May 4, 2011

Fünfte Mai?

Today is Cinco de Mayo which for many in the US is an excuse to drink cheap imported lagers or get wasted on tequilla. I think it is a better time to enjoy a Vienna-style lager. What? Drink a beer from Austria for Mexican Independence Day? First, let us burst the myth that Cinco de Mayo has anything to do with Mexico gaining its independence. I think chef Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe summed it up best in a recent New Times blog posting:
You see, it's the same bullshit story year after year. I start to hear the Cinco de Mayo radio ads for those crazy parties that even include wet tee shirt contests, and it drives me right into LOCA overdrive.

I want to be clear and to the point: Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day.

​In fact, it's a rather small celebration that -- in that country -- comes and goes without much fanfare, except that most of the Mexicanos remember to eat mole on that day. This rich and exotic Poblano dish, that many times is made with over 30 ingredients, comes from Puebla, Mexico.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates a minor battle between Mexican and French forces near Puebla on May 5th, 1862. The true Mexican Independence Day is September 16th.

Returning to Vienna lager, we must go back to 1841, the year Anton Dreher introduced lager beer to Austria at his famous Schwechat brewery. Despite it's coppery reddish-brown hue, this was considered the first pale lager in contrast to the darker Munich Dunkel style popular in Germany. We call it amber lager today due to Bohemian Pilsner coming on the scene shortly after with the first truly pale yellow colored beer. The Pilsner path leads us astray from our story though and ends in the dead end of the macro lager many people are enjoying today.

Vienna-style lager and its toasty, melanoidin-rich malt profile made the trip across the Atlantic following the brief, ill-fated reign of Austrian Maximilian I in Mexico in the mid 1860s. Maximilian brought along his own brewer to brew Vienna-style lager to be followed by German immigrants in the latter half of the 19th Century who carried on Old World brewing traditions in Mexico. As a result, despite Vienna lager practically being extinct in its country of origin, it lives on in Mexico in the form of beers such as Negra Modello and Dos Equis Amber.

If you are heading out today to celebrate Mexican non-Independence Day, consider ordering a Vienna-style lager to pare with your Mexican fare. As renowned beer write Michael Jackson described the style in his book Beer Companion:
While the golden lagers of Mexico do nothing more than wash down its spicy foods, these darker, sweeter brews can marry the flavors. They work well with the corn used in broths, tarts and breads, with the pumpkin flour and the shredded chicken and pork stews. The chocolaty Negra Modelo is perfect with chicken mole.

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