How to make Mexican Lagers

by Brewing beer

Mexican lagers have always been an enigma to me.  I’ve been all over Mexico, and I can say with certainty the place is hot.  The last time I was in Mexico was for a football game between the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos in Mexico City.  The game was at night, but seemed as hot as a summer day in Denver.  At the game I learned a few things.  One, the Mexicans love the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders in that order.  Two, the Denver Broncos are at the bottom of the list of favorites, right under root canals and spinal taps.  Three, Mexican beers taste awesome when it is really hot out!

Cinco de Mayo

Mexican beers aren't just for Cinco de Mayo

Mexican Lager History

Some places like Puerto Peñasco are dry and hot, others places like Acapulco are humid and hot.  All in all, Mexico is hot (did mention it’s hot in Mexico?).  Making an ale would not surprise me too much, but lagers seem to be an odd choice for such a warm climate.  I have troubles with lager temperatures in Colorado, so Mexico seems like a “lager impossibility”.  Believe it or not, the first lager brewery in Mexico, the La Pila Seca, was opened by a Swiss immigrant in 1845.  That’s impressive since commercial refrigeration really didn’t take off until 1856.

Still Mexican lagers are a great choice for a summer beer.  If you want to make some for the Fourth of July, now is a good time to start.  You’ll need to lager the beer for four weeks after fermentation.  These are great summer party beers to drink through the hot summer days and nights.  The lagers are yet another good session beer, but a bit stronger at 4.5% ABV to 5.5% ABV.

Vienna Lagers

The Mexican lager we’re going to look at is really a Vienna lager.  The Vienna lager died out in Germany, but not before Santiago Graf and other Austrian immigrant brewers in the late 1800s brought the style to Mexico.  In fact two popular beers, Negra Modelo and Dos Equis Ámbar are heavily influenced by the Vienna style.  The Vienna style shouldn’t be an exact match of these Mexican beers, since the commercialization of these beers have altered the profile of the true Vienna lager.  They now add corn syrup and other adjuncts to reduce costs.  The lager should be maltier than your typical Pilsner, more so than Corona or other lagers based on the American-style Pilsner lagers.

There are many Mexican beers, but few are like the Vienna style beer

There are many Mexican beers, but few are like the Vienna style beer

The Mexican lagers, like the Vienna style lagers, are a reddish amber to copper color with a good off-white head.  The head should last a bit.  This beer is similar in flavor to the Märzen/Oktoberfest beer , but not quite as malty.

Many Vienna lager recipes use some darker malts for color, but they should not impart any flavor or aroma.  The beer should not have any caramel flavors.  The flavor is more like toast.  Since this is a North American beer, you can use any quality Pilsner malt as your base malt.  The beer should have a crisp clean lager finish, almost dry.  The body of the beer should be a bit creamy, and have mild carbonation.  Most Mexican lagers unfortunately do not have the flavor of the original lagers.  While the current commercial incarnations are heavily laced with adjuncts, the future for Mexican lagers looks brighter.  The microbrew industry has taken America by storm also is taking hold in Mexico.  We may yet again see accurate versions of the Vienna lager in Mexico.


 3.75 lbs. of Continental Pilsner Malt
 5.0 lb. of Vienna Malt
 1.0 lb. of Munich Malt
 6.0 oz of Crystal Malt
 1.5 oz Hallertau (4.0% AA) for 60 minutes
 0.5 oz Hallertau (4.0% AA) for 10 minutes
 White Labs WLP838 Southern German Lager or Wyeast 2308 Munich Lager
 SG 1.051
 FG 1.013

Mash the grains for 90 minutes at 152 F (67 C).  You’ll want to boil the beer for 90 minutes to eliminate any DMS (dimethyl sulphide).

Ferment at the wort at 50 F, the lower end of the recommended temperature for the yeast.  Once the fermentation is complete, you’ll want to lager the beer for at least 4 weeks.  If you can make the beer in February or March, the beer will be even smoother by summer.

Carbonate the beer 2 to 2.5 volumes.

Do I fruit the beer?

It’s really up to you if you want to “fruit the beer” with a lime.  The origins of the lime were to prevent insects from getting into the beer, but many like the flavor so it has since become a tradition.  Burt Renyolds and Miller Beer can’t really be trusted on this subject.  They said “don’t fruit the beer”, and a few months later released Miller Chill.  Go with how you feel, and forget what everyone else says.

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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

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!