Which Beer Is Best?: Modelo Negra vs Modelo Especial

Modelo may be the least well-known of Mexican beers among the lineup of beach brews served with a wedge of lime (we’re looking at you, Corona), but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming the fastest-growing beer in America.

By case sales alone, Modelo is the second most imported beer in the USA, selling over 22.9 million cases annually of the Modelo Especial brand.

Mexican beers have gained worldwide popularity for their unique flavors and refreshing qualities. Among the many options available, Modelo Negra and Modelo Especial stand out as two exceptional brews.

In this article, we’ll dive into a detailed comparison of Modelo Negra and Modelo Especial, exploring their characteristics, brewing processes, and overall appeal. So, grab a cold one and join us, fellow beer lovers, as we explore the rich world of Mexican beer!

A Brief Overview

modelo especial beer
Photo by Alexander Cifuentes on Unsplash

The Modelo story starts in 1925 in the town of Tacuba, Mexico. It was first brewed at the launch of the Cerveceria Modelo as one of the two flagship beers to launch the brewery,  while the other was Corona.

Meaning “Special Model,” Model Especial has been synonymous with Mexican culture ever since and remains a popular beer in Mexico and is widely exported throughout the world.

Using the inspiration of renowned German brewmasters who had immigrated to Mexico, Casa Modelo came up with a brewing process and recipes that produced consistently crisp and well-balanced beers.

To show off the stunning pale golden character of the beer, the Modelo brewery was to package this “Especial” beer in its now distinctive shaped clear bottle, which was then sealed with a gold label. To this day, it can be bought in the brand’s iconic bottles, although it’s also available in cans.

In the same year that Modelo Negra was brewed, a Vienna-style lager was first brewed by  Austrian immigrants to Mexico under the often-forgotten rule of the Austrian-born Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian I.

Although his reign in Mexico was very short, Maximilian did bring with him a taste for German and Austrian-style beers which were to influence the growing industry of Mexican brewing.

Cerveza Negra Modelo was first introduced as a draft beer in 1926. In more recent times, Modelo Negra comes in an unusually shaped, wide brown bottle with a trademark gold label.

modelo negra beer
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For decades, along with Corona, the Modelo beers dominated the Mexico beer scene before eventually making their way to mainstream America.

In the 1980s, Modelo Especial was first introduced to the beer drinkers of America as a different kind of Mexican beer, a full-flavored lager with a smooth and crisp finish. Modelo Negra was also launched as a dark lager for those who preferred their beers to be more full-bodied.

Although Anheuser-Busch acquired 50% of the company, when they tried to purchase the remaining 50%, an anti-trust lawsuit in America meant that all the US rights to Grupo Modelo’s beers were transferred to Constellation Brands, who now distribute the beers in America, although all the products are still brewed in Mexico.

The directed regional marketing of Constellation Brands has seen Modelo lagers, such as Especial and Modelo Negra, becoming known as the fastest-growing beer brand in America.

But which one is the better beer? Let’s take a more detailed look.

Modelo Negra vs Modelo Especial: a Quick Comparison Table

 Modelo NegraModelo Especial
StyleMunich Dunkel-Style LagerInternational Pale Lager
IngredientsMalt, hops, yeast & waterMalts, hops, corn, yeast & water
HopsGalena hopsHallertau Hersbrucker

Technically, Negra Modelo is a Munich Dunkel lager, but it is still classed by many as one of the few remaining Vienna-style lagers of Mexico.

Modelo Especial may be categorized as an International Pale Lager. However, it can also be called a pilsner style lager, as it uses noble hop varieties or an adjunct lager from the use of adjuncts such as flaked corn (maize), similar to the way many of the adjunct lagers of America use rice or corn syrup.

The Brewing Process of Modelo Negra vs Modelo Especial

modelo beer bottle in the sand on the beach
Photo by Abhishek Rao on Unsplash

The way the two Modelo beers are brewed is one of the key elements which makes them such different beers.

Modelo Negra

Modelo Negra undergoes a longer fermentation process than most Mexican lagers, contributing to its smooth and complex taste profile. The beer has a moderate alcohol content of 5.4%.ABV.

In the case of Modelo Negra, Munich malt and roasted malts are used, providing the beer with its characteristic color and flavor. The combination of malts creates a rich malt base, imparting caramel and toffee notes to the brew.

While Modelo Negra is not heavily hopped, a moderate addition of hops helps balance the sweetness from the malt and adds a subtle herbal or floral character to the beer.

The fermentation process for Modelo Negra takes longer compared to other Mexican lagers, as the yeast works at lower temperatures for an extended period.

This extended fermentation allows the yeast to fully metabolize the complex sugars and produce a clean, crisp beer with a smoother flavor profile.

Following primary fermentation, Modelo Negra undergoes a period of conditioning and aging. The beer is transferred to a secondary vessel, often kept at near-freezing temperatures, for several weeks.

This extended cold storage allows the flavors to mature, the beer to clarify, and any remaining yeast or sediment to settle. The aging process contributes to the beer’s smoothness and complexity.

Once the beer has matured, it is carbonated and prepared for packaging. Modelo Negra is typically packaged in dark glass bottles, which help protect the beer from light exposure that can lead to off-flavors.

Modelo Especial

Modelo Especial, as a pale lager, follows a slightly different brewing process compared to Modelo Negra for a cleaner, crisper beer with a more sessionable strength of 4.4% ABV.

For Modelo Especial, a mix of pale and caramel malts is used, providing a balance of lightness and slight sweetness to the beer. Corn or maize is also added to the beer for a lighter body.

During the boiling stage, German noble hops are added at different times to achieve the desired bitterness, flavor, and aroma.

Modelo Especial’s hop profile is generally moderate, providing a subtle hop presence that complements the malt character without overwhelming it.

Modelo Especial is fermented using a lager yeast strain at relatively low temperatures. The fermentation process for this style of beer is typically shorter than that of Modelo Negra, resulting in a crisper and cleaner flavor profile.

Similar to the Modelo Negra after primary fermentation, Modelo Especial undergoes a period of conditioning, where it is held at cooler temperatures for a much briefer period to allow the flavors to meld and any remaining sediment to settle. The beer may also undergo filtration to remove any remaining solids, resulting in a clearer appearance.

Once carbonation is added to Modelo Especial, it is packaged for distribution, typically bottled in its iconic clear bottles, preserving the beer’s freshness while also adding to its visual appeal.

In brief, both Modelo Negra and Modelo Especial undergo meticulous brewing processes to create their distinct flavors and characteristics.

While Modelo Negra focuses on a longer fermentation and aging period, resulting in a rich and complex profile, Modelo Especial highlights a shorter fermentation time to achieve a crisp taste and refreshing experience.

Modelo Negra vs Modelo Especial: The Taste and Flavor Profiles

Modelo Negra

Modelo Negra is celebrated for its robust and malt-forward flavor profile. At the forefront of Modelo Negra’s flavor profile is a prominent malty sweetness.

The combination of Munich malt and roasted malts lends the beer a rich caramel and toffee character, which contributes to a deep and complex sweetness that is both satisfying and balanced.

The caramel and toffee flavors derived from the malted barley are another of the highlights of Modelo Negra’s taste profile. These notes provide a pleasant sweetness that is reminiscent of caramelized sugars and adds depth to each sip.

The presence of roasted malts introduces a delicate touch of chocolate, further enhancing the beer’s complexity.

Modelo Negra also exhibits subtle toasted grain flavors, adding a layer of warmth and richness to the overall taste. The malts used in the brewing process undergo toasting, which imparts a gentle nuttiness and biscuit-like quality to the beer.

To balance the malty sweetness, Modelo Negra incorporates a moderate level of bitterness. The hop additions contribute a subtle bitterness that complements the malt backbone without overpowering it and ensures that the beer remains smooth and approachable, making it enjoyable for a wide range of palates.

Modelo Especial

Modelo Especial offers a distinct flavor profile that highlights its crisp and refreshing qualities.

Modelo Especial’s flavor profile is defined by a clean and straightforward maltiness. The use of pale and caramel malts gives the beer a light, bready, and slightly sweet malt character. This clean malt presence forms the foundation of the beer’s taste, providing a solid base for other flavors to shine.

The malt bill of Modelo Especial introduces delicate bread and biscuit notes to the flavor profile. These flavors add a pleasant grainy character reminiscent of freshly baked bread and toasted biscuits and contribute to the overall lightness and drinkability of the beer.

While Modelo Especial is not as sweet as Modelo Negra, it does possess a subtle sweetness from the caramel malts used in the brewing process.

This sweetness adds a touch of depth to the beer without overpowering the overall profile and acts as a gentle counterpart to the mild hop bitterness.

Modelo Especial features a restrained hop presence that provides balance and a touch of bitterness to the beer. The hops used in brewing contribute a subtle herbal or floral character that enhances the overall complexity with measured hop additions, ensuring the beer remains refreshing and approachable.

Modelo Negra delights with its robust maltiness, showcasing caramel, toffee, and chocolate notes within a smooth and full-bodied experience.

On the other hand, Modelo Especial captivates with its clean and refreshing character, indicated by a clean maltiness, mild sweetness, and gentle hop presence.

Modelo Negra vs Modelo Especial: The Mouthfeel

Modelo Negra has a smooth and full-bodied mouthfeel from the combination of the rich malt flavors and balanced bitterness. The beer coats the palate with a velvety texture, creating a satisfying drinking experience.

The smoothness of the beer is a result of the longer fermentation and conditioning process, allowing the flavors to meld and the body to develop.

Modelo Especial’s flavor profile is accompanied by a crisp and refreshing mouthfeel with a light-to-medium body that feels effervescent on the palate, making it highly quaffable.

The clean maltiness and restrained bitterness contribute to this refreshing quality, making Modelo Especial a popular choice for hot summer days or social gatherings.

Modelo Negra vs Modelo Especial: The Alcohol Content

Modelo Negra typically has a moderate alcohol content of 5.4% ABV. The alcohol presence is well-integrated into the overall flavor profile, adding a touch of warmth and contributing to the beer’s overall balance.

The moderate alcohol content makes Modelo Negra an approachable choice for those seeking a flavorful beer without an overwhelming alcohol punch.

In comparison to Modelo Negra, Modelo Especial has a slightly lower alcohol content of 4.5%. The alcohol is well-integrated into the beer’s overall flavor profile, providing an easily quaffable and refreshing beer for the summer. The lower alcohol content puts this pilsner drink into the sessional beer choices for Mexican lagers.

Modelo Negra vs Modelo Especial: Branding and Popularity

Modelo Negra has gained recognition as a premium beer in the Mexican beer market. Its distinctive dark bottle, elegant label, and iconic gold foil evoke a sense of sophistication and luxury. The beer has also made inroads in the international beer scene, appealing to consumers seeking unique and flavorful brews.

Modelo Negra’s popularity continues to grow, fueled by its reputation as a go-to beer for those looking for a richer Mexican lager experience.

Modelo Especial has also established itself as one of Mexico’s most popular beers. It is widely recognized for its clear stubby bottle, bold label, and distinctive eagle emblem.

The brand’s marketing campaigns have successfully positioned Modelo Especial as a beer that embodies the spirit of Mexico, attracting a broad consumer base. Its accessibility and balanced flavor profile have contributed to its widespread popularity, both in Mexico and abroad!

two glass bottles of modelo especial beer next to the glass of beer with ice
Photo by Saman Taheri on Unsplash

Modelo Negra vs Modelo Especial: Food Pairing

It’s impossible to speak about Mexico or Mexican beers without mentioning food. Chimichangas, burritos, enchiladas, Chile mole…they are all great washed down with a beer! A dark beer like Modelo Negra can even be used in the cooking of a classic chili con carne to give extra depth in the same way chocolate does.

Due to its robust flavors, Modelo Negra pairs exceptionally well with a variety of dishes. Its caramel and toffee notes complement grilled meats, including steaks, barbecued ribs, and burgers. The beer’s chocolate undertones also make it a delightful accompaniment to rich desserts like chocolate cake or flan.

Modelo Especial’s crisp and refreshing qualities make it pair well with lighter dishes such as seafood, ceviche, and tacos, enhancing their flavors without overpowering them.

Its clean taste also makes it a popular choice for outdoor activities like picnics, beach trips, or sporting events. Anywhere you think of drinking a light lager, you could use a Modelo Especial just for a touch more flavor to your beer.

bottles of modelo especial beer in a box full of ice
Photo by James Kern on Unsplash

Modelo Negra vs Modelo Especial: Which Beer is Best? Final Thoughts

As we have seen, Modelo Especial and Negra are two premium beers from Mexico and the Grupo Modelo Brewery. But that’s where the similarity ends.

Modelo Especial is a refreshing light lager, almost a pilsner (not quite as hoppy, though), which has a little more malty taste than most of the other light lagers of Mexico.

Its brother beer, although actually a younger beer, is much more grown up. With the robust and full-bodied flavors, this dark lager has a much more complex flavor profile suited for the more discerning beer drinker.

They are both great beers, two of the best beers that we import from Mexico, and that’s the other good thing- they are still only produced in Mexico (well, at least here in the States).

Which beer you prefer is purely a matter of personal preference. If you like a light lager such as Bud Light, Coors Light, or even full-fat Miller High Life, then you will just love the taste of Modelo Especial – it’s certainly a lot more special than Corona. It also makes a great Michelada if you have never tried beer with tomato juice.

For the more full-bodied beer lover,  Modelo Negra is the only way to go. As a dark lager, it has moderate bitterness compared to the usual Dunker-style lagers, but a caramel malty sweetness gives the beer more balance.

personally, I prefer the versatility of a Modelo Especial, but which way are you going to go? Modelo Especial or go over to the dark side, Modelo Negra?

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