I had my first Michelada the other day, and realized, as countless people have before me, that it is a drink with magical powers, more elixir than libation, a potentially lifesaving concoction perfected by kindly Mexican sorcerers after centuries of experimentation. At least, that’s my story.
We’d spent the morning in a field of agave in Jalisco – after spending the previous evening enjoying the fruits of a field of agave, better known, after cooking, distilling and aging, as tequila. The morning had been hot, bumpy and thirsty, and we worked at watching himadors make it look like child’s play to carve a thorny blue-green agave plant into a manageable 60-pound koa ready for alchoholic alchemy. I was trying to make it look easy to stand up.
The Mexican man with us, a guy in a cowboy hat that had seen a few hot summers – and the lessee of the land to the farmer who grew the plant for seven long years – looked a little thirsty himself, and eventually, he drove us back along the hot bumpy road, past a chapel with bluejeans drying on the white wall out front, to a highway on the edge of a town. We parked at the Llantera el Guacamayo, a place washed in yellow that offered Canamas y llantas nuevas y usadas y Tambien de motocicleta parches. It seemed like every second enterprise was in the new and used tire and motorcycle parts business, but contrary to the advertising, there was no parrot to be seen.
The man in the cowboy hat greeted the proprietor warmly, and he graciously moved a relic of a motorbike out of our way so we could sit down thank god at his bar, which was made from a piece of equipment that might once have been a gurney for an ailing engine and was now shaded somewhat by a roof of parched palm frond. The proprietor disappeared for long, long minutes, not into the garage bay but into the bar that was tucked beside it, decorated with a row of seven straw hats with no crowns, a few bottles of liquor and a display for candy that had been ransacked by children some decades ago. We waited, warm and queasy, squinting out onto the road and breathing passing diesel. Turns out the man in the cowboy had had 12 children, someone said, and we agreed he looked none the worse for wear.
The Micheladas came out two at a time in foot-high styrofoam cups with a straw and a plastic lid heaped high with cucumbers cut with wavy edges, like bread and butter pickles. A pile of limes came alongside. The environmentally-sensitive among us winced at the tower of styrofoam; the experienced among us shook chile from a big plastic bottle onto the ‘cukes, then squirted the lime over them. We nibbled at the cucumber, cool and zingy with the lime and chile, which ran down the straw into the drink.
The first sip had that jolt of coolness, nourishment and alcohol that assures you that you will not die of this hangover, and Michelada virgin that I was, the contents hit as a surprise – tomato, yes, rushing to fill in the gnawing edge of hunger, ice to cool last night’s fever, salt, chile, beer, because. The drink went down, radiating warm layers of comfort and sustenance and memories of lifesaving Caesars, and the connoisseurs in our group nodded approvingly; Maggi, the secret ingredient in so much Mexican deliciousness, had left its unmistakable, indefinable mark here, as had la salsa Inglesa, aka Worcestershire – English sauce, right. We found ourselves sucking the cups dry, and the styrofoam did an admirable, if unrecyclable, job of keeping the drink cold. We piled back into the truck, the edge off, the day on, sunny with possibility.
story & photography © Dianna Carr illustration © Francis Tremblay