What Does Modelo Especial Taste Like? And is it a Good Beer

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If you ask me, Modelo Especial tastes like success. The beer brewed by Mexico’s Cerveceria Modelo is now the top-selling beer in the United States, knocking Bud Light off the pedestal it held for more than 20 years. Technically, Modelo Especial tastes like beer; malt and hops balanced for crisp refreshment. The beer checks all of the boxes for popular appeal. Does it deserve the top spot?

Let’s look at the new king of beers in the US beer industry.

History: When was Modelo Especial released?

Modelo shares its history with another iconic Mexican beer brand, Corona. The beers were first brewed in 1925 in Mexico City. While Corona hit US shelves in 1981, it wasn’t until 1990 that American beer drinkers could purchase Modelo, legally that is. 

During American Prohibition, the production and sale of alcohol were outlawed in the United States, and Americans found Modelo as an alternative. The company believes Modelo was one of the few beer brands to benefit from Prohibition because Americans would seek the beer out. 

Today, Modelo Especial is the top-selling beer brand in America. Bud Light likely would have ceded the top spot to Modelo eventually, but Anheuser Busch Inbev’s marketing gaff with transgender influence Dylan Mulvany enraged conservatives. As a side, Budweiser had always been active in the LGBTQ community, much more than rival Coors. Still, in a highly divisive landscape in the United States, a simple sponsorship expedited Modelo’s rise. Go figure.

What Type of Beer is Modelo Especial?

Grupo Modelo describes Modelo Especial as a pilsner-style lager, but the beer fits best into the American lager category. Authentic pilsners are more hop-forward and are all malt. Modelo Especial is brewed with unmalted cereal grain and corn to lighten its body. The beer lacks the hop flavor and bitterness of international pale lagers like Corona and Heineken. For this, we’ll compare the sensory details of the beer with the American lager category of the Beer Judge Certification Program. 

According to BJCP’s Description, the American Lager is a “very pale, highly-carbonated, light-bodied, [dry] lager with a very neutral flavor profile and low bitterness. Served very cold, it can be a very refreshing and thirst-quenching drink.”

German immigrants not only influenced the American brewing industry but have had a lasting impact on Mexican beer and culture. Many beers that we call Mexican beers or Mexican style trace their roots to classic German lagers, including the German pilsner and Munich Dunkel. As German immigrants settled throughout North America, access to the heritage grains for malt was not easy. 

Instead, many German brewers supplemented their grain bills with cereal grain, like rice and corn, to handle the demand for scarce malt and create a lighter malt flavor that may not have been possible with the malt available. The American Adjunct lager became common and later the most popular beer style. 

Appearance

Modelo Especial pours clear and is yellow to golden. The white foam dissipates instantaneously and lacks a head, though tiny bubbles escape from the solution at the bottom of the glass and race to the surface, indicating a well-carbonated beer. 

Stylistically, Especial fits perfectly. BJCP style guidelines describe the appearance of an American lager as “very pale straw to medium yellow color. White, frothy head seldom persists. Very clear.”

Aroma

I pick up a slightly fruity aroma and light toast from the malt. Otherwise, the beer is clean of fermentation characteristics, which you’d expect in a mass-produced lager. No hops were detected in the aroma. 

American Lager aroma is described as “Low to no malt aroma, although it can be perceived as grainy, sweet or corn-like if present. Hop aroma may range from none to a light, spicy or floral hop presence. While a clean fermentation character is desirable, a light amount of yeast character (particularly a light apple character) is not a fault. Light DMS is also not a fault.”

The acronym DMS refers to the off-flavor Dimethyl sulfide, which smells like canned corn. This off-flavor is derived from the malt, is volatile, and often driven off during the boil. It would be separate from a corn aroma from the actual use of corn.

Flavor: What Does Modelo Especial Taste Like?

American Lager flavor is described as a “Relatively neutral palate with a crisp taste and dry finish and a moderately-low to low grainy or corn like taste that might be perceived as sweetness due to the low bitterness. Hop flavor ranges from none to moderately-low levels and can have a floral, spicy, or herbal quality (although often not strong enough to distinguish).

Hop bitterness at low to medium-low levels. Balance may vary from slightly malty to slightly bitter but is relatively close to even. High levels of carbonation may accentuate the crispness of the dry finish. Clean lager fermentation character.”

Modelo Especial has a well-balanced taste with subtle malt initially and low to moderate bitterness in the finish. The middle includes a mild sweetness and some fruitiness, which I picked up in the aroma and, I believe, is malt. The hop character is indeed spicy, as mentioned in the style guide, and the bitterness is moderate. 

Mouthfeel

Mouthfeel refers to the texture of the beer in your mouth. Anything that isn’t expressly taste (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, metallic, fatty) or aroma might fall into mouthfeel. Beer weight, carbonation, alcohol sensations (besides flavor), and dryness (or lack of) are some things I watch out for when judging for mouthfeel. 

Modelo Especial has a medium-low body with high carbonation. The crisp finish is short and dry but also kind of sticky. I have noticed this sensation before, ironically with Bud Light. Honestly, I’m unsure what to attribute it to; however, it could be the addition of corn. 

BJCP says, “Low to medium-low body. Very highly carbonated with a slight carbonic bite on the tongue.”

Calories and Nutritional Information

Modelo is a full-strength beer that lists 143 calories per serving. This is right around the average for a 4.4 percent beer. Additionally, the beer has 13.6 carbs and 1.1 grams of protein. 

Alcohol Content

At 4.4 percent, Modelo beer is on the low end of regular strength beer’s average, which I’d put at around 5 percent alcohol content by volume. The lower alcohol may help the beer’s crisp, refreshing taste and overall balance. Still, the difference between four and five percent alcohol is no license to overindulge. No, your limits, and never get behind the wheel if you’ve had too much. 

Brewing Process & Ingredients

Modelo Especial is brewed with water, barley malt, non malted cereals (corn), hops, and yeast. 

Like most beers, the brewing process starts with the mash, where malted barley and other grains are combined with hot water. This combination activates enzymes in the malt that unlock the sugars within the grains.

Once the mash is complete, the resulting liquid, known as wort, is boiled. Brewers will add hops at this stage before transferring the wort through a heat exchange to fermenters. Once fermentation is complete, the beer can be filtered, packaged, and served. 

What’s the Best Way to Drink Modelo Especial

Best Temperature to Drink this Mexican Beer

As cold as possible. 

Can, bottle or glass?

Like its Mexican lager cousin, Corona, Modelo Especial has a distinctive clear bottle but topped with gold foil. The beer will taste the same no matter the packaging, but hey – if you feel a bit fancier with a gold-foiled bottle, knock yourself out!

Food Pairings for Modelo Especial

Pair this easy-drinking beer with spicy dishes. The malt helps to cool capsaicin, and the hops will play well with herbal garnishes. 

Who Would This Mexican Lager Suit?

If Corona is about beach vibes, Modelo Especial is for fight night. The brand is the official sponsor of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and has hit pay dirt with its evocative ad campaign called Brewed for the Fighting Spirit. The brand has been keen to leverage its support for cage fighting, professional wrestling, and boxing as part of its brand identity and as an extension of Mexican Culture as a whole. 

The campaign has highlighted fighters, literally and figuratively, to inspire thirsty Americans not to let obstacles keep them from achieving their dreams. The ads leverage sports luminaries like Amanda Nunes, Damian Lillard, Tom Flores, and everyday fighters like the bartender or your abuela. 

The commercials have been a hit in the American market and speak to anyone who has faced adversity and is inspired to overcome whatever life throws at them. The message makes Modelo an especially effective brand because most people will identify with this struggle, often consider themselves as underdogs, and love to root them on.

Similar Beers to Modelo Especial?

Like Modelo Especial? Give these American Lagers a try:

  • Budweiser
  • Coors Original
  • Grain Belt Premium Lager
  • Miller High Life
  • Pabst Blue Ribbon (see our PBR review here)

What Do Other People Think Modelo Especial?

Despite its popular success, most beer enthusiasts think this beer is mid. 

ReviewerModelo Especial 
Untappd3.12 out of 5
Rate Beer2.05 out of 5
Influenster4.51 out of 5
Beer Advocate67 (poor)
Average3.25

Final Thoughts: Is Modelo Especial a Good Beer?

Modelo Especial is a popular imported beer that is balanced and refreshing. An ice cold Modelo has taken over the top spot as – not just the best-selling imported beer – but the best-selling beer in the US. 

But does mass appeal mean it’s good?

Modelo is a decent beer. It’s crisp and refreshing with light malt. It is pretty light compared to German style pilsners, the style they promote. It’s an excellent example of an adjunct American beer akin to a Bud or Miller High Life. If you need a cold one, Modelo Especial will do just fine. And in today’s competitive beer landscape, that spells (and tastes like) success.

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Author

Andy Sparhawk is an avid beer lover and the former editor-in-chief for CraftBeer.com. 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.