Here is a complete rundown of the major Mexican beers, from the darkest to the lightest. All the national brands are manufactured by just two companies, so there are only minor distribution differences around the country.
Dark Beers — “Obscura” in Spanish
Bohemia Obscura—For real beer lovers who want to go beyond the typical offerings with something easy to find, Bohemia is the clear winner. This tasty bock-style beer was developed by German immigrants and has tremendous depth compared to its peers on the shelf. It also has more alcohol, at 5.3%.
In bars and restaurants, any of the three Bohemia styles available will often be the most expensive beer, but only by a few pesos, so it’s worth the upgrade. Expect to pay 14-15 pesos a bottle (a shade over a dollar) in convenience stores, less by bottle if you buy a six-pack. The main drawback of Bohemia is that it isn’t available in returnable bottles, so drinking this is not helping Mexico’s mounting garbage problem.
Negra Modelo—The other true 5.3% alcohol premium beer, this fine malty brew is familiar to many Americans as it’s a staple in Mexican restaurants. It’s a sweetish, smoky dark beer that goes well with spicy and hearty Mexican food and is interesting on its own—no lime required. It’s the only dark beer you’ll frequently find on tap—including at the higher-end all-inclusive resorts.
Noche Buena—Only available around the Christmas holidays each year, this is a dark copper-colored bock style beer at 5.3% alcohol that is more like a flavorful Shiner Bock than something from Bavaria. It’s a nice break from the norm though and goes on sale in January for close-out prices in supermarkets.
Dark Lagers and Amber Beers (All 4.5% alcohol unless otherwise indicated)
Dos XX Ambar—This “Vienna style lager” is another restaurant staple in the U.S. It has a more intense flavor than the norm and is a refreshing change from the sea of lighter beers, going well with hearty food. It has slightly more alcohol than most, at 4.7%.
Leon—Looks are deceiving with Leon, a beer that looks darker and maltier than it really is. It is like a wimpier version of Negra Modelo, but is widely available in large returnable bottles and is often one of the cheapest six-packs of cans in a supermarket.
Indio—This has long been the Pabst Blue Ribbon of Mexico, with the best packaging, design, and marketing (the brand is the sponsor of many rock shows and DJ events). It used to be the cheapest beer by far, but it’s now on par with Tecate and Pacifico in price. The good news is that the flavor seems to this palette to have steadily improved over the years, probably due to better ingredients. It still has a lot of “off” flavors in its semi-dark depths, but at least it’s not bland. One of the easiest to find on draft—and better tasting on tap than in cans.
Victoria—This is a popular choice for those who want to drink a couple beers while keeping a clear head, as its only 4% alcohol. It’s surprisingly flavorful though and is widely available in small and large returnable bottles.
Clear Lagers (All 4.5% alcohol unless otherwise indicated)
Bohemia Lager—By far the best beer in Mexico that you can see through. It’s an unabashedly European lager with far more complexity than the competition, and 5.3% alcohol. One to sip and savor. There’s also a wheat beer version—for you Shock Top and Blue Moon fans.
Modelo—This sister beer to Negra Modelo is touted as a premium beer and comes with a neck wrapped in foil in bottles, but in reality most people wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from most others in a taste test. It has a little more body and heavier finish than the Corona class though and also comes in cans.
Dos XX Lager—The Rolling Rock of Mexico, in a green bottle with a strangely sweet taste. Available in cans as well.
Carta Blanca and Estrella—These two similar-tasting brands used to be quite common, but seem to be fading away into obscurity. Neither is a standout, but Carta Blanca is now the cheapest one on the shelf in a store. That would normally make it popular with those on a budget, but at just 4% alcohol, it’s not.
Corona—One of the five best-selling beers in the world, but it usually tastes better in Mexico, where the bottles don’t have so much time in transit and on shelves. (Sunlight coming through clear bottles is never a good thing for beer.) This is the typical “drink all afternoon” beer, working well on its own or with a plate of tacos. Refreshing with a lime.
Sol—While Corona wins the marketing wars in the U.S., Sol is the winning brand in much of Mexico, despite not being a standout in any respect. You see the logo plastered everywhere and it’s seemingly on every restaurant and bar menu. Like Corona, it’s simple and inoffensive, but still slightly more flavorful than your typical American macrobrew. At its best ice cold, and progressively worse as it gets warmer.
Montejo—Named after the Spaniard who conquered the Yucatan and left a trail of blood in his wake. Less dramatic than its name would suggest, but a nice change of pace.
Superior—Very similar in taste to Montejo and available in big returnable bottles or cans.
Pacifico—A bit more bitter and hefty than Corona, Montejo, or Sol, many beer drinkers view this as the best of the light lagers and it is especially popular in the western half of the country. Launched by three Germans in Mazatlan in 1900 and still brewed there.
Corona Especial—There’s nothing “especial” about this cheaper beer and it bears little resemblance to the regular Corona. Available in big quart bottles when quantity is more important than quality.
Tecate—Sold mostly in cans, this is a “load up the cooler” kind of beer that is nothing to get excited about. If you are staying at a low-end all-inclusive resort, this is what they will probably be serving.
Tecate Titanium—An old-school malt liquor like you find in 40-ounce bottles in the USA, but here “high alcohol” is relative. This one is at 5.5% and is basically regular Tecate with a bit more buzz for your buck.
Tecate Light—Billed by a friend who lived in Mexico for a year as “the worst beer I have ever tasted,” this is one to avoid at all costs unless you are on a crash diet. It’s as bad as Coors Light, which is saying a lot. Has 3.9% alcohol.
Modelo Light—Almost as bad as Tecate Light, but not quite, with 3.7% alcohol.
Corona Light—Another watered-down version of a well-known brand, but the only one that has more than 4% alcohol.