Modelo Especial may be relatively light in color, but this pilsner-style lager is anything but dull or watery. A delicate, herbaceous hop profile gives way to a richer palate with notes of honey, subtle malt, and maize, buoyed by lively carbonation and punctuated with a crisp finish.
Style: International Pale Lager/Adjunct Lager
Company: Grupo Modelo S.A. de C.V
Brewery Location: Nava, Mexico
MSRP: $15 per 6-pack
- More approachable than other beers of this style
- An easy-drinking crowd-pleaser
- Sessionable ABV
- A versatile food-pairing beer
- Easy to find in most markets
- Lacks complexity
- Higher price point for the quality
- May be too rich for fans of light beer
Color: Dark straw to gold. This beer has a more honeyed hue than other popular Mexican pale lagers, which matches its richer malt profile.
Nose: International pale lagers tend to carry the subdued lager aromas, and this one is no different. There’s little-to-no perceptible hop characteristics that come through on the nose, instead showing soft honeyed aromas, fresh biscuits, creamed corn, and a hit of herbaceousness on the finish.
Palate: The first sip immediately establishes that this is, first and foremost, a refreshing sipper of a beer, with a clean, crisp profile that washes across the tongue. Similar to other imported light lagers, lively carbonation buoys the palate, but this beer’s relatively subtle richness makes it feel more substantial and balanced.
Finish: Malty notes of honey-kissed biscuits come through most strongly on the finish, which is surprisingly long for a beer of this style. Some of the brightness brought on by the carbonation is muddied by earthy hop aromas that emerge. Still, a crisp dryness ultimately leaves the mouth feeling refreshed, which makes this an excellent option for washing down spicy foods.
It’s virtually impossible to discuss Mexican beer without bringing up products brewed by Grupo Modelo. The nearly century-old brewery, owned and distributed in the U.S. by the New York-based conglomerate Constellation Brands, is responsible for some of the most globally recognized names in brewing, including Corona and Pacifico. Some big numbers also back up the household name status of its brands: Corona Extra has been the best-selling imported beer in the United States since it surpassed Heineken over two decades ago. Not far behind the beach-staple behemoth lies Modelo Especial, whose nearly $2 billion in annual sales gives it the second spot on the import rankings list.
Mexican brewing tradition has evolved over the centuries, but the production of beers like Modelo Especial (and its darker sibling, Negra Modelo) can be traced back to the brief three-year reign of Austrian-born “Emperor” Maximilian I. Maximilian in the 1860s. While his colonial rule was fleeting, his introduction of German and Austrian styles of lager lives on in Mexican brewing culture, solidifying pilsner-style lagers like Modelo Especial as a beloved local favorite.
At around $15 per six-pack, Modelo Especial finds itself relatively in line with other imports price-wise. But its richer, maltier flavor profile is what really sets it apart from many of the other more moderately priced domestic lagers that it might sit next to on the shelf. The nose offers little in the way of hoppy floral aromas, instead showcasing the beer’s maltier qualities with slight hints of creamed corn typical of the style. High carbonation dazzles the palate, making the first sip feel like a jolt of energy to the tongue. Modelo Especial again sets itself apart with a richer, fuller mouthfeel than most domestic lagers it competes with, featuring straightforward medium malty flavors where other beers tend to fall short. This beer’s popularity is at least partly built upon this richness. The rest mostly comes from those looking for a refreshing, sippable beer, especially on a hot day at the beach or a summer cookout.
With an ABV of 4.4%, Modelo Especial also finds itself firmly in sessionable territory. Its pilsner-like qualities prime it to be an easy crowd-pleasing brew that guests will happily enjoy at a get-together, whether they’re a discerning fan or a novice beer drinker. Its malt backbone also helps make the beer a better option for food pairing than other domestic lagers, acting as a refreshing accompaniment alongside grilled meats or spicy dishes. It’s also this reviewer’s opinion that this beer is arguably the best option on the market for making Micheladas and other beer cocktails that require a light-colored brew for a base.
Any faults found in this beer can often be drawn back to how it stacks up against other beers in its price range, which is increasingly becoming American craft offerings. By comparison, Modelo Especial’s muted flavor profile lacks the bright, minty aroma of other German-style pilsners, especially newer domestic takes on the style beginning to flood the market. Seasoned beer fans might turn their nose up at the idea of drinking a macro brew in principle, but when comparing flavors, one can’t fault them for finding the relatively demure palate and finish a bit of a letdown.
Regardless, this beer’s popularity precedes it for a reason: It’s a well-made take on a globally popular style that still manages to offer a bit more than its competitors. It’s important to note that the brand’s famously clear foil-topped bottles do absolutely nothing to protect it from becoming lightstruck (or “skunked”) if not stored properly. This is a sought-after spoilage flavor for some, but anyone looking to taste the beer in its original state should opt for aluminum cans instead.
Despite ownership changes, Modelo Especial is still produced exclusively in Mexico.
The bottom line: Modelo Especial is one of the top-selling imported beers for a reason. It’s an approachable and refreshing lager that still somehow manages not to leave the palate wanting anything but another sip. The import-level price point still pales in comparison to the cost of other similar options, but the beer still manages to hold its own against others in the lager category. Fans of crisp German-style pilsners will find plenty to love in this bottle.