Mexico is good at a lot of things, such as liquor and sandwiches and health care. They’re even getting better at keeping heads out of duffle bags. So no wonder it’s one of the happier nations. But for all of Mexico’s many strengths, the land has long been catastrophically bad at brewing beer.
Their best-selling domestic brand is Corona, which tastes like tea born of an ill-tempered horse pissing on a dirty baby’s blanket, and most of the other high-profile offerings are nearly as bad: Sol and Pacifico both stink, and Dos Equis and Tecate are merely acceptable. You could protest that it’s unfair to judge a country’s entire beerscape on the merits of its highest-profile macros, but Mexico doesn’t have much by way of craft counterweight to all the fizzy yellow crud. American beer may still be best known internationally for Bud-Miller-Coors, but you don’t have to dig too deep to find a Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams, or New Belgium. The same can’t be said down south.
So Drunkspin was going to pass on Cinco de Mayo this year, because as much fun as it is to celebrate a semi-fake drinking holiday—this one commemorating the day Jose Cuervo drove the worms out of Oaxaca, or thatabouts—it’s just not festive to rant and rave about how shitty a country’s beer is. Besides, we did that last year. But I’m a sucker for minor-league holidays and kick-ass beer labels, so I couldn’t resist picking up a bottle of Dia De Los Muertos Pay the Ferryman Porter.
It’s named after a superior and less-fake Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead (which is actually three days, if you’re looking to fight with the dead about their holiday accounting). So that’s a good start. And it’s a porter, which usually bodes decent: Drunkspin’s Rocky Mountains correspondent is on record claiming that stouts and porters are the best beers. I wouldn’t go that far, but my philosophy regarding breweries or regions of dubious merits is, “When in doubt, get the stout.”
It’s not that all stouts and porters taste the same, and they’re certainly not all good, but there’s something about roasted malt that tends to cover up a lot of brewing problems. And by “something about,” I guess I mean, “It all tastes to some degree like coffee and chocolate, so how bad can it be?”
Dia De Los Muertos beers are produced by Cervecería Mexicana, which also makes beer for the Trader Joe’s and Ed Hardy labels. This isn’t necessarily as dire as it sounds—until very recently, Trader Joe’s respectable Mission Street IPA was made at Firestone Walker. So much of a beer’s destiny is determined by the strength of the recipe and quality of the ingredients that it’s silly to get too worked up about who happens to own the fermentation tank.
So there are our reasons for hope: Pay the Ferryman represents the most forgiving style of beer, and it’s only a few (giant) degrees of separation away from being Firestone Walker Union Jack. That would have made me utterly optimistic, if it weren’t for the Mexico-sucks-at-beer issue.
Pay the Ferryman (5 percent alcohol-by-volume; $11 per six-pack in Boston) opens with a dusty cocoa smell reminiscent of good powered hot chocolate mix—not the paper-enveloped kind. but the tastefully canistered sort you’d feel decent about cooking with or liquefying for a loved one. There’s also a nice grapey undercurrent that may not technically belong there, but also isn’t hurting anyone. The flavor is more complex, with a rich, smoky, almost meaty character to the dried red fruit and bittersweet chocolate before a fair dose of pine hops emerges on the finish.
Dia De Los Muertos Pay The Ferryman isn’t all that special for a porter, but it’s downright revelatory for a Mexican beer exported to the United States, and as such it’s the ideal beer for counting down the minutes until margarita o’clock.
This is Drunkspin Daily, the Concourse’s adequate source for booze news, reviews, and bullshit. We’ll be highlighting a beer a day in this space; please leave suggestions below.
Image by Jim Cooke.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.