Anheuser-Busch, the Belgian-Brazilian brewing company that produces Budweiser, is (briefly) rebranding the iconic brew as simply: "America."
The move is a gimmick meant to play on the patriotism of the country's more discerning beer connoisseurs in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Why drink a Corona, Hoegaarden, or Stella when you can guzzle the third-most popular beer in U.S. with a sense of American pride?
Even with its looming name change, Budweiser's about as American as Häagen-Dazs is German, which is to say that, you know, it isn't at all. While Budweiser may be American in name only, there's is a pretty simple way that you can turn any can of Bud into the sort of multicultural ambrosia that would have made the founding fathers proud: the michelada. All you need is a little bit of lime, tomato juice, and salt. (Also maybe some clam broth.)
There are a couple of schools of thought as to where, when, and how the michelada, a blend of beer, tomato juice, lime, and spices, was first dreamt up. Some believe it was first invented by Don Augusto Michel, a general in the 1910 Mexican revolution, who frequented Club Deportivo Potosino in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. Michel was supposedly fond of ordering his beer on ice with the requisite mix of spicy, tangy, and sour ingredients. Eventually, the drink's popularity caught on and the michelada was born.
Others subscribe to the less apocryphal theory that michelada's origins lie in linguistics. "Mi," "chela," and "helada" are three Spanish words that individually translate to "my," "beer," and "cold." The term could have begun as slang someone used to refer to their personalized cold one, but, regardless of where the michelada came from, what's clear is that the drink's popularity here in the U.S. has been steadily growing in recent years.
Anheuser-Busch's decision to rebrand its beer "America" drew mixed reactions. Donald Trump thought the choice was brilliant and wasted no time taking personal credit for it. Max Allstadt, an Oakland-based carpenter, took to Twitter with a different perspective. Budweiser's name change wasn't exactly the best idea, but it was the perfect opportunity to get more Americans on board with with the michelada, a much more interesting beverage that was already on its way to becoming an American classic.
When I spoke with Allstadt, he told me that his first michelada experience actually started with a Budweiser that he came across in a local corner store.
"I love salty and briny drinks, so I bought one, and I liked it," Allstadt told me after admitting that he'd never dreamt of buying Budweiser before. "It didn't take me long to figure out that a Budweiser michelada is nowhere near as good as a homemade one, of course."
Since that first sip, Allstadt's graduated up to more advanced takes on the drink that involve tart tamarind candy straws, chili flakes, and muddled pepino. While he doesn't have anything against Budweiser as a beer, Allstadt felt as if their name change spoke more to everything that's currently wrong with people associate America with a lack of cultural diversity.
"America as depicted in Budweiser's own marketing is as bland as the beer itself is," he told me."We can make America great again by adding more Mexican culture, not by scapegoating Mexican Americans and throwing undocumented migrants out of the country."
Here in the U.S., the michelada's popularity largely varies from city to city, depending on the size of the local Latino population. When I called a few bars in New York's Washington Heights, a Dominican neighborhood, michelada's were easy to find. The bars in Spokane, Washington? Not so much.
Empellon Al Pastor, a taqueria in New York's East Village, has an entire page dedicated to various micheladas incorporating ingredients from various cuisines to create unique, unexpected spins on the drink. According to Empellon's head chef Alex Stupak, the hundreds of potential ways you can riff on the classic michelada proves that even though it has cultural roots in Mexico, it has incredible potential to be a part of the Great American Drink Menu.
“A michelada is nothing but beer, salt, ice, and lime," Stupak told PAPER magazine. "We simply broke down [the michelada flavor-profile] components and started to build them up with different ingredients."
For Max Allstadt, the fact that every bartender brings a different set of tastes and influences to their micheladas is the most truly American thing about it.
"From what I can tell, as with most great food and drink that comes out of cultural collisions," Allstadt told me. "There's no one kind of 'authentic' michelada, just like there's no one kind of 'real American.'"