Every year, we tell you that Cinco de Mayo isn't a Mexican holiday, that it's the Mexican equivalent of St. Patrick's Day–a minor holiday turned into a huge American frat party. Last year, we gave you five real Mexican drinks (Tila Tequila, we are watching you), and this year, we're back with five alternatives to Cuervo and Corona.
First of all, if you're going to drink tequila, don't wuss out and drink that asparagus piss known as Cuervo Gold. It's only tequila because technically anything that's made with 51 percent blue agave can be called tequila. The rest of it is sugar water, coloring to make it look like a barrel-aged añejo, and sólo Dios sabe what all else. Buy a real tequila, one that's 100 percent de agave. You can buy a good bottle of reposado for $20; for $25, you can buy a great one.
That's right, one of the most popular drinks in Mexico is good ol' Jameson. Or Chivas. Or Buchanan's (which is pronounced “bucanas”). Drink it with mineral water or on the rocks–but never, ever with Coca-Cola. Remember, you're supposed to be the most interesting man in the world: sorbos (sips), not tragos (gulps). How naco would that be?
If you could smoke tequila the way you smoke fish (as opposed to the way you smoke pot . . . oh, never mind), you'd end up with something that tastes like mezcal. All tequilas are technically mezcales, sort of, but if you buy a bottle of mezcal, what you'll get is a liquor that warms you from stem to stern and tastes tantalizingly of wood smoke. And yes, you can eat the gusano–the “worm”–at the bottom.
Yes, that's right: Mexicans make wine. It's improving dramatically (let's just say that 10 years ago, Mexican wine was pretty much on par with Manischewitz for drinkability), and if you live in OC, Baja is the next closest wine region after Temecula. There's a lot of Grenache grown down there. A good starter for a red is the Carignan from JC Bravo in the Valle de Guadalupe near Ensenada.
Corona is BINO–beer in name only. If you're going to drink beer-flavored soda, go for it–but Mexicans don't often drink Corona. The Budweiser of northwestern Mexico is Tecate, nearly always in cans. For people who like beer that tastes like beer, some of the Mexican craft beers (a nascent movement) are as good as anything to come out of San Diego County. Try Cucapá, a brand from Mexicali. The Trigueña is a refreshing wheat beer with some taste, it has a decent pale ale named Chupacabras, and there's even a barleywine, though it may be tough to find outside Mexico. Also look for Minerva, Poe and Calavera.
If you're looking for a digestivo, something to help all those cheap carne asada tacos down, look no further than Mexican liqueurs. This goes far beyond Kahlúa and Patrón XO coffee-based liqueurs; the Orendain brand, one of the largest in Mexico, makes a very good crema de membrillo (quince liqueur) and a decent aguardiente (firewater). There are several brands of almendrado, almond-infused tequila liqueur, and there are grappas from the wineries in Baja California and Aguascalientes.