Drinks

Whole 'Lada Love

This tomatillo, peach and mescal michelada just became our new favorite cocktail
Micheladas Finally Deserve Your Attention
Photos: Rachel Vanni/Tasting Table

We all know the story: Your best friend's birthday drinks apparently called for five vodka sodas within the span of two hours, and your morning-after bounce-back rate just isn't what it used to be. At the inevitable next-morning brunch with the parents, you need something (anything!) to take the edge off. You begrudgingly turn to the old hair of the dog. Unfortunately, the thought of a cloyingly sweet mimosa makes you want to vomit, and the intensity of a thick Bloody Mary is just too much for your weakened body to handle.

Enter, instead, the true underdog of the brunch cocktail world: the michelada.

With the carbonation from a light, cool beer, micheladas (or Mexican cerveza preparada) are fundamentally more refreshing than your average Bloody, and still offer the spicy bite of hot sauce and acidic punch of lime that kick hangovers to the curb. Still, these beer cocktails rarely even make the list of America's favorite brunch cocktails (never mind their favorite night-out cocktails).

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But just in time for Cinco de Mayo, we've found a recipe that takes this underrated beverage to new heights. Shannon Ponche from Brooklyn's Leyenda mixes tomatillo, peach, basil and habanero with an IPA and mescal (see the recipe) in what she calls the Michelada Primavera. It puts any brunch cocktail, or margarita for that matter, in a corner.

Ponche's recipe strays considerably from the classic combination, which, although not set in stone, typically consists of a simple base of beer, hot sauce, lime and (usually) tomato or Clamato juice. And if you're thinking a spicy, savory beverage that often includes "reconstituted tomato juice concentrate, flavored with spices and clam broth" might turn some people off, you'd be right.

Laurent Lebec, the beverage director at Chicago's Big Star, says he urges naysayers not to "knock it until they've tried it." In his experience, many people (including himself) aren't initially interested in the drink, because they mistakenly assume it's just another version of a Bloody Mary.

"The two presentations couldn't be any more different," he says. "The michelada combines salt, savory, light sweetness and a spicy kick, but there's something so effortlessly approachable about it."

For Lebec, the simplicity of the recipe, the right blend of hot sauces (as well as salsas, which Big Star likes to use) with a fresh squeeze of lime can turn skeptics into "converts for life."

While it may take some drinkers a little time to catch up, other parts of the country—namely the South—are already embracing this refreshing cocktail in its truest form. Stewart Martin, general manager at The Hay Merchant in Houston, says the drink is everywhere in Texas.

"In the South, you kind of have to have one on the menu," he says. "Around here, even the convenience stores will sell the base of the drink in a Styrofoam cup, and you just add your own beer."

But Stewart admits that the drink isn't one he orders often and that micheladas are still a tough brunch sell over mimosas. At The Hay Merchant, though, they've created a rather unique version of the drink that gives it an edge.

"We've taken a lot of inspiration from the Korean community for our version, playing with gochujang, a little fish sauce for umami, as well as lime juice and Mexican hot sauces with a light, local beer called the Lawnmower," he says. "It's spicy and acidic and earthy all at once. We experimented a lot with the drink, but this version was by far the most popular."

For those looking for something a little sweeter on a weekend morning, Ponche's tomatillo and peach michelada is the only option.

"Traditionally, I think people are used to a tomato-and-hot sauce base, but I try to create a lot of different flavor profiles." The result is a sweet, refreshing, tart and herbaceous green cocktail with a pleasant kick of heat and a frothy beer top.

"The tomatillo is the backbone that gives it base flavor and that green color," Ponche explains. "Then, the peach and habanero work together for the spicy and sweet, and the IPA dries the peach out a bit."

Without the pungent, savory kick of the tomato, Leyenda's Primavera is truly the michelada for people who don't think they like micheladas. Ponche also urges naysayers to get creative with their sangritas, or the base of the michelada that's completed by the beer.

"While it's traditionally tomato, a lot of people try it with pomegranate or orange and spices. The balance is really important: The best ones are complex enough to stand up to the beer."

For Ponche, although there's something timeless about the classic michelada preparation, the specifics of the formula don't always matter.

"The coolest thing about them is that there really are no rules," she says. "As long as there's a balance of tart and spicy and savory and sweet, you can't go wrong."

Watch this video to learn how to make the perfect garnish for your cocktail.

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