High in the Alps above Interlaken, Switzerland sits the small, rustic village of Gimmelwald. Gimmelwald boasts a steady population of around 130 people, most of whom make their living by farming using the same tools and techniques of their ancestors. Walking the tiny streets and narrow pathways of this rural village, it is not uncommon to see Laird Hamilton lookalikes carrying scythe and pitchfork on their way to harvest hay from the steep incline of a mountain field, or perhaps driving cattle from a remote pasture to the dairy barn or butcher where Gimmelwald's cheese and jerky is produced. This way of life may seem archaic in a thriving European nation, but is necessitated by the stunning geography where modern farming implements are rendered useless.
Price check: Trader Jose varies in price from state to state. CA is the cheapest, at $4.99. It tops out in FL at $7.99.
But what about Trader Jose Dark? While still a Mexican import ostensibly created to compete with the big two (two macrobreweries are responsible for the vast majority of all Mexican imports), Trader Jose Dark doesn't immediately remind me of anything. It's lacking the distinctive bottle of Negro Modela, so I'm not sure if they're trying for something like Tecate or Dos Equis Lager. As a consumer, this matters. If I'm buying a knock off label, it's because I want something that reminds me of the premium brand. If I can't tell what that premium brand is, I'm much less likely to buy it.
What follows are my tasting notes for Trader Jose's Dark, but I'm tasting it blind. I have nothing to compare it to. You can help us out by leaving a comment and telling us what Trader Jose reminds you of.
You have to play detective to discover where Trader Joe's brands are made. Google always comes back with a handful of different results, so you have to dig deeper.
Contrary to popular opinion, TJ's is NOT brewed by Gordon Biersche. It's actually a product of Cervecería Mexicali in Tecate, Mexico. This is a brewery you've never heard of, that makes beers you've probably never tried, including Mexicali, Red Pig Ale, and Chili Beer (brewed with real chilies). Cervecería Mexicali was founded in 1923 by two Mexican entrepreneurs, who learned their craft from a German brewmaster. But before you get too excited about drinking Mexican microbrews, it's important to note that the original brewery was forced out of business by the big two, and was then purchased by Coors.
Trader Jose Dark Premium Lager:
Nose: Heavy molasses notes. Light, sweet finish. Hay.
Taste: Reminds me of other brown ales. Woody molasses flavor, with a slightly sour finish.
Leave a note. What does TJ Dark lager remind you of?
Ready for the second installation in my Beers of Mexico series? Then quick! Name a Mexican lager whose roots trace all the way back to 1800s Germany. Give up? Before you cheat and scroll down further, think back through your memories. Have you ever tried a Mexican beer that reminded you of a pilsner (think Stella Artois)?
Truth be told, I didn't know anything about this lager when I picked it up last weekend. I'm sure I've tried it before, but never really paid any attention to its distinct notes. Expecting a mellow lager, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a flavor profile that lands smack in the middle between a Stella and a Corona.
Ready for the big reveal?
One more clue...
"Stay thirsty my friend!"
Our mystery beer is Dos Equis lager. Dos Equis is Spanish for XX, as the beer was first produced in 1897 to celebrate the arrival of the twentieth century. This beer was first crafted by a German brewer named Wilhelm Hasse who emigrated to Mexico under the short-lived Second Mexican Empire of Maximilian I (for kicks, check out the wiki on this fascinating period), hence its similarity to European pilsners. Today, thanks to the most interesting man in the world, Dos Equis remains a popular Mexican import in the U.S., and throughout the world.
Dos Equis is brewed by Cuauhtemoc-Moctezuma Brewery (CMB), one of the two mega breweries in Mexico (the other is Modelo), but it is itself a subsidiary of Heineken. CMB has been in business since 1890, when a group of Austrian and Mexican businessmen joined forces to start a brewery. Other recognizable imports from CMB include Sol and Tecate, among others.
Dos Equis Lager:
Nose: Like a Stella, with a light, sweet finish
Taste: I'd put it right between Stella and Corona. A smooth oaky start, with the distinct limey notes of a Mexican lager, pilsner hints and a floral essence.
Recommendation: If you've been avoiding Dos Equis lager just because it's too mainstream, why not give it a try, then tell us what you think!