What’s With The Lime In The Beer?

Have you ever wondered where the lime in a Corona comes from? I have. I’m hugely interested in how culture evolves and what roots the various changes might have. We all have our issues right? Plus there’s only so much youtube fail videos one can watch without irretrievably loosing I.Q. (and soul) points.

Sitting on a plane, not being able to sleep and needing to stave off boredom, I will gladly tell you what little I know about this topic, from memory, so please don’t take it as gospel.

First let’s consider if putting a lime wedge into your beer is some kind of heresy. The answer is a simple, loud and proud, no. A) Beer cocktails, or beer improvements, have a very long history, and B) drinkskultur rule #1, drink whatever you like and don’t let anyone, especially not me, tell you otherwise.

About point A) just look at Europe, where we in North America have pretty much only one fairly well known beer cocktail, the far from ubiquitous michelada, Europe has scores of beer based mixes, from panachés, to shandies, to spiced sweetened heated beer with an egg beaten into it (from my dad’s village in the mountains, but there are similar recipes from colonial America). Not to mention that lemon or orange wheels are frequently found in some Belgian beers. In short adding stuff to your beer is not a practice to be freaking out about. Heck, one of my high school teachers would sprinkle salt into his beer and some taverns in Montreal used to serve beer with a raw oyster inside. I’ve tried the latter, let’s just say it’s probably an acquired taste. Let your freak flag fly.

As to point B) I will shamelessly plug the couple of posts I did about the D&C drinkskultur, (#1, #2, #3) read them and make up your own minds (always). If you have anything to add or comment upon you are more than welcome, that’s what the box at the end of this post is for.

So where does the lime in a Corona come from? No one really knows. A bit anticlimactic, I agree. Still, here are my two favourite origin stories.

A bartender in California had a bet going with one of his friends that he could, from scratch, manufacture and start a trend, and so at his bar, sometimes in the eighties, he started serving Coronas with lime, continuously, relentlessly, and the trend took off. It did so to the point that today the image of a Corona and its wedge of lime is basically synonymous with island time, Mexico and beers on the beach. Clearly the makers of Corona where quite wise to the power of that image, using it in their marketing to good effect. It has been decades now (if I remember correctly) that Corona has supplanted Heineken as the most popular imported beer in the US. You could even argue that it launched the whole genre of, in terms of taste, appearance and marketing, “island style lager”.

It’s still pleasant on a ski slope, but it really shines when it’s super hot or when you can hear the sea.

Sidebar: There was a libel lawsuit, sometimes in the eighties I think it was, because a beer salesman from a competing brand would tell all his clients that Mexican workers peed out of spite into Corona bottles bound for the states. The rumour proved so pervasive that sales plummeted, eventually someone from Modelo (Corona’s parent company, makers of a host of very good beers) looked into it, the culprit was identified and a lawsuit (which was won by Modelo) followed.

The second story comes from the depth of my strange memory, something I read on a forum (that’s soooooo 2002) quite some time ago. An older gentlemen who claimed he was living in Mexico in the 60’s, said he remembered that Tecate (another brand of beer) had a couple of crappy batches during that time and marketed drinking them with a lime wedge to make them more palatable. Apparently the citrus and beer taste caught on.

As with most things drink related the mystery remains whole, and different stories need not be mutually exclusive. I think I’ll try and look up some vintage Corona ads, maybe that will give me a clue as to when the fad started. In any case that won’t diminish my enjoyment one bit. For all I know some sweaty and tired citrus grove worker brought home some limes one day and maybe out of sheer curiosity, or accident, a wedge found its way into his beer glass and voilà. If somebody has other theories please let me know, I would love to hear them.

We will land soon, I look forward to that first beer, with a lime wedge of course.

P.-S.: Here’s the first beer with lime we had upon arrival. Glorious. Also, as of today I’ve been self-indulgently writing this humble-ish blog for one year. Thanks a lot for reading, it is much appreciated. Here’s to your good health, cheers.

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