It may look like a Bloody Mary, but the last time one of these red cocktails was put on the bar in front of me I was assured that it was actually just beer and tomato juice. How revolting, I thought, but I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried!
Beer and tomato juice may not seem like a likely pairing, but the combination is actually quite popular in some parts of the world. When it seems a bit early to start on the beer (when’s that, I hear you say!) a mixture of beer and tomato juice is a refreshing and unique way to enjoy your favorite beer without feeling too guilty.
It’s just like enjoying a Bloody Mary the morning after a big night out, but with beer instead of vodka!
Where did this popular drink idea originate? How do you even order one of these beer cocktails? And are there any benefits to drinking a combination of beer and tomato cocktail? Let’s find out!
What Do You Call a Beer and Tomato Juice?
Some popular names for a beer and tomato juice mix are as follows:
- Red Beer
- Bloody Beer
- Beer Bloody Mary
- Ruddy Mary
- Montana Mary
- Red Rooster
- Red Eye
- Red Draw
- Clamato Beer
- Tomato Beer
- Caesar – the national cocktail of Canada
- Michelada or Chelada
Can you think of any names I have missed for this “weird” combination of tomato juice and beer?
Here in the United States, a mixed drink of beer and tomato juice is most commonly referred to as Red Beer, the poor man’s bland version of the much spicier Mexican Michelada. Normally it would just be a simple blend of tomato juice with a domestic light beer that lacked any of the spices or sauce they often use in Mexico.
In the Mid West, where the mix of beer with tomato juice is almost as popular as the vodka-based Bloody Mary, names such as Bloody Beer or Montana Mary have become more widespread.
In Canada, it’s called a Red Eye and is commonly used as a hangover cure. The Red Eye mixed drink arose in the years when pubs were required by law to serve non-alcoholic beverages in addition to beer and liquor. Pub owners would offer tomato juice at the same price as beer, and people who didn’t want to get too drunk would order both a glass of tomato juice and a beer and then mix the two together. It became very popular, was as cheap as beer, and twice as good for you (see later for details!).
And finally, also in Mexico, where tomato juice or Clamato juice (tomato juice mixed with clam brine) was just as cheap as beer, a tomato juice cocktail with beer would often be called a Chelada or Michelada. Michelada basically translates as “my ice-cold beer”.
Where Does Beer and Tomato Juice Mix Originate From?
It’s hard to nail down the exact origin of the beverage invention which is beer and tomato juice-based cocktails. it could even date back to the early days of human civilization when beer was made by fermenting grains and tomato juice was made by juicing tomatoes (DUH!). It’s believed the two beverages were first combined by people who were looking for ways to add more flavor to their beer (to be honest, the first thing that springs to mind isn’t tomatoes!).
Drinking beer and tomato juice mix is believed to have started in the United States in the mid-20th century. Some sources suggest that the drink was invented by a bartender in Chicago who combined beer and plain tomato juice to create a savory and refreshing drink for his morning crowd of customers. Another theory is that the drink was created in Mexico and was popularized in the United States by American tourists.
Red beer is well-known in Nebraska, some calling it the Midwest’s cult-favorite morning beverage, but its origins are unclear. However, one convincing hypothesis is simply that it is very easy to drink in the morning! Another theory is that it became popular due to its fabled power to counter a hangover.
Some American beer drinkers prefer a Michelada cocktail because they want to add a bolder flavor to the flavorless light bland beers they have to endure. More cynical beer drinkers say that red-colored beer was invented by tomato juice companies as a marketing tool to sell more bottles of tomato juice.
Tomato and Beer in Mexico
For what many would argue are the true origins of the tomato-based beer, we need to head further south than South Dakota. We need to take a trip to Mexico, where, according to Wikipedia, a Michelada is a version of the Mexican beer cocktail, a Chelada, popular in Mexican drinking culture. This added lime juice with salt to a beer. Although often referred to as a Chelada, the Michelada is seen as its big brother, adding actual tomato juice or salsa to a Mexican lager beer.
One theory argues that a military general during the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Don Augusto Michel, had a habit of frequenting certain bars in San Luis Potosi and ordering his chela (cold beer) with lime juice, salt and a bit of hot sauce.
The more popular theory accredits the invention of the Mexican drink we now know as Michelada to a civil engineer named Michel Esper Jorge. Before an early match of tennis at the Club Deportivo Potosini, Michel was feeling less than well due to a heavy night’s drinking. Michel went to the bar and asked the bartender for a beer and then requested that he add ice, lime juice, salt, and a few choice salsas.
As time went by, tomato juice or Clamato (tomato juice with clam brine) were added. The drink proved very popular and soon other club members were ordering Michel’s Chelada which was eventually shortened to Michelada.
Whatever the specific origin of the beer and tomato juice mix, it seems most likely the drink originated in Mexico and was brought back to the US by American tourists.
The Commercialisation of the Michelada
In the early 2000s, major US beer producers started marketing cervezas preparadas (prepared beer) in the style of Mexican Michelada drinks – beer mixed with sauces, lemon, salt, hot sauce, or salsas.
Anheuser-Busch was one of the first nationwide conglomerates here in the US to release a premixed drink of tomato juice and beer with the launch of Bud Light Chelada. Rather than using a Mexican lager, the refreshing taste of Bud Light was combined with a Clamato tomato cocktail.
Bud Light extended the range of Chelada beers with a Chelada Extra Lime, which added more lime to the basic Clamato mix, and has even released a couple of non-tomato based Cheladas with Bud Light Chelada Tajín Chile Limon ( a mix of spicy chili, zesty lime, and tajin salt) and Bud Light Chelada Mangonada ( a blend of Bud Light, sweet mango and tangy fruit chamoy).
It wasn’t just the American brewers who bottled and released premixed Cheladas, Sol, Modelo, and even Tecate have released premixed Cheladas using either tomato juice or Clamato tomato cocktail juice.
In 2015, a Guatemalan Brewery also released a Michelada under the trade name Dorado Draft Michelada Chiltepe, a traditional Michelada which has been spiced with chitelpe peppers, a small, fiery pepper that is popular in Central American cuisine.
What Is the Best Beer for Micheladas?
Light and refreshing Mexican lagers like Sol, Corona Extra, Tecate, Pacifico Clara, and Model Especial are the best beers, especially if trying to follow Mexican recipes when making a Michelada.
What Are the Best Hot Sauces for a Michelada?
Although many American drinkers just add plain tomato juice or a mixture of tomato juice and clam broth known as Clamato to their domestic beer, if you have had any experience with Micheladas in Mexico you will know they add hot sauces and spices too. Some good options would be Tabasco sauce, Louisana-style hot sauce, Cholula, or Tapatio – a lot of it comes down to your own taste and preferences.
My local craft beer bar uses Siracha in their house Michelada – give it a try, it won’t disappoint!
What’s the Difference Between a Chelada and a Michelada?
Strictly speaking, a Chelada is a much more simple Mexican drink made only with beer, the juice of a lime, and salt, although many of the tomato-based beer cocktails are often referred to as Cheladas too, ie Bud Light Chelada.
However, if you want to be factually accurate, a tomato and beer mixed drink falls under the Michelada banner. It’s a classic Mexican beer often mixed with tomato juice or Clamato cocktail, hot sauce, lime juice salt, and other seasonings like Worcestershire or soy sauce.
What Does a Michelada Taste Like?
For many, the flavors of tomato juice and beer mixed together are an acquired taste, but if you have never tried a Michelada you don’t know what you are missing out on.
In a Red Beer of just tomato juice and light beer, the savory but slightly acidic taste of the tomato juice can help cut through the sweetness or even maltiness of some beers. If Clamato is used, it gives it that slightly salty edge.
For Michelada, you still get that same refreshing taste but it can be more picante and umami, just a little salty and a bit tart with malty notes if using one of the Mexican amber lagers. It’s a taste you won’t forget in a hurry.
How to Make a “Red Beer”?
The simple American Red Beer just uses tomato juice and a domestic or Mexican lager. Don’t skip the salt though as it helps marry together the flavors of the tomato juice and beer. The Spicy Hot V8 tomato juice works well if you want a bit more flavor or you could even go for a spicy Bloody Mary mix.
The ratio of beer to tomato juice should be about 3 parts beer to one part tomato juice, although you can always change this according to your personal preferences.
A Classic Michelada Recipe
If you are looking to take your beer and tomato juice to the next level, why not try this refreshing Michelada recipe which uses tomato juice, beer, lime juice, hot sauce, Worcestershire, and soy sauce?
- 2 tbsp flaky sea salt or kosher salt
- 3/4 tsp Tajin or a similar chili powder
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- ice cubes
- 2/3 cup tomato or Clamato juice
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 4 drops Worcestershire sauce
- 4 drops soy sauce
- 4 drops hot sauce
- 1 12oz bottle of Mexican beer of your choice
- Mix the salt and Tajin seasoning together on a small saucer or shallow plate. Run a lime wedge around the rim of two pint glasses before dipping the glasses into the salt mixture to coat the rim with salt.
- Half-fill each glass with ice cubes.
- Divide the tomato juice, or Clamato if using, and Worcestershire, soy, and hot sauce evenly between the two glasses.
- Top both glasses up evenly with the beer and serve garnished with lime wedges.
The Benefits of Tomato Juice and Beer
Beer and tomato juice both have their own unique health benefits and when combined, they can offer even more advantages. Here are some of the benefits of beer and tomato juice:
- Antioxidants – Tomato juice contains antioxidants like lycopene and vitamin C, which help protect the body from free radicals that can cause cell damage. Beer also contains antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation and improve heart health.
- Hydration – Both beer and tomato juice contain a high amount of water, which can help keep you hydrated.
- Vitamins and minerals – Tomato juice is rich in vitamins A and C, potassium, and iron, while beer contains B vitamins, magnesium, and selenium.
- Digestion – The combination of carbonation and acidity in beer and tomato juice can help aid in digestion.
- Flavor – The combination of the savory and slightly sweet flavors of beer and tomato juice can make for a refreshing and unique taste experience.
Beer and Tomato Juice – Last Call
Although most beer aficionados would probably balk at the idea of mixing beer and tomato juice, it’s definitely worth experiencing it for yourself. Some people love the combination of beer and tomato juice with the savory and slightly acidic taste of the tomato juice helping to cut through the sweetness of the beer.
It makes a refreshing and unique beverage, perfect for those Sunday morning brunches when you really can’t face the vodka of a traditional Bloody Mary, and also offers a fuller-bodied drink.
With its refreshing taste, health benefits, and variations, it’s no wonder that Red Beer or Bloody Beer is a beloved drink in many parts of the world.
And why not take it up a level? Throwing in some spice, some hot sauces, and maybe a dash of Worcestershire sauce to make it into a Mexican Michelada turns it into a sophisticated cocktail you could quite easily order when out for dinner.
Many craft beer bars, especially those in the Mid West or the Deep South near the Mexican border, even offer Michelada menus, and the bartender will always be happy to serve you a House Michelada. Just don’t call it a Michelada in some states like Nebraska – it’s a RED BEER!