In the early 1900s, Guinness was getting their asses kicked in the UK pubs. No one wanted to wait for a Guinness when you could get a pale ale much quicker (and thus be drunk much quicker). How did Guinness fix this problem? As the Buy-ology book by Martin Lindstrom discusses, they introduced a ritual surrounding the beer.
Guinness ran ads stating “good things come to those who wait” and “it takes 119.53 seconds to pour the perfect pint”. They serve their beer with a special faucet to perturb the beer as it pours. Guinness’ brewmaster, Fergal Murray, is quoted as saying “we don’t want anyone putting liquid into a glass”. They turned a liability into a beer ritual. Now Guinness is the most famous stout beer on the market.
The story of wine
Wine has a ritual too. First you are presented the bottle by the server, then the cork, you swirl the glass or wine, smell the glass, and eventually sip the wine. The wine cork is presented to check to see if your wine is corked (contains 2,4,6-trichloroanisole – TCA which makes your wine taste like ass). You swirl the glass to introduce oxygen into the wine so more aroma is released and you can see the alcohol lacing. Everything is done according to a time honored tradition for serving wine.
There are reasons for each step of tasting your wine, but the truth is this is a ritual. A funky smelling cork does not necessarily mean the bottle is corked, the wine needs to actually be tasted to determine this, and yet this step is still practiced. Pouring the wine into a glass should add oxygen, will swirling really add much more?
Lick, shoot, and suck.
Of course there is a ritual surrounding tequila (and we’re not talking “tequila makes her clothes fall off”). The common ritual for drinking tequila is to start with a lick of salt and chase the tequila with a lime. Anyone who has done a shot of tequila knows this ritual.
Countries other than the United States do not necessarily have this ritual. According to Wikipedia, the German’s tequila shot, called Cimmamon (not cinnamon), replaces the salt and lime with cinnamon and an orange slice. The Mexicans drink it straight, but this is with higher quality tequila (one would hope).
The ritual probably started to dull the sharpness of cheaper tequilas. The truth is the ritual makes the shooter more popular.
Why introduce a ritual?
Wine makers can sell their product for hundreds of dollars even though Charles Shaw (Two Buck Chuck) has proved you can sell a wine for much less and still make a profit. Charles Shaw wines, like their Chardonnay, have even won awards against much higher priced wines. So how do wines sell for so much? The more expensive wines include a story, and are presented with a ritual. You’re buying the experience.
Researchers have shown a wine drinker will enjoy the wine more if the wine is more expensive. This reaction by their test subjects was not imagined. Their reactions could be seen on MRIs. The researchers found “that the brain might compute experienced pleasantness in a much more sophisticated manner that involves integrating the actual sensory properties of the substance being consumed with the expectations about how good it should be.” In short the price of the wine changed how pleasurable the subject thought the wine was.
In each of the cases above, the beverage is ordinary on its own. Are Corona and Guinness the best representatives of their style? No, there are better Pilsners and stouts. Does any wine deserve a $100 USD price tag? No, no wine costs that much to make. Once a ritual is introduced for each beverage, it may elevate a drink to superstardom because you’re no longer selling just a product, you’re selling an experience with mystique.
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Credits and Links
I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!