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March 4, 2014

Taste Bud: Relishing the Mexican bloody mary

I had heard of micheladas before, and I had seen them, but something about the translucent red color made me mistakenly think they must be sweet. And then, one day, I thought, Eh, what the hell?

My life hasn’t been the same since. I’m addicted; obsessed, even.

While the recipes for a michelada vary wildly throughout Mexico and Latin America, the version that popped my cherry was a fairly basic one at El Molcajete Norteño in Clarksville (615 Eastern Boulevard), built on Modelo beer, V-8, Clamato, hot sauce and lime, with Tajin seasoning on the rim.

It comes across like a bloody mary built on Mexican beer, but there is something ultra-refreshing and replenishing about it that baffles me. A bloody mary ends up being so thick and chunky that it typically begs to be sipped and savored, whereas a michelada wants you to gulp it.

Literally, when I start taking a drink, the stuff just disappears — it is so cold and tasty that I literally can’t stop myself from gulping.

Here’s how it is built, courtesy of Sarah, the friendly server at El Molcajete Norteño: First, she uses a lime wedge to moisten the rim of a 22-ounce beer mug, and then she applies the Tajin seasoning, which is basically just ground chile peppers, salt and dehydrated lime juice.

Next, she puts a layer of salt in the bottom of the mug, then adds equal parts V-8 and Clamato, which is a combination of reconstituted tomato juice concentrate and clam juice — thus, the name — with spices. She said she puts about two ounces each into the drink.

At that point, she puts a whole lime into a lime press and adds the juice to the mix. She then adds four shakes of Tabasco sauce (more, if you say “please”), a few shakes of Tajin, and then she stirs it up a bit. At that point, she adds the Mexican beer of choice — in this case Modelo, but Corona, Tecate, Pacifico, etc., all work just as well. It makes about 18 ounces, to which she adds ice cubes to fill the oversized mug.

It is a beautiful drink to behold, for starters, with the bright red spices on the rim contrasting the light red hue of the drink itself, with little particles of spice floating here and there. But I think what I like most about a michelada is that the coolness of the beer and ice contrast with and also balance the spicy goodness within.

Also, since it’s just a 12-ounce beer in play, a michelada won’t get you drunk. Well, unless you have six or seven of them, but who has room for that much liquid?

Some use Worcestershire sauce in micheladas, and there are versions that include chicken broth. Sometimes it’s lemon instead of lime. And some in Mexico use a spice called Maggi seasoning, which is a soy-like sauce flavored with umami. Some micheladas get a nice shot of vodka for an extra kick.

And get this: Micheladas are even healthy for you. Hey, V-8 is healthy, and so is the lime juice. Clamato isn’t so bad, either. In fact, the michelada even made Gizmodo.com’s 2013 list of “The Nine Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks.”

And like a bloody mary, it’s a great hangover medicine. Too much tequila last night? Buffer the morning with a michelada.

But as I took long pulls from the michelada Sarah made me that day, I paused and thought, You know, if someone had put a piece of bacon in this thing, my head would have exploded.

And when you get to the bottom of your michelada, as the sadness of its departure begins to set in, you then realize the pleasant tingling on your lips and palate, the effect of the lingering spice.

I seriously can’t get enough of the stuff, and I knew this as I peered through the ice and into the bottom of my mug. And so I ordered another. Sarah, set ’em up again. I think I see a siesta in my future.