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The Michelada Is Undisputedly The Favorite Summer Cocktail. Here’s How It Gained Its Popularity

The michelada is as Mexican as carne asada at a quince. It’s also a truly democratic drink, uniting people regardless of where they came from or what their views are — everybody loves a good michelada. But where exactly did the now-iconic drink originate and how did it become so popular? And what’s the difference between michelada and chelada and cubana and gomichela? Here’s everything you need to know about everyone’s favorite tomato juice and beer cocktail.

First, a quick dummies guide to what exactly a michelada is.

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If you’re tragically not in the know, micheladas are a beer-based cocktail that mixes a Mexican beer (like Modelo Especial or Pacifico) with Clamato tomato juice, lime juice, hot sauce, Maggie salsa, and a rim of salt or Tajín. If you wanna take it to the next level — you know you can add tasty garnishes like saladitos, olives, cucumber, mango and/or a Tamaroca banderilla candy.

But there are several variations on the michelada and many different ways to order one depending on where you are. For most in the U.S., a michelada is exactly as described above. But in Oaxaca and Chiapas, a michelada will just get you beer with sal y limón (which could be called a Cubana or chelada in other states) – if you want all the salsas and heat you’ll have to order a michelada con todo.

In the capital, where I live, a chelada is just sal y limón while a Cubana is a michelada with all the seasonings and salsas. It’s complicated.

Then there’s the next next level of micheladas being churned out in bars and cantinas around the world.

Once you veer off course from the original version of the michelada, there is an ever-expanding universe of takes on the classic. From street markets and cantinas in Mexico City to beachside hotels, people love to put their own personal twist on the drink.

First, there’s the Gomichela, which is a Chamoyada that has been loaded with sweet and spicy gummy candies, and usually comes with an over-the-top rim job on the cup. The Michelada Chamoyada is a sweet and tangy version is packed with chamoy and rimmed with Tajín. The Pata de Mula, a michelada doctored with an ounce of gin and a couple of tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. The Miryhelada, is basically a Chamoyada but loaded with white rum. And then there’s the Maruchela, which may be peak michelada: it consists of shrimp-flavored instant ramen and all the other usual suspects plus the ramen noodles.

So, where did the tasty michelada come from?

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Most stories say that the michelada, at least as we know it today, dates back to the 1940s or 1950s, when ice cubes started becoming more common in the country. But the cooler version of events begins in 1910, around the start of the Mexican Revolution.

Legend has it that “El General” Don Augusto Michel would frequent a local cantina in San Luis Potosi with his war-weary soldiers. In an effort to lift their spirits after a long day of combat, Michel would order a beer with lime and add hot sauce. Supposedly, the unnamed owner of the cantina named the spicy concoction after Michel, combining “michel” and chelada, or “cold one.”

But the more likely version is also the more obvious: Chela is slang for a light beer and helada means iced = “chelada.” Throw in mi for my and you get michelada.

Regardless of the story or translation you choose to go with, the michelada has become a Mexican icon and classic staple of Mexican cuisine.

But this is what I love most about the humble and versatile michelada.

Whether you’re on the streets of Tepito shopping in a tianguis, headed to a friend’s place to kick back form chelas after a hard day at work, or on vacation at a super ritzy resort in Puerto Vallarta, the michelada is perfect for everyone. It’s the great unifier when society (on both sides of the border) is so widely polarized.

What’s your preferred michelada style? Do you like it with all the salsas or solita con sal y limón? Let us know in the comments!

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