Michelada manual

written and designed by Texas monthly studio, Photography by Arturo Olmos
What makes an authentic Michelada? Lovers of the Michelada have strong opinions. What should certainly be included? What never belongs in the drink? At its base, a Michelada is a simple thing. it's A beer cocktail that makes Modelo Especial shine, but it's also customizable to the whims of the drinker.  
Part of what we love about a Michelada and what makes it such an interesting beverage is the amount of latitude a bartender, mixologist, taquero, or chef has when they interpret the drink. What it is not, is something with ironclad ratios and ingredients.
the making of a michelada

What makes a

Real Michelada

The fundamentals of the recipe are clear. Start with a crisp, refreshing Modelo Especial. Add some acid in the form of lime juice, add some salt, some piquancy, and some spice. Almost every recipe includes dark, savory condiments in a mix called petróleo, in reference to its dark color. This usually consists of Maggi seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and other savory condiments and spices. 

The Michelada originated in Mexico and then spread into the American Southwest and beyond. According to David Wondrich, a cocktail writer and historian, the first appearance of a Michelada outside of Mexico occurred in Austin, Texas in 1985. This was well before the Michelada became as popular as it is today, where it appears on menus all across the city of Austin and even as far north as Canada. Its early appearance in Austin sheds light on why Texas has so many great interpretations of the drink today.
moods of
We’ve found what’s most important about a Michelada is at the heart of its origin myth (we’ll get to this later) as a hangover conqueror. It’s a drink that is meant to refresh, starting with the ice-cold, crisp Modelo at its base. Add the sour punch of lime juice, a salty rim, some spicy sauces, and you’ve got a drink that satisfies across the flavor spectrum. Beyond that, a Michelada can be enjoyed in an almost endless number of varieties. Jimmy Buffett once said Margaritaville was anywhere you want it to be—in that way, the Michelada too can be understood as more than a beverage—its interpretation is a representation of the maker of the drink. It’s a state of mind. It’s a mood ring.  

We partnered up with Modelo to explore the delicious varieties of Micheladas in Austin and found that that no matter what mood you’re in, you can find a Michelada to pair with it. Whether you want to go to a neighborhood dive where everybody knows your name, or you want to grab a bite at a taqueria with a drink that can stand up to bold flavors, we have a suggestion. Maybe you’re looking for a cocktail to pair with dinner at a swanky restaurant, or perhaps you want to spend an afternoon of leisure by the pool—it could be you’re just looking for one of the best drinks you’ve ever had, no matter the locale. Whatever vibe you’re looking for, we’ve found the perfect Michelada for every mood.
a drink by the pool
1316 S. Congress Avenue
400 Josephine Street
The Bunkhouse Hotel Group is known for their commitment to design and for making beautiful places. Their take on the Michelada at Hotel San Jose is no different. This Michelada really makes the Modelo Especial shine, including just lime juice, soy, tobasco, and Worcestershire sauce. It’s svelte, savory, and spicy, the perfect accompaniment for a long, warm afternoon out by the pool. If you ask nicely, they’ll even serve it with Modelo Negra, for a darker twist on this favorite. Across town, they have another interpretation at their laid back, Barton Springs adjacent, Carpenters Hall restaurant at the Carpenter Hotel. You’ll find a little more tomato flavor complementing the Modelo Especial in this one, along with a menu inspired by the notion of “New Eyes on Old Texas.”
Carpenters Hall offers an elegant Michelada with a touch of tomato.
The Hotel San José  Michelada is the ultimate drink to have by the pool.
The De Nada Cantina Michelada pairs well with the restaurant’s authentic interior Mexican flavors.
an authentic vibe
4715 E. Cesar Chavez
De Nada threads a tricky needle: while their decor and atmosphere evoke the nostalgia of beloved Tex-Mex joints from childhood, their dishes also please the more polished palettes of urbane diners. They offer authentic interior Mexican flavors, with a wide selection of classic and frozen margaritas. Modelo Especial and Negra happen to be their most popular beers, so it’s only natural that they taste great in their Michelada recipe, which is based on the style locals might get near the Riviera Maya on the Yucatan Peninsula. Their De Nada Michelada is a concentrated, rustic, spicy, and refreshing take on the drink.
Though a single recipe for the Michelada may be hard to define, there is an origin myth. One warm day in the 70’s, Michel Esper Jorge arrived hungover for a tennis match at the sports club he frequented in San Luis Potosí, a town northwest of Mexico City. After his match, he had a thirst that only the hair-of-the-dog could conquer, and he requested a crisp beer on ice, garnished with an assortment of spices, condiments, and lime. The drink came to be known as “Michel’s limonada,”or Michel’s lemonade in English. Over time, the drink’s name was shortened to Michelada—or so that story goes. Another explanation is simply that Michelada is a shortening of the phrase mi chela helada, meaning “my ice-cold beer.”  

Even if we give the story of Michel Esper Jorge the benefit of the doubt, students of drinking culture in Central and South America may question what was so special about his invention. The “cervezas preparadas,” a drink of beer augmented by salt, citrus, and various spices has been popular at least since the 1940’s. The cervezas preparadas is more varied than the Michelada, a vast umbrella that in many cases can cover almost any kind of beer cocktail enjoyed in Latin America. Perhaps his invention of the Michelada was an exact concoction of ingredients, something lost now to improvisation. As many artists know, once you release your masterpiece out into the world, its interpretation is no longer your own. The Michelada belongs to the ages now.
La Perla Cantina’s “Ar-Modelo” measures out perfect on top of a can of Modelo Especial.
The Creation of the “Ar-Modelo” Michelada
1512 E 6th Street
Eddie Castillo’s parents bought the La Perla Cantina on Austin’s East Side back in 1973, and he still runs the bar to this day. The one room establishment fills with regulars who spill out to the picnic tables in front and behind on pleasant days. Years ago, someone came in and ordered a Michelada, but Castillo didn’t have all the ingredients. He improvised by adding salt, lime juice, and tabasco sauce on the top of a Modelo can, before opening the tab, letting the sour, spicy mixture drop inside to mix with the cool, crisp beer. Castillo says the top of the can is the perfect measuring cup to get the right ratio. It’s a delicious way to enjoy a Michelada, and it led to a boost in Modelo sales at La Perla.
Do you like your Michelada with a touch of tomato, clamato, or neither?
tomayto, tomahto
Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about the Michelada is that it is simply a Bloody Mary with a Mexican lager exchanged for vodka. To some, the defining characteristic of a Michelada is tomato or clamato juice (a mixture of tomato juice, clam broth, and spices). In fact, many Michelada lovers will recoil in horror if they order the drink and then see the bartender reach for store bought Bloody Mary mix. Many would even cancel their order and reconsider. There’s no doubt that Bloody Mary mix is a poor substitute for a well-crafted Michelada recipe, but the reaction against this practice has created another misconception—that tomato flavor has no place in any Michelada. 

Like all things, the truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle. It’s true that the “original” Michelada probably did not have a tomato element, but as the drink spread through the regions of Mexico and beyond, regional variations took hold. In the north of Mexico, Micheladas generally don’t use tomato juice or clamato, but even there the option is sometimes offered. The integration of clamato or tomato juice doesn’t mean a Michelada is inauthentic—it’s really all about preference.
Sometimes Moody is the Mood
2201 Manor Road
Climbing the stairs up to Techo, a Mezcaleria and Agave bar above longtime East Austin TexMex favorite Mi Madre’s, feels like visiting a little cantina from a Western film. Open the weathered double hacienda-style doors and you’ll find a cozy, candlelit bar with a beautiful stained glass window depicting agave harvesting. Mezcal is king at Techo, but everyone loves a Modelo to wash down the smokey spirit. Techo also has a rustic take on the Michelada, prominently featuring Maggi, Valentina’s hot sauce, and lime juice. Served in a stout mug that fits right into the old-school cantina mood of Techo, you can enjoy this Michelada with Especial or Modelo Negra, as the mood strikes you.
The mood at Techo evokes cantinas from old Westerns.
The bold Michelada at Techo is delicious with Modelo Especial and Modelo Negra.
great with tacos
2525 W. Anderson Lane
When you’re having a delicious meal, it’s important to have a beverage that can hold up to the strong flavors on your plate. At Dos Batos Woodfired Tacos, they use mesquite wood to grill up the protein and veggies on their tacos, so it’s all about bold flavors. Luckily, they have a Michelada that can live up to the bold tacos they’re serving up on their homemade flour tortillas. Their savory, spicy mix pairs perfectly with the full flavored Modelo pilsner.
The Dos Batos Michelada packs enough punch to stand up to the taqueria’s woodfired flavors.
Brews for All Seasons
121 Pickle Road
1300 E. 4th Street
One great thing about working from home is that you can work from your favorite neighborhood spots, like one of Cosmic’s locations. There, you can enjoy coffee, cocktails, beer, tacos, and more. Cosmic opens early so you can make your transition from coffee brew to Modelo brew whenever the mood strikes you. The zing of their Michelada mix pairs with the lively carbonation of Modelo Especial, making the perfect companion to their selection of snacks and breakfast tacos.
Enjoy a platter of tacos and a Michelada with friends at Cosmic Saltillo.
The smoky, salty mixture at La Holly pairs well with every delicious sip of their Michelada.
what's on the rim
The many moods of the Michelada don’t end with the recipe for Michelada mix. In fact, the garnishments and salty concoctions on the rim are endlessly customizable, and often make a Michelada a feast for the eyes as much as a tasty beverage. The most classic choice is salt on the rim, but Tajin is another favorite. Many Michelada fans also enjoy a little chamoy on the rim, but the customization goes even further. Here are some of our favorites:
La Holly
The rim here features dark, smokey, spice from smoked chiles, sugar, and salt.
After dipping the rim of of the cup in chamoy, the rim is then dipped in Tajin, making every sip a celebration of sweet, sour, and spice.
de nada cantina
De Nada uses an oak smoked salt mixed with ancho chile powder. The glass is also garnished with lime and a tamarindo chamoy straw.
Hotel San José
The mixture on the rim at Hotel San Jose is sugar, salt, red chile powder, and cayenne. Their Michelada is also garnished with lime and lemon.
At Nixta, Miguel mixes up his namesake Michelada, “Miguelito’s Michi.”
where process meets palate
2512 E. 12th Street
At Nixta, the process and techniques for producing great food are so important they named the place after the ancient nixtamalization process they use to produce each and every one of their handmade tortillas. It should come as no surprise that the James Beard Award-winning team at Nixta has meticulously thought out their “Miguelito’s Michi” recipe, loaded with vegetables, spices, and piquant sauces. This house recipe is just the counterpoint to the notes of honey, malt, and maize you find in every bottle of Modelo Especial. It’s fitting that the maize notes work so well with this recipe concocted by a restaurant dedicated to the tradition of corn preparation found at Nixta.
Here's To Happy hour
2500 e. 6th Street
When the work day is winding down, La Holly is just getting started. This Mezcal bar on the East Side has a great patio to unwind with friends and a cold Modelo after a long day’s work. They also serve up fish tacos from a food truck out back. Their Michelada, a bold concoction with clamato, pairs perfectly with the tacos. There’s nothing more refreshing than an ice cold Michelada outside on a beautiful evening. La Holly is also known for their house made spice mix they put on the rim of the Michelada and other drinks. It consists of smoked chiles, sugar, and salt, and takes the drink to the next level.
Get your happy hour fix with La Holly’s Michelada.
an elegant dinner
2525 W. Anderson Lane
The tall, vaulted ceilings, ample windows, and chic design of the dining room at Este set the mood for the elevated culinary experience you’ll enjoy there. The focus is on masa and seafood at Este, but their fresh produce is lovely too—they grow much of it in a large garden in back of the restaurant. Behind the golden hued bar they make a mean Michelada with a house made mix including a petróleo sauce made from Maggi and other sauces and a chile vinegar for spice. Paired with an ice cold Modelo Especial, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a whole grilled fish or to their crispy swordfish tacos.
The elegant, savory Michelada at Este is just the accompaniment to their many fresh seafood dishes.
You’ll have to guess what’s in the mix of these Michelada’s at Gabrielas--they’re not telling.
the secret sauce

Due to the Michelada’s adaptability, there are many spots who are secretive about their recipe, while others will tell you every single ingredient. Here’s the level of secrecy surrounding some of our favorite spots.
The bartender said he didn’t even know the ingredients for the mix and that it was prepared in secret by the bar manager.
The bartender was pretty sure she could make the mix, but officially the bar manager held the secret recipe.
While incredibly forthcoming about most of the recipe, Miguel kept a few steps of mix-making secret.
public domain
Hotel San josé, La holly
These spots have all their ingredients listed right on the menu.
La Perla, Techo
These spots mixed up the Michelada from scratch ingredients right at the bar. This demonstrates an appreciation for simplicity, but it still resulted in super tasty drinks.
Drink responsibly. Modelo Especial® and Modelo Negra® Beers. Imported by Crown Imports, Chicago, IL
Todo con medida. Modelo Especial® y Modelo Negra® Beers. Importada por Crown Imports, Chicago, IL