Michelada: "My Cold Beer"

Spirits By Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi

The story goes that the Michelada gets its name from the words mi chela helada, or Spanish for "my cold beer." This beer cocktail, however, tastes anything but cold. For me, it is the perfect drink for when spring is making its first tentative steps into the year, but we are not packing away our winter jackets just yet. With its hearty additions of hot sauces, lime, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and sometimes soy or clam juice, the Michelada pulls chilled beer out of its summer slot. It is a drink that that leaves a lingering stream of heat from your tongue, down your throat and into your belly. That is why it is also known as the Bloody Mary of beer drinks.

Which explains the other story behind the origins of its name. Michelada may also come from the words mix and chelada running into each other. And as the stories behind its name vary, so do the recipes for it. This cerveza preperada, or mixed beer drink, first found popularity in Mexico in the 1940s.  Purists believe that it cannot be a true Michelada unless made with a light Mexican beer. That's where the rules end. There are as many recipes as there are drinkers. Some tipplers like it with slices of orange, some with tomato juice and others chile peppers. Even if the ingredients comprise the basics, many arguments about what the proportions of the spices should be. Order a Michelada in a dozen different restaurants, and each one will taste vastly different.

Since the recipe is so variable, and made with a handful of every day ingredients, you can make a customized drink for each member of your party. And that's the only way consume a Michelada - handmade and endlessly tweaked. Sure, Budweiser and Miller have started selling cans of flavored beer with clamato, or salt and lime, but those are poor substitutes for a drink that is meant to have a heavy helping of spunk.

I start my Michelada with a chilled mason jar, which I coat with a cayenne, salt, and sugar rim. Then, I put a sprinkle of salt and a generous squeeze of lime. From here on - the rules are open. Sometimes I will muddle lemon or lime, or orange slices, or a chipotle pepper. Worcestershire and hot sauce go in next, a different one every time with habanero, or scotch bonnet for extra heat. But to take down the gourmet label a notch, even regular Tabasco will do.

After the tang and spice is taken care off, this can be layered with flavor. A splash of orange juice, simple syrup, clamato or tomato juice works deliciously. Some of my experiments have used cranberry juice or sumac for tang; or green peppercorn, ginger, or horseradish for heat. The jury is out on adding ice, but I prefer beer in my Michelada, because it is so full of flavor, and it the chill of the ice is followed by the build up of heat.

When you have a Michelada at a bar or restaurant, let the bartender choose how he would like to serve it. You will discover a new mix of flavors. If you don't like it, call for another pint to tame it down. After that, you can make it as big and bold as you like.