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The Riff: Mix Up the Michelada

The Riff: Mix Up the Michelada
Written by Hannah Lee Leidy | Image by Paula Murphy

For a sommelier, long-time beverage professional Sean Beck spends a lot of time thinking about beer, Or, to be exact, beer cocktails—the michelada, specifically.

Beck discovered his aptitude for wine when he started waiting tables as a college student in Houston. Fascinated by the subject, he read whatever he could get his hands on, going to Barnes & Noble stores to find the “obscure magazines” about wine and getting together with fellow industry members for wine tastings alongside “South Park” episodes.

Sean Beck, the beverage director for H-Town Restaurant Group
Sean Beck of H-Town Restaurant Group

At the age of twenty-four, Beck took over the wine and spirits program at his place of work. Shortly after, he fell in with Mexico-born restaurateur and chef Hugo Ortega. He joined Ortega at H-Town Restaurant Group and has spent the past twenty-two years managing their beverage programs at Backstreet Cafe, Hugo’s, Caracol, Xochi, and URBE.

Each restaurant highlights diverse flavors and culinary styles that characterize Mexico’s cuisine. The latter, URBE, differs from the group’s other upscale settings with its casual, street-eats-driven menu. Beck wanted to create a drink to complement both the ambiance and plates, which meant an option more approachable than a booze-forward cocktail.

The interior at URBE, in Houston

“In Mexico, we think of street food as being the food of the people. Well, beer is always the beverage of the people,” Beck says. This room for interpretation gave Beck the opportunity to reinvent the michelada into more than the usual  hair of the dog.

“It’s hard to say there’s a one true michelada,” he says. “It’s all about where you come from.” This drink, he reasoned, with its many variations and regional interpretations, made the perfect match for Mexico’s equally diverse street food culture.

Pulling inspiration from the cocktail’s flavor profile of tomato, spices, seasonings, lime, and beer, Beck designed a michelada menu to highlight Mexican beer and complement the regional variation of the country’s street foods.

Four Michelada Recipes to Shake Up Your Brunch-ing

The chelada is a riff on the michelada, served at URBE in Houston

Chelada

The idea that every Mexican beer needs to be covered up with lime bothers me a little bit,” Beck says. To him, beer just needs a slight dose of citrus and salt for its flavors to merge, which is the principle he applies to his chelada recipe. He adds a touch of guanábano liqueur for sweetness. If you can’t find guanábano in your store, apricot brandy or peach liqueur will work just as well. 

The spiced sangrita cocktail at URBE, garnished with red jalapeno, cucumber, and lime

Spiced Sangrita

“This is the style most people think of when they think of a michelada,” Beck says. Of his michelada menu, this one is the easiest to recreate at home.

Pura recipe, a style of michelada available at URBE, Houston

Pura

While it’s hard to point to one, true michelada recipe, Beck says, “this one is akin to what you’d find in Mexico City” and similar urban centers. This choose-your-own-adventure drink encourages the maker to adjust the suggested measurements for salt, pepper, and hot sauce to their own liking.

the el conejo malo cocktail, a spicy take on the michelada

El Canejo Malo

Although this drink is “not at all classic to Mexico,” it’s Beck’s personal salute to the cocktail. It matches a mango-carrot-orange juice with chile de agua flakes for a kick of heat. “I love the color, plus, I really like carrots,” Beck says.

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