Agave isn’t the only hot commodity coming out of Mexico these days. In fact, the popularity of Mexican beer predates both tequila and mezcal by decades. Often seen as a refreshing summer option, the characteristic lighter qualities of the category make it an appealing entry into the world of beer for those less inclined to hoppy IPAs or thick and heavy stouts.
Mexican beer is an interesting case — often, its definition is self-explanatory: beer imported from Mexico. However, the popular Mexican-style lager beer is also brewed by craft breweries within the U.S. No matter its origins, this category is a mainstay in the mainstream, enduring as the top beer import in the country.
Sun King Brewery, based in Indianapolis, is one craft brewery making a splash in the Mexican lager category. There are various opinions on what exactly constitutes a “Mexican lager,” but most agree that it should be light in color and taste, with a crisp finish. “Light in body, flavor and almost no bitterness makes this style of beer the most approachable in the category,” says Co-founder Dave Colt. This accessibility shows in the popularity of the brewery’s two Mexican-style lagers. “It is in our top five brands that we produce. People respond to the style because it is an easy drinking by nature, with a lower ABV. Gives summer vibes year-round.”
Sun King currently has two Mexican-style lagers: their popular Pachanga, and their Una Lager, released last year in a collaboration with Viva Tia Maria beer cheese. “Mexican-Style lagers have been growing in popularity since the 80s, with people coming back from vacationing in Mexico,” says Colt. “It’s the ultimate lawnmower lager and poolside crusher.”
Even outside of the summer months, this style is favored by enthusiasts, though warmer months show an uptick in consumption, according to Colt.
Outside of the craft brewery realm, the definition of Mexican beer solidifies. These beers are produced in Mexico and exported around the world. In fact, the U.S. is one of the largest importers of this beer style, and within the U.S. itself, the top category of importer beer is claimed by those made south of the border.
Constellation Brands is beverage producer that counts some of the most popular Mexican beer brands among its portfolio, including Modelo, Corona and Pacifico. “We have always been focused on the high end, which is where Mexican beer sits, and we’ve been focused on this segment since we started,” a company spokesperson says. “We’ve been consistent in our marketing, and develop campaigns year after year that capture the essence of our Mexican beer brands.”
For Modelo, big things are on the horizon. “Modelo is continuing to thoughtfully innovate on our end,” says Greg Gallagher, VP of brand marketing at Modelo. “The biggest example is Modelo Chelada. Over the last ten years, we have built the number one ready to drink chelada brand by expanding our portfolio with broadly appealing fruit flavors that have driven category growth with both Hispanic and general market consumers.”
Modelo Chelada is a beer-based RTD offering, inspired by the michelada and chelada, two popular Mexican cocktails. This move was to expand the company’s footprint to include drinkers that may not have been as interested in beer.
“And we’re not done yet,” says Gallagher, “as we’re gearing up to launch our sixth flavor, Sandia Picante, in March.” In driving home the success of Modelo Chelada, the company expects depletions to grow 42% this year.
“We’re also expanding the footprint of Modelo Oro in March after a successful test in the Charlotte, Fresno and Houston markets,” Gallagher enthuses. “Modelo Oro is a great alternative for consumers looking for a lighter option, without sacrificing the traditional Modelo flavor they know and love.”
While the company continues to innovate through its products, it has also made strides into new marketing territory.
Modelo launched its brand campaign, “Fighting Spirit” to success, showing rapid growth over the last five years. It then accessed further markets through targeted English-speaking campaigns, including sponsoring sporting events such as the College Football Playoff.
“As the official beer sponsor of the College Football Playoff, we have the opportunity to reach a huge group of hyper-engaged fans to bring the fighting spirit to life throughout the college football season,” comments Gallagher.
“We also launched an integrated campaign platform this past fall — conscious Full Time Fans — which included two thematic TV spots that celebrate and reward the fighting spirit of those who support their team like it’s their job, activation on social and the chance for one lucky fan to win $100,000 and a trip to the National Championship game in Los Angeles, awarded by our partner, Desmond Howard. It was a really exciting way to amplify this partnership and we look forward to doubling down in 2023.”
Modelo isn’t the only brand partnering with sporting leagues. Corona is a sponsor of the MLB.
“Corona is proud to continue our multi-year sponsorship of the MLB,” a company spokesperson comments. “As the Official Cerveza of Major League Baseball, our brand is served in dozens of stadiums across the country and aims to bring fans closer to the sport. As a brand proud to celebrate its Mexican heritage, it was a natural decision to sponsor the MLB and MiLB, a sport beloved by the Hispanic community.”
Corona is also a partner of Oceanic Global, a nonprofit in ocean conservation. Together, the two are pursuing the goal to clean up 100 beaches and remove one million pounds of plastic from beaches, waterways and its business by the company’s 100th birthday in 2025.
For the long term, the company continues to evolve it’s ‘La Vida Más Fina’ campaign.
“Our masterbrand campaign has been really resonating with consumers,” says Alex Schulz, VP of Brand Marketing at Corona. “These spots and full 360 campaign helped propel the brand into the center of culture by taking its talkability and cool factor to new heights. Last year, we welcomed Andy Samberg to the La Vida Mas Fina family alongside our pal Snoop Dogg. We’ve seen tremendous success with three of the top five best scoring ads in the beer category this past year.”
Corona continues to introduce new product innovations to the market. “Corona is really excited to launch Corona Non-Alcoholic come March,” says Schultz. “This non-alcoholic brew has the same crisp, refreshing flavor of the classic Corona beer consumers know and love.”
“We’re also relaunching Corona Refresca as Corona Refresca Hard Tropical Punch to create a distinctive and ownable space within the flavored beverage alcohol space,” she adds. “In addition to the relaunch, we’re swapping Coconut for Mango, which we have found is more appealing to consumers. And we’re introducing Corona Refresca Hard Tropical Punch Guava in a 24-oz. can.”
Mexican beer’s sustained popularity is a noteworthy characteristic. The category has both the high-quality and experimentation of craft breweries, and the relevance carried by larger companies that import directly from Mexico. Next time you’re looking for a taste of summer, consider grabbing a Mexican beer, or a Mexican-style lager.
Jamie Stafford is the editorial associate at Beverage Dynamics. Reach her at email@example.com. Read her recent piece, 7 Alcohol Trends in 2022-23.