In the canon of classic drinks, some earn notoriety for their staggeringly long histories; others, for their exacting proportions. But the Michelada—that cheap beer-based, warm weather staple—is neither of those things. With its lowbrow formula and a history that’s murky at best, the beloved, practically prescriptive drink is most famous for its unique ability to offer liquid respite on mornings after.
In other words, it’s a killer hangover cure.
Often billed as a fizzy, gentler cousin to the Bloody Mary, the Michelada builds upon an infinitely adaptable base of south-of-the-border beer, ice, lime and salt, occasionally buoyed by Maggi seasoning, soy sauce or Worcestershire (and often, but not always, a hefty glug of tomato juice). Some attribute its creation to Don Augusto Michel, an early 20th-century Mexican general who enjoyed gussying up his beer with condiments; others credit Tecate, who once sold their canned beers with a side of lime and salt as part of a decades-old marketing scheme. Then there are those who believe that the name is, quite simply, a play on the Mexican slang term, “chela” (beer), and the Spanish “helada” (cold), a description that warrants an equally unfussy drink.
Such is the case at Austin’s Hotel San José, a bar known for their impressive, 20-ounce Michelada fortified with pantry staples—Tabasco, soy sauce, Worcestershire and lime—all topped with beer and served with a simple salt rim. West Hollywood’s Gracias Madre takes a simple approach, too, serving their habanero bitters-spiked Michelada de la Madre with just one stealth ingredient: a large but easy-to-make basil and jalapeño ice cube.
Other versions of the drink found around the country testify to its versatility. New York City’s Empellón offers an umami-rich riff in The Emoticon via a house-made yuzu and white miso paste that’s sweetened with agave and dusted with togarashi salt. And at Brooklyn’s Leyenda, the otherwise simple formula gets a sweet and spicy backbone in the form of a bright, chili-infused papaya and carrot sangrita.
For those late-morning stragglers craving but unable to stomach the more aggressive, vodka-fueled Mary, there’s the Michelada from Houston mezcaleria The Pastry War; its tomato base, which is bolstered by a heady, blended mix of garlic, orange, hot sauce and spices, is topped with a modest seven-ounce pour of Dos Equis, proving that the drink can also be well enjoyed in moderation—a worthy reminder as one suffers through the consequences of excess.