In 1864, Emperor Maximilian I left his native Austria and seized power in Mexico, bringing with him Polka music, the backing of the Habsburg and Bonaparte dynasties, and a love for dark Vienna lagers. His personal brewery continued producing Austrian-style beer after Maximilian’s execution in 1867, and today, several Mexican breweries produce the style, the chief two among them being Negra Modelo and Dos Equis Ambar. Both beers shed aristocratic pretensions long ago and today they can be enjoyed even by those with more proletariat budgets.
Dos Equis Ambar:
With a bright red amber color and a foamy head, one could easily mistake Dos Equis Ambar for Killian’s Irish Red. But while Killian’s stands out for its caramel sweetness, Ambar features a more subtle, bready, almost savory flavor from the barley and yeast. There are only subtle hints of bitterness, with a slight citrus aftertaste typical of Mexican lagers such as Corona.
As with most macrobrew lagers, corn is used to give Ambar a lighter body and more fermentable sugars. The corn makes itself known mostly through a cornbread-like flavor, but also through a faint but unpleasant buttery taste. This is most likely from diacetyl, a chemical produced as a result of poor temperature control during fermentation in combination with heavy use of corn adjuncts. With a 4.5% alcohol content and a relatively light body, Ambar is an easy-to-drink session beer. Overall, Dos Equis Ambar earns a C+ grade for being an interesting alternative to average light Mexican lagers.
At first glance, a darker ruby red sets Negra Modelo apart from its Dos Equis cousin. A sniff reveals scents of sweet caramel malt, spicy citrus hops, and an earthy lager yeast. There is no noticeable taste of rice or corn adjuncts, but there is a savory flavor reminiscent of rye bread. Hop bitterness is also almost entirely absent except for a faint acidity. A pleasant creamy texture and thick mouthfeel add an extra dimension to the taste.
While its taste is rather bland, there are no strange off-flavors, making Negra Modelo a supremely smooth and drinkable beer. The 5.4% alcohol content and slightly heavier body mean that Negra Model is more filling than Ambar, but not by a lot. It merits a B- grade for its smoother flavor, and for being slightly cheaper than Dos Equis Ambar.