What Mexican beer was brewed to celebrate the turn of the 20th century?

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Published October 5, 2023

Duh! is a weekly column that gives circuitous answers to obvious questions. If you dig it, you can find 100 more of these essays in the Geeks Who Drink book, Duh!.

It perhaps isn’t surprising that the history of modern Mexican lager starts with a couple of German immigrants. Even the word “lager” is German, of course, named for the storehouses where the slow fermentation process – or “lagering” – happens. If you’re foggy on Mexican history, though, you might be more confused about what Germans were doing there in the first place. But if you guessed “colonialism,” you’d be right! 

Mind you, it wasn’t German colonialism – in fact, there was no such thing as “Germans” per se, in 1862. Instead it was the French, looking to turn the Western Hemisphere’s tide back toward monarchism, who invaded free Mexico under the brief rule of Napoleon III (the nephew of that Napoleon; it runs in the family). But when The Third was looking for someone to govern his new conquest, he tapped the Vienna-based Habsburg scion Ferdinand Maximilian to be Emperor Maximilian I… and then, amid predictably fierce fighting from the locals, withdrew his troops just a couple years later. By June ‘67 Mexico was free again, and ol’ Max was dead at 34.1

In the meantime, though, the Austrian emperor had spread his own love for German lager among the people. “During his rule, he was constantly surrounded by his close group of brewers,” according to Beer Is for Everyone, “who specialized in brewing the toasty, amber-hued, and malt-focused Vienna lager.”

Fast forward to the 1890s, when Monterrey’s Cervecería Cuauhtémoc was founded by the Muguerza family of serial entrepreneurs.2 They brought in brewmaster Joseph Schnaider, who had come from a German town near Basel, Switzerland, via the beer mecca of St. Louis, Missouri. Meanwhile, further south in Veracruz, Wilhelm Hasse hung out his own shingle as the man behind Cervecería Moctezuma.

In ‘97, it was Hasse who decided that the coming of the 20th century was worth celebrating with a special amber brew, which he straightforwardly named Siglo XX. Those big red X’s made such strong branding3 that everyone soon forgot about the real name, and just called it Dos Equis (today, with more styles available, you’d have to order a Dos Equis Ambar).

So why did we bring up Cuauhtémoc at all? Later, the two breweries would merge into Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, which is now a Heineken subsidiary, and annually brews internationally distributed beers such as Bohemia, Sol, Tecate, and of course Dos Equis. It also happens to be named for two Aztec emperors – take that, Maximilian!

Before we go, three things that actually began in the year 1900:

  • The age of zeppelins. Invented by the wonderfully named Count Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, the first one took off from a floating hangar in the German part of Lake Constance on July 2, staying aloft 20 minutes before crash-landing – a foretaste of the end of the zeppelin age.
  • The merry old land of Oz. L. Frank Baum published his novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in May. Twenty years after his death, it would get a big boost with the 1939 MGM film adaptation – you may have heard of it – but one thing Judy Garland did not get to do was visit the Dainty China Country.
  • The British Labour Party. It is currently led by Keir Starmer, whose name anagrams to RIM STREAKER. Eww!

  1. He had also been offered the crowns of Greece and Poland – places where he wouldn’t have had to kickstart the beer industry (or get shot by his subjects, probably). Bad choice, Max! We blame inbreeding.
  2. They were around at the beginning of the international cement business Cemex, and the Mexican megabank Banorte. Along with the brewery, the three corporations made about $28 billion U.S. last year. ¡Que impresionante!
  3. Speaking of branding, how about that Most Interesting Man in the World campaign? It ran from 2006 to 2018, and for most of that time the man was played by Jonathan Goldsmith. Prior to the campaign, Goldsmith did not have the Most Interesting Career in the World: The most intriguing thing on his IMDb is a Russian agent in Ice Station Zebra (1968). And that only catches our eye because it was name-checked by Bob Odenkirk on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, two of the Most Interesting Series in the World.