Tomato-Beer Smackdown: Bud Clamato Vs. Modelo Especial

Last week, Drew Magary issued his Definitive List of Excuses for Day Drinking, a timeless document of unrivaled beauty and precision from which he intentionally omitted brunch, because he likes to leave the odd scrap for the rest of us. So let's address brunch booze.

Your two primary noon-adjacent weekend drinks are the Bloody Mary and the mimosa. Of course, a greyhound with fresh grapefruit and quiet vodka is better than either of those, but you never remember that until it's too late, which is for the best, since what're the odds of getting fresh-squeezed juice at the sort of TGIBasicallyDenny'sWithLiquor you can afford? So we're back to the other two.

The Bloody Mary is hit and miss due to the strong likelihood that you're saddled with a hungover, indifferent bartender—or even a good one whose tastes just happen to differ from your own regarding horseradish and celery salt and Worcestershire and all that. Which leaves the abominable mimosa, a flat and weak affront to the very concepts of orange juice, alcohol, and carbonation.

Fuck it, just get a beer. You're going to drink beer the rest of the day anyway, at least until you get bloated and bored and switch over to the liquor, but there's no need to speed that along. It's bad enough you ordered a side of hash browns even though you knew damn well the Eggs Fataddict™ comes with hash browns, and then you insulted your companions' intelligence by feigning surprise at the ensuing hashstorm. So maybe hold off on the hard stuff until the ketchup on your sworts dries into something respectably resemblant of a blood stain?

But just because decency demands that someone with your immediate future orders nothing stronger than a breakfast beer doesn't mean you can't get a little bit festive with it. And here's your chance to show those smug single-hashers you've got your appetite under control by ordering a michelada, which is basically a Bloody Mary with a cooler name and our gentle friend beer where the big, scary vodka's supposed to be.

This makes the michelada a beer cocktail. I thought beer cocktails were stupid when they started popping up on nice-bar menus a couple years ago, and for that I am sorry. Beer cocktails are great. In the most awesome genre of beer cocktail, the brewski supplements other liquor to give you a big, bubbly superdrink. The michelada is not that kind of drink; it's more of the radler variety, in which something nonalcoholic replaces a portion of the beer (in this case, largely tomato juice).

Budweiser and Modelo now offer canned micheladas. (They call them "cheladas"; near as I can tell, the terms flip-flop without meaningful distinction, the same way "radler" and "shandy" do.) Premade drinks are never better than freshies, but they're always cheaper and more convenient, and therefore worthy of our consideration.

Tomato-Beer Smackdown: Bud Clamato Vs. Modelo Especial

Budweiser & Clamato Chelada

Yeah, Clamato, I know. Weird. It's big in Canada and Mexico, and it is what it sounds like: tomato juice gussied down with some clam water. So that's the base, along with regular Budweiser (there are also Bud Light and Picante versions), lime, and salt.

This pours a pretty and pinkish shade of orange that doesn't look a ton like beer but is attractive nonetheless. It's very highly carbonated, which gives it one advantage over freshly made versions that can't help but have the bubbles beaten down by the juice. And it smells downright interesting! Beer first, then the tomato, and then, if you set your mind to it, just a light kiss of clam. Unlike the aroma, the taste doesn't come in distinct waves; instead it's a reasonably balanced blend of salty Budweiser and tomato juice, with an extra dose of brininess from the first syllable of the Clamato and very little evidence of lime.

Overall, Bud Clamato Chelada is very decent niche drink. I'd be shocked to learn of any non-murderer who stocked it by the dozen, but it would not be inappropriate for, say, a dad on an airplane. And it gets extra points for holding strong at Budweiser's traditional five percent alcohol by volume. (How does it manage that, you ask, if it starts with five-percent ABV beer and then adds presumably boozeless adulterants? Beats me, but hey, full-strength is full-strength.)

Tomato-Beer Smackdown: Bud Clamato Vs. Modelo Especial

Modelo Especial Chelada

This isn't as bright and pretty as the Bud model, but the muddied brownish-orange looks honest, and it's got the same hyper-carbonation. But there's almost no beer character on the nose, an ominous sign born out in the drinking. It's far too sweet, and though there's enough salt presence to keep it from being straight ketchup, there's not enough beer or lime to make it worth drinking. This is gross. It's also only 3.5-percent ABV, which could be a mark of credibility if the whole thing didn't taste like V8 dumped in Boone's Farm Strawberry Distress.

Modelo Especial Chelada ought to have two distinct advantages: It's a Mexican version of a traditional Mexican drink, and there's not a drop of fucking Budweiser in it. Yet it's markedly inferior. I don't see how our national beer cooler can sustain two canned cheladas, so unless they really market the crap out of the authenticity angle, I don't imagine we'll be seeing the recently debuted Modelo edition on shelves for long.

Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter@WillGordonAgain.

Image by Sam Woolley.

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