The Michelada, a Refreshing Platform for Experimentation

Image: Empellón

Traditionally, the Mexican drink michelada is made with lager, lime juice and hot sauce. But Americans, as we do, are adding, embellishing and giving the traditional drink a new look and taste.

“In the U.S. it has come to mean a spicy way of having beer,” says Noah Small, beverage director at Empellón in New York City.

At Empellón’s Al Pastor location in the East Village there is a traditional michelada, which Small thinks is the best version of the drink. It features Tecate, Maggi seasoning, reposado tequila, lime juice, a tincture made from serrano chilies and a chili-salt rim.

Michelada at the Al Pastor location of  Empellón in New York City

At the three-location chain’s West Village Taqueria, there’s a Michelada Verde which, as its name suggests, is green. The ingredients for this beverage are jalapeños, cilantro, cucumber and tomatillos, which are pureed to make a green juice before lime juice is added. “You end up drinking a green beer that has a nice kick,” Small says.

Empellón offers fewer micheladas than previously so it can focus more on the traditional style, though Small says “guests ask for riffs on them from time to time.” One former variety was a peach michelada with peach nectar, peach liqueur and pasilla chili. Nowadays, though, he says he gets a lot of requests for mezcal in micheladas or for lageritas—a margarita in a large mug with beer poured over the top and a smoked salt rim.

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At La Contenta, which has two locations in New York City, there are four micheladas on the menu—one traditional and three riffs.

The Classica features cucumber and freshly squeezed orange juice “to add body and sweetness,” says owner and mixologist Alex Valencia. Those ingredients are combined with hot sauce and lime juice plus lager, with a tajin rim. The beer he’s loving right now for this drink is a Mexican craft beer, Monopolio. This is the most popular michelada, Valencia says. “It’s very refreshing and we like people to have a real Mexican experience.” This drink costs $7 at the Lower East Side location and $10 at La Contenta Oeste (where the rents are much higher, he explains).

There’s also a Michelada De Tuna, featuring prickly pear puree, which is sweet. This cocktail has less heat than the others, Valencia says. The ingredients also include hot sauce and lime juice with a salt rim. This costs $8 ($11 in the West Village).

At there’s a Michelada Tamarindo, which uses tamarinds, orange juice, chili morita and chili meco “which add complexity,” says Valencia, who adds that this is a spicy one.

​​​​Blackberry Michelada at La Contenta NYC and La Contenta Oeste

And both locations offer a Blackberry Michelada, which uses a blackberry puree, grapefruit juice, tajin and a salt rim.

Valencia’s currently working on a new michelada he’d like to launch for the spring. This version will feature either a pineapple beer he’s hoping to source (failing that, he’ll use homemade pineapple puree), cilantro and chili.

“I’m looking to give customers new experiences,” Valencia says. “The michelada is very much an aperitif—it’s refreshing and can open up the appetite.”