Reader, I swear to you, I thought I loved micheladas.
And really, what’s not to love? I can’t say no to a good beer, and I’ve always had an affinity for Bloody Marys, so a drink that takes the best of both worlds and combines them into one symbiotic whole is a no-brainer. A great michelada — particularly when you get your hands on one with the perfect blend of spicy heat, saltiness and lime — makes for the perfect summertime drink, ideal for nursing while sitting in the sun.
Perhaps that’s why there’s been such an uptick in the amount of canned micheladas and cheladas (while a michelada contains tomato juice, a chelada is simply a beer with lime and salt) on shelves lately. In 2019, the category enjoyed its biggest year ever, raking in $440 million in sales, and it’s expected to continue growing from there.
But the more canned micheladas and cheladas I tasted, the more I realized they’ll never measure up to the real thing. There’s no accounting for personal taste in a mass-produced, canned cocktail, of course, and personal taste plays a significant role in how we order our micheladas in a bar or restaurant. Do you prefer yours spicy, brine-y or mild? Are you a fan of Clamato, or do you prefer something a little less overpowering when it comes to adding some seafood umami to your drink? (Personally, I’m Team Worcestershire Sauce for life.) And there’s plenty of room for error; a good michelada is absolutely delicious, but a bad michelada can be downright vile. The idea when selling a canned version is to appeal to as many people as possible, and unfortunately that means many wind up being watered-down, lowest-common-denominator brews.
After taste-testing and ranking nine different canned options, I’m not going to lie — it’s going to take a while for me to ever feel compelled to drink a michelada again. (There’s a very distinct tomato-and-clam flavor in my mouth right now just thinking about some of the less-drinkable ones. It haunts me.) Generally speaking, you’re much better off buying fresh ingredients and making your own at home. But it wasn’t a total bust; we did manage to find one or two that surprised us, and we ranked them all — from downright disgusting to not bad at all — below.
9. Bud Light Chelada
Given how I feel about Bud Light in general, my expectations for this one were pretty low to begin with, but I couldn’t have imagined how gross it actually is. It tastes like if you took a Bud Light, left it out overnight to get flat and then dumped a whole bunch of clam juice and some canned tomato puree into it. The salt and the lime are barely detectable, as is any kind of beer-like flavor, and what you’re left with is a sad concoction that somehow manages to be bland and watery as well as overwhelmingly Clamato-y at the same time.
8. Estrella Jalisco Tropical Chamoy Michelada
This michelada features Clamato, pineapple juice and chamoy flavor, and how you feel about it will likely depend entirely on how you feel about Clamato. To my taste, it was way too much, completely dominating any of the tropical fruit flavors we were promised. There’s something about the fishiness of the Clamato that gives the pineapple juice an upsettingly puke-y taste, and the chamoy is barely noticeable.
7. Budweiser Chelada Picante
For my money, the key to a great michelada is a healthy amount of hot sauce, so I had high hopes for this Budweiser chelada that promised to turn up the heat. Sadly, while it does have more flavor to it than the Bud Light Chelada, it’s still pretty thin. There’s no substantial spice here, and it tastes profoundly salty more than anything else.
6. Sol Chelada
There are other micheladas on this list with ABVs as low as Sol’s 3.5%, but for some reason, they did a better (though, to be clear, still not great) job of keeping the booze in the flavor profile. Here, on the other hand, it’s virtually indiscernible. I docked some points for that — if I wanted a virgin Bloody Mary, I’d drink a virgin Bloody Mary — but the good news here is that Sol’s attempt is still leagues above Anheuser Busch’s two efforts. There’s a nice, non-watery tomato flavor as well as hints of peppercorn and salt. Crank up that ABV to around 5% and we’d be getting somewhere.
5. Modelo Chelada Limón y Sal
Finally, a break from tomato juice. Modelo’s Limón y Sal Chelada opts for the two classic flavors traditionally paired with a Mexican lager: lime and salt. The flavor here is pretty middle-of-the-road; it’s not terrible by any means, but the body’s a little thin, and the lime-to-salt ratio feels a little out-of-whack (there’s too much of the latter and not enough of the former).
4. Modelo Chelada Mango y Chile
Like its Limón y Sal flavor, Modelo’s Mango y Chile Chelada is pretty thin (really though, what can we expect from a macrobrew with a 3.5% ABV?). It’s pleasant, if not particularly memorable. The mango flavor comes through nicely, but the chile is hard to pick up on.
3. Modelo Chelada Especial
So many of the canned micheladas we tried overdid it with the Clamato or tomato juice, but interestingly, it’s the lime flavor that comes through strongest here. The tomato and salt are still present, but they’re more subtle. Maybe you don’t want your michelada to taste like a seafood dinner or a glass of V8. This one’s still thinner than I’d like it to be (at this point, I feel like screaming, “is there really beer in this?”), but we’re getting warmer.
2. Golden Road Brewing Guava Chelada Cart
Just when I was starting to think I was completely anti-Clamato, Golden Road’s Guava Chelada Cart proved me wrong. The Clamato’s much more understated than it is in the other canned micheladas that rely on the tomato juice and clam broth blend, and as a result, the guava is really given room to shine. There’s almost a delayed release of the flavor — you get the guava most prominently first, and then the Clamato hits you on the finish.
1. Tecate Michelada
There’s a good chance you’ve already been adding lime and salt to your Tecates, so this is really only taking things one step further by throwing tomato into the mix. But while it’s simple, Tecate Michelada also manages to deliver the most well-balanced, robust flavor profile of the bunch. You can actually taste the beer (hallelujah!), and there’s even a hint of spice on the finish to remind you they did more than just dump in some tomato juice. The lime and salt are both present without overdoing it as well. Is it as good as the real thing? No, but it’s the closest you’ll get in a can.
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