A few weeks ago, we examined the growing number of "cervezas" – more specifically, Mexican-style pale lagers – in Australia. It proved to be an article that sparked a fair amount of debate, with plenty on one side arguing the trend was little more than craft brewers becoming what they once stood against, and plenty of others welcoming it as a refreshing addition to the local beer scene ahead of summer.
At the end of Cerveza: Is The Next Big Thing In Beer ... Beer? we promised to carry out a blind tasting of such beers – and now we have.
We amassed as many locally-brewed beers as we could that were pitched as cerveza, Mexican style lager, or were inspired by such beers. And, in a bit of a break from our usual practices, we included a couple of the world's best-known brands. After all, if Aussie brewers are going to attempt to recreate global icons, we may as well see how they compare.
Aside from including a bit of an international flavour, we ran things as we usually do. Our panel of seven included brewers, writers, educators and reps with decades of experience in all facets of the beer industry between them– including judging at major awards. They were presented the beers blind in three flights of three and two of four in line with the methods we laid out here.
In terms of what they were looking for in the beers, it was as described in our cerveza article: pale, light and bright lagers, low in bitterness, and typically brewed with maize to aid crispness.
We managed to get our hands on 14 Australian-brewed beers either presented as Mexican style lagers or brewed in such a manner. If you know of one from your local brewery and it's not featured, there's a good chance it was one of those we were informed was out of stock at the time of the tasting.
We also included both Corona and Sol, given they're the two best-known versions of such beers in Australia, as well as Vasto Cerveza, a beer imported by Pinnacle Drinks for the Endeavour Group (Dan Murphy's and BWS) which didn't seem to have enjoyed its journey to Australia from where it was brewed in Portugal.
In the final flight, we grouped together the beers that had been given a little something "extra" by their brewers: additions of citrus and / or salt, and in one case, Ancho chillies and coriander too. The unanimous verdict of the panelists was that these were too distinctly different from the other 13 so we haven't included them in the countdown below.
For completeness, they were Freshwater's Wedge Cerveza, Burleigh Brewing's Sublime, Newstead's Lagerita and Yulli's Astrid, each of which had their fans around the table but which have to sit this one out, so to speak.
It's worth mentioning that, while the vast majority of the local offerings came in cans, we opted to include both Modus and Balter's Cervezas in their recently-released clear glass bottle form. And there was one other inclusion worthy of an asterisk: KAIJU! will be releasing their cerveza soon and supplied a growler for the tasting.
So, to a background of mariachi music and Mexican party tunes, who did our magnificent seven crown as champion?
The Top Ten
If you'd told someone we were including both Sol and Corona in a blind tasting of beers inspired by them in one way or another, few would have been surprised to see them do well. And you'd have thought plenty would have backed Balter's new arrival to feature prominently too.
But the beer that came out on top? If anyone had guessed it would be Party Time from Ballarat's brewpub-based Aunty Jacks, I'd be demanding this week's Lotto numbers from them.
Not only did it finish in first place, but it did so comfortably. I can't recall as big a gap between the beers in first and second in more than a decade of running these tastings, with summer seasonal Party Time – inspired by Mexican pale lagers and brewed with flaked maize – the number one pick of six of the seven judges, and number three for the seventh.
That said, if you look a little closer at the team behind the beer, perhaps there shouldn't be much surprise. They claimed their first Australian International Beer Awards trophy in the European Style Lager category in May. And head brewer Matt Ives has one of Australia's most experienced and highly-regarded industry figures, Peter Aldred, at his side.
Whichever way you look at it, however, there's no denying it makes for a fine top five with a couple of small indie operations – Aether Brewing's core range Mexican Lager in there too – going toe-to-toe with the multinationals. It's a reminder of why we love putting on such tastings, and a reminder to beer lovers to keep exploring every corner of the local beer world as there are gems to be found everywhere.
A comment on a couple of the other beers too. While we acknowledge we're writing these predominantly for a consumer audience rather than handing out medals, and have a scoring system designed accordingly, both Esker's Lager (formerly the Australian Brewery's Seis Hermanos) and 2 Halfs' Maizical were marked down a little for being out of style; panelists enjoyed them more than their placement might suggest.
1 Aunty Jacks Party Time (4.2%)
From brewery; best before date 02/10/24
2 Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma Sol (4.2%)
Dan Murphy's, Alphington; BB 03/03/24
3 Balter Cerveza (4.0%)
From brewery; BB 05/05/24
4 Grupo Modelo Corona Extra (4.5%)
Dan Murphy's, Alphington; BB 13/06/24
5 Aether Brewing Mexican Lager (4.2%)
From brewery; BB 11/10/24
6 KAIJU! Cerveza* (4.4%)
From brewery in growler; BB N/A
7 Esker Lager (4.5%)
From brewery; BB 15/09/24
8 Modus Cerveza (4.2%)
From brewery; BB 06/09/24
9 Prickly Pete & The Wolf X Frenchies Urban Sombrero (4.5%)
From brewery; BB 06/10/24
10 2 Halfs Maizical (4.4%)
From brewery; BB 24/12/23
The other beers included in the tasting (in alphabetical order) were Hope Brewery Mexican Lager, One Drop Regalo de Dios, and Vasto Cerveza.
* As mentioned above, this was a pre-packaging run sample of KAIJU!'s forthcoming release delivered in a growler.
Thanks to Miss Moses for allowing us to use their upstairs bar for the blind tasting, and to the panelists who gave up an evening of their time to sample all the beers.