The Michelada is less a fixed recipe and more a philosophy about how it should drink—savory, fizzy and refreshing by way of beer, lime, salt and spice. With classic renditions featuring the likes of Worcestershire sauce and Tajín, the ever-malleable template, not surprisingly, continues to be ripe for experimentation beyond its Mexican roots, adapting its blueprint to farther-flung regional flavors.
Given that one of the Michelada’s origin stories derives from a portmanteau of mi chela helada (“my ice cold beer” in English), modern riffs dubbed Singchelada (Singha, Thailand’s signature beer + chelada) and Viet-chelada (Vietnam + chelada) are inevitable mashups of the original mashup. “It was definitely a conscious decision to swap out the ingredients with Thai and Southeast Asian ingredients,” notes bartender Bobby Leonardo of New York’s Wayla, who took inspiration for the Singchelada from both the Michelada and cha ma nao, a Thai-style tangy lime iced tea. The drink is “full of that savory umami flavor” and “sharp and aggressive spicy flavor” with the addition of green papaya sauce, chile paste and soy sauce.
Savory by design, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Michelada has become a popular vehicle for channeling kitchen flavors into cocktail format. At Brooklyn’s Di An Di, the ingredients that make up their Viet-chelada skew more toward a Mexican Bloody Mary–style drink with tomato juice, Worcestershire and horseradish, but the drink still incorporates distinct Vietnamese flavor with tamarind and their housemade chile-garlic sauce, which is also used as a dipping sauce for pho. At the now-closed Balloo in Miami, meanwhile, the popular Thai-style Michelada pared back the format with a local blonde ale joined by a few drops of soy sauce and fish sauce, a nod to owner Timon Balloo’s Chinese-Indian-Trinidadian background.
While New York’s Empellón is a Mexican restaurant by design, its Michelada achieves acidity and umami through decidedly Japanese accents. Beverage director Noah Small looks to an agave syrup combined with yuzu and white miso in The Emoticon, which gets finished off with the iconic heat of citrusy table condiment togarashi in lieu of the expected chile-salt rim.
In particular, the spice element of the Michelada has become a canvas to showcase regionality. For Sarah Troxell and her team at the Houston-based tiki bar The Toasted Coconut, the driving force behind their Michelada originally came from harissa at their New American sister restaurant, Nobie’s. “It was always one of my favorite condiments when I worked there, and ultimately we thought it would work perfectly as a Michelada base at our tropical restaurant,” Troxell says of their take on the Tunisian staple. A blend of chargrilled tomatoes, bell peppers and green onions with harissa powder, paprika and confit garlic gives the drink a distinctly smoky spice base, topped with lime juice, saline and a dark Mexican lager, all finished off with a chile-lime rim.
As the Michelada continues to morph and adapt to different cuisines, the through line becomes less about the specific ingredients and more about the drink’s ineffable appeal. As Leonardo explains, “[Our version is] similar in the sense that it’s a delicious beer-based cocktail that can be enjoyed anytime and anywhere.”