The drink of summer: How micheladas cast a spell on L.A.

Lime and salt are a gateway to michelada culture, and a crucial element to the story of the beer cocktail’s evolution across many places at once. Once a niche drink, spice-spiked micheladas are not only found in bars across the country, they’ve achieved mass popularity. Greg Gallagher, vice president for marketing for Modelo, says that the company’s numbers suggest 40% of consumers for canned michelada are non-Latino. This is significant because micheladas have not yet been directly marketed to consumers in English, Gallagher says. Meanwhile, bartenders are making ever more baroque micheladas, often adorned with a seafood cocktail’s worth of shrimp and fruit, and non-alcoholic “michelaguas” are turning up at night markets and street fairs. Is it getting out of hand? How did we get here? Read on to find out how they evolved, where to drink the best and why their Mexican flavors are right for L.A.

Hell yeah, it’s michelada season. Here are the city’s best

Watermelon michelada at La Chuperia in Los Angeles.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

FROM SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA’S unending number of Latino working-class bars to the priciest drink spots in L.A., micheladas — in styles that include pared-back elegance and full-on baroque — are ubiquitous. Stephanie Breijo, Jenn Harris and Daniel Hernandez surveyed some of the most dynamic and reliable micheladas in Los Angeles and greater Southern California. Read on to find the best we found.

The battle for the craziest michelada is on. But how much is too much?

Chuper michelada from La Chuperia in Los Angeles.

Chuper michelada from La Chuperia in Los Angeles.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

IN RECENT YEARS, the michelada has rocketed to extremes, egged on by the impulses of social media. Micheladas often overflow with blooms of cooked shrimp, rimmed in sweet-and-sour sauces and sesame seeds, or they come to the table drowning in fruit chunks or even gummy bears. It’s a race to see how over the top the “miche” can be pushed. Sometimes they’re spiked with tequila or mezcal, cranking up the sense of risk. And elaborate nonalcoholic “michelaguas,” made with aguas frescas, turn up more and more at night markets and swap meets. Canned michelada or chelada (lime and salt only) products are clawing their way toward the top of the niche beer market, from both major beer brands like Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light and local craft breweries like Golden Road and its Guava Chelada Cart. But the michelada captures its most ardent fans as an experience. Anyone will tell you that there’s nothing like kicking back at a backyard carne asada or near a shore on a hot day with a plate of seafood and a homemade miche. I learned long ago to always have a jar of the chile-fruit condiment chamoy and a bottle of Clamato handy in my pantry. How did we get here? Who made the miche first? And, more crucially, has the michelada craze gotten out of hand? Daniel Hernandez explores these questions. Read on for his report.

Know your michelada: The five basic types, illustrated

Illustration of five basic types of micheladas: gomichela, michelada botanera, chelada, michelada and michelagua.

The five basic types of micheladas, from left: gomichela, michelada botanera, chelada, michelada and michelagua.

(Susana Sanchez / Los Angeles Times)

THE ORIGINS of the michelada remain unsettled, but most agree that the beer drink originally contained only lime and salt — this is what is largely known as a chelada today. A michelada preparada or a michelada cubana is what came about when salsas and sauces were added. Michelada-serving restaurants often invent catchy, outlandish names for their house variations of the drink. Let them, but don’t hold them as standards. Read on for the five basic food groups, if you will, in the universe of the michelada.

How to make an IPA-Lada Michelada

Want to make a michelada at home? This grapefruit-flavored IPA-Lada, adapted from the Palomada michelada served at Whittier’s Colonia Publica, is a great way to start.

IN THIS MICHELADA, adapted from the Palomada michelada served at Whittier’s Colonia Publica, grapefruit IPA — such as Refuge Brewery’s Grapefruit IPA, Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin or Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA — is the essential component. This is brightened with grapefruit and lemon juices, cooled with cucumber and sweetened with a bit of sugar. The condiment Tajín rims the glass in place of more traditional salt. Read on for the recipe and for a step-by-step video.

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