Great beer always comes with great stories. Usually, the stories are made while you're drinking... or afterwards when you're laughing about the memories made. But every once in a while, the story happens earlier.
This story takes place at my local grocery store. I was browsing for the perfect beer to kick off the weekend when Session lager caught my eye. I had never tried it before, but the distinct bottle shape told me they were going for a Jamaican lager feel (Jamaican Red Stripe is probably the most popular beer to use the stubby 11oz bottle).
Locally, Session comes in Lager and Black (dark lager). In some areas an IPA is available too, but not in L.A. I wanted to try them side by side, so grabbing a bottle of each I walked up to the counter to check out.
As soon as the woman at the counter saw what I was buying, she began bubbling with excitement. "My daughter LOVES this beer! I sent her to Jamaica for three weeks after she graduated, and she sent back SO many pictures of herself drinking this stuff."
Price check: Trader Jose varies in price from state to state. CA is the cheapest, at $4.99. It tops out in FL at $7.99.
But what about Trader Jose Dark? While still a Mexican import ostensibly created to compete with the big two (two macrobreweries are responsible for the vast majority of all Mexican imports), Trader Jose Dark doesn't immediately remind me of anything. It's lacking the distinctive bottle of Negro Modela, so I'm not sure if they're trying for something like Tecate or Dos Equis Lager. As a consumer, this matters. If I'm buying a knock off label, it's because I want something that reminds me of the premium brand. If I can't tell what that premium brand is, I'm much less likely to buy it.
What follows are my tasting notes for Trader Jose's Dark, but I'm tasting it blind. I have nothing to compare it to. You can help us out by leaving a comment and telling us what Trader Jose reminds you of.
You have to play detective to discover where Trader Joe's brands are made. Google always comes back with a handful of different results, so you have to dig deeper.
Contrary to popular opinion, TJ's is NOT brewed by Gordon Biersche. It's actually a product of Cervecería Mexicali in Tecate, Mexico. This is a brewery you've never heard of, that makes beers you've probably never tried, including Mexicali, Red Pig Ale, and Chili Beer (brewed with real chilies). Cervecería Mexicali was founded in 1923 by two Mexican entrepreneurs, who learned their craft from a German brewmaster. But before you get too excited about drinking Mexican microbrews, it's important to note that the original brewery was forced out of business by the big two, and was then purchased by Coors.
Trader Jose Dark Premium Lager:
Nose: Heavy molasses notes. Light, sweet finish. Hay.
Taste: Reminds me of other brown ales. Woody molasses flavor, with a slightly sour finish.
Leave a note. What does TJ Dark lager remind you of?
Ready for the second installation in my Beers of Mexico series? Then quick! Name a Mexican lager whose roots trace all the way back to 1800s Germany. Give up? Before you cheat and scroll down further, think back through your memories. Have you ever tried a Mexican beer that reminded you of a pilsner (think Stella Artois)?
Truth be told, I didn't know anything about this lager when I picked it up last weekend. I'm sure I've tried it before, but never really paid any attention to its distinct notes. Expecting a mellow lager, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a flavor profile that lands smack in the middle between a Stella and a Corona.
Ready for the big reveal?
One more clue...
"Stay thirsty my friend!"
Our mystery beer is Dos Equis lager. Dos Equis is Spanish for XX, as the beer was first produced in 1897 to celebrate the arrival of the twentieth century. This beer was first crafted by a German brewer named Wilhelm Hasse who emigrated to Mexico under the short-lived Second Mexican Empire of Maximilian I (for kicks, check out the wiki on this fascinating period), hence its similarity to European pilsners. Today, thanks to the most interesting man in the world, Dos Equis remains a popular Mexican import in the U.S., and throughout the world.
Dos Equis is brewed by Cuauhtemoc-Moctezuma Brewery (CMB), one of the two mega breweries in Mexico (the other is Modelo), but it is itself a subsidiary of Heineken. CMB has been in business since 1890, when a group of Austrian and Mexican businessmen joined forces to start a brewery. Other recognizable imports from CMB include Sol and Tecate, among others.
Dos Equis Lager:
Nose: Like a Stella, with a light, sweet finish
Taste: I'd put it right between Stella and Corona. A smooth oaky start, with the distinct limey notes of a Mexican lager, pilsner hints and a floral essence.
Recommendation: If you've been avoiding Dos Equis lager just because it's too mainstream, why not give it a try, then tell us what you think!
Brewers have been making beer in Mexico since the arrival of Spanish conquistadors under Cortes. But it was really the arrival of Austrian immigrants in the 19th century that kickstarted the Mexican brewing industry that has us quenching our thirst with Corona and limes every summer. Right around the time of the American Civil War, Maximilian I, with the support of the French government and elite Mexican monarchists, established the short lived Second Mexican Empire. This led to an influx of German-speaking immigrants, who brought with them their centuries old brewing knowledge. This is evident more in beers like Dos Equis (stay thirsty my friend!), which is really a Vienna style lager brewed south of the border.
Mexico and Holland have been battling it out for some time to be the top beer exporter in the world. Mexico came out on top for the first time in 2003, and since then it's been a toss up from year to year. Despite the valiant efforts of the most interesting man in the world, Corona remains the top selling Mexican beer. Corona is brewed by Grupo Modelo, a Mexico City brewery that also makes Estrella, Modela, Pacifico, and Victoria beers. Their main competitor, Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc-Moctezuma/FEMAS, makes most of the other Mexican imports you're familiar with: Tecate, Sol, Dos Equis, Carta Blanca, Superior, Indio, Bohemia and Noche Buena.
Corona was first brewed in 1925 to celebrate Modelo's tenth anniversary as a brewing company. It is instantly recognizable by its clear glass bottle (so is the Trader Jose knock-off). Most breweries prefer tinted glass or aluminum cans because ultraviolet light will eventually turn the oils in beer rancid. Still, despite the clear glass bottles, Corona seems to be doing just fine. It's the best selling import in both the United States and the U.K.
Interestingly, according to the Swedish National Food Agency, Corona contains less than 20ppm of gluten, while some independent tests have resulted in counts as low as 10ppm. The FDA considers anything below 20ppm gluten free, so while I can't with good conscience recommend this beer to my friends with Celiac disease, it looks like a great option for people with gluten sensitivity.
"Although concentrations gluten in beer are in line with those found in gluten-free foods should be aware that the consumption of beer leads to an increased intake of gluten. Consumption of 0.5-1 liters of beer can in some cases make a significant contribution to the daily intake of gluten." -SNFA
For this tasting, I tried Corona Extra ($7.99) and Trader Jose ($5.99) side by side. Is Corona really worth the extra $2.00 per six pack? Let's find out!
The face off:
Nose: Sharp and delicious, the smell of summer. Maybe I'm biased, but this lager is screaming for a fresh lime.
Taste: Full bodied and sweet, with a crunch like English cheddar.
Color: Bright straw
Nose: Lacks the distinctive characteristics of Corona Extra. Less complex, less aromatic. Mildly reminiscent of hay.
Taste: Thinner body, less complex, but still drinkable. Improves with a slice of lime.
Color: Dark straw
Conclusion: Corona wins hands down on this one. Trader Jose just doesn't carry the same complexity or the crisp flavors of Corona. Spend the extra two dollars, it's only $.33 per beer. And if you're still thirsty after you finish that six pack, go for Trader Jose.
Have you tried these Mexican lagers side by side? Which do you prefer? Leave me a note!
Woodchuck Hard Cider Hopsation
You don't typically think of cider and hops as being a good combination. In fact, prior to seeing Woodchuck Hopsation at Trader Joe's, I had never even considered apple and hops as complimentary flavors.
The first Woodchuck cider was handcrafted in 1991 at a small Vermont winery that previously specialized in Apple wine. By 2007, Woodchuck had become the first American cider to sell more than 1,000,000 bottles, and if you ask for a cider at most pubs or restaurants today, it's still the most widely available option.
Woodchuck goes above and beyond when it comes to sustainability. They get power from the sun, and... wait for it... this is pretty special... cow dung. Yep, this delicious cider is made with manure. Check it out: Green Mountain Power. It's pretty cool.
For more information on the history of cider, check out this humorous timeline. Or to learn how hard cider is made, visit this link. Scroll down to read my review right underneath this picture.
Nose: Spicy citrus, tart, sour apple Jolly Rancher.
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