Modelo Especial vs Negra: What’s the Difference Between Them?

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Modelo Especial and Modelo Negra immediately come to mind when we think of popular Mexican beers. But while these beers are iconic parts of Mexican beer culture and two of the best-selling entrants in the imported beer industry worldwide, Negra Modelo and Modelo Especial have quite a few differences. 

Let’s look at these differences and similarities to decide between these two Modelo beers the next time you’re in the mood for a Mexican beer.  

Modelo Especial vs Modelo Negra Compared

Author Andy with a Negra Modelo

Both Modelo Negra and Especial share similar histories and, in many cases, similarities in production and flavor characteristics. We thoroughly compare these beers as examples of rich Mexican brewing heritage and distinct styles within the beer category. 

Likely, the easiest comparison between the two Modelo beers is their appearance. We’ll go into depth on each, but most notably, the color of these beers will set them apart. 

Beer color is primarily a byproduct of malt selection. Additionally, barley malt contributes to the alcohol content, not to mention the flavor of the beers.  


The recipes date back as long as Modelo has been brewing. Both were released in 1925. Before German and Austrian-styled beers that are now synonymous with Mexican beers, the traditional alcoholic beverages preferred in Mexico were corn-based pulque and chicha. 

With the growth of European immigration, the lager beer began to dominate. At the same time, companies like Modelo worked to undermine the local popularity of pulque by spreading unverified reports that the drink was unsanitary or created psychosis. 

Classification (Type of Beer)

Andy with a Modelo Especial

Beer styles can be open to interpretation. The proliferation of categories for competitions and the demands of the marketing department can make identifying accurate beer styles a challenge. 

For example, Negra Modelo is inspired by classic German dark lagers. The nod to a Munich Dunkel is evident in the beer’s brand. Modelo’s website even refers to this dark lager as a stout despite its lack of roasted malts. 

Modelo Especial is marketed as a full-flavored pilsner but lacks the assertive bitterness of authentic German or Czech pilsners. 

Both brands leverage ingredients sourced more locally while leaning on old-world techniques. Either could fall into several categories, but I’m comparing Modelo Negra as an International Dark Lager for this exercise, not a Munich Dunkel style lager. Additionally, we’ll compare Modelo Especial as an American Lager rather than a German Pilsner or International Pale Lager. 

You might be wondering why these beers aren’t judged as Mexican lagers, and that’s because there is not a set of standard guidelines for Mexican lagers. Instead, Mexican beers have their roots in Europe and North America. They resemble styles such as Helles, Pilsner, and Dunkel with an American twist using adjuncts like corn or rice.

Tasting Notes  

Beer drinkers judge a beer on their entire package: aroma, appearance, flavor, and mouthfeel. Once these aspects are taken into account, one can make an overall impression of the beer by asking themselves, “Would I order another?”


Each beer showcases nuanced flavors. These aren’t double dry-hopped IPAs that are aggressively hoppy. Instead, malt predominates the aroma. 

  • Modelo Especial – fruity, light toast, clean fermentation with low to no hop aroma. 
  • Negra Modelo – freshly baked brown bread, light treacle, caramel, roasted nuts, toast that is well done but not burnt. Reminds me of a cold day at a bar. Lovely. 


You don’t have to be a beer expert to tell the difference between these beers’ appearance. One is pale; the other is darkly colored from roasted malts. These beers are appropriately colored within their categories, but switch, they obviously would be out of spec. 

  • Modelo Especial – golden yellow, clear with a white foam cap that dissipates instantly. Visible carbonation but zero head retention. 
  • Negra Modelo – Dark chestnut brown, tawny amber with a thin, white head.


The flavor is derived from the combination of perception on your mouth’s palate and the olfactory gland in the nose. Combined, these senses (taste and smell) are perceived in your brain as flavor. There are hundreds of flavors associated with beer. 

When tasting beer, look for the different flavors associated with malt and hops, along with minerality from the water and yeast flavors. 

  • Modelo Especial – lightly toasted malt, light corny sweetness, light fruit: spicy hop character, moderately low bitterness. (see here for our Modelo Especial review)
  • Negra Modelo – Warm brown bread, diet coke, low bitterness, spicy hops, alcohol (see here for our Modelo Negra review


While flavor deals with the senses of smell and taste when drinking beers, mouthfeel relies on the sense of touch and hearing. Yes! Believe it or not, hearing plays a part in how you enjoy a beer. Precisely when the beer is cracked open and even to sense crispness. 

Mouthfeel generally refers to the weight of the beer on your palate, but additional textures also play a role in the description. 

  • Modelo Especial – Medium-low body, highly carbonated with fine bubbles, short and sticky finish
  • Negra Modelo – A bite from carbonation, alcohol, or a combination of both. Medium body.

Calories and Nutritional Information

Alcohol Content

Alcohol is a byproduct of fermentation. When yeast is introduced to the wort, they will begin to consume the sugars in solution. The amount of sugar consumed results in the creation of alcohol and Carbon Dioxide. 

  • Modelo Especial – 4.6 percent ABV
  • Negra Modelo – 5.4 percent ABV

Brewing Process And Ingredients

Both Modelo beers are brewed in Nava, Mexico, by Grupo Modelo. Anheuser Busch Inbev owns Modelo beers worldwide except in the United States, where Constellation takes control and distributes through Crown Imports. The beer is brewed as a lager with the “highest quality” ingredients and extended aging.

The ingredients used are similar, but Negra Modelo transforms from a golden beer to a dark beer with the introduction of caramel malts that deepen the beer’s appearance and lend the beer dark fruit and toasted nut notes.

Food Pairings

Beer offers many great pairing opportunities when it comes to food. Beer’s ability to complement and contrast food flavors makes it versatile. Modelo Negra and Modelo Especial have attractive characteristics, making them particularly fine pairing options. 

Both beers have malt-driven flavors that match well with proteins like grilled meats, seafood, fresh fruits, and even desserts. 

Pair Especial with lighter fare like sushi and salads, while Modelo Negra can handle foods with a more pronounced, rich flavor. This is the beer to pair alongside your barbacoa tacos and classic chicken mole. 

Spicy dishes are fair game for either Modelo beer, as they can play a hand in calming heat while accentuating tantalizing spice flavors. 

Would Suit?

Modelo Especial is an everyday drinking beer. Appropriate for after-work refreshments and a mainstay of any beer fridge. It’s no wonder why the beer has become the best selling beer in the United States. 

Negra Modelo is a solidly approachable dark lager that, too, could occupy your beer fridge at any time for any occasion. But it pays to be discerning when to enjoy this rich copper lager. Enjoy Negra Modelo with food or a campfire on a crisp fall night.

What Do Other People Think about Both These Mexican Beers?

These are decent, everyday beers to enjoy.

ReviewerModelo EspecialNegra Modelo
Untappd4.5 out of 53.8 out of 5
Rate Beer3.6 out of 53.5 out of 5
Influenster4.5 out 54 out of 5
Beer Advocate67 (poor)77 (okay)
Average3.9 out of 53.7 out of 5

Our verdict: Modelo Especial vs Negra

While different, Modelo Especial and Modelo Negra are solid choices for beer drinkers craving a Mexican beer or simply a tasty, refreshing drink. These beers are always welcome, whether at a restaurant or in your beer fridge.

The best part is that they don’t have to operate separate spaces. They play well off of each other while the other offers a refreshing change of pace without changing the whole dynamic of the beer drinking experience. 

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Andy Sparhawk is an avid beer lover and the former editor-in-chief for Andy is the lead writer for The Beer Babe and lives in Westminster, Colorado, with his family. As beer enthusiast and experienced beer judge, he loves sharing his experiences with The Beer Babe's dedicated audience of beer enthusiasts.