man holding cans of tecate and modelo

Mexican beers are the highest-selling imported beers in the United States. Two of the beers that have led Mexican beers to where they are in the US are Tecate and Modelo Especial. In this article, we will be considering which the better option is. First, a quick answer.

Tecate is an American lager with a refreshing and crisp malt flavor. On the other hand, Modelo Especial is an international pale lager with a refreshing, crisp, and balanced flavor. Modelo Especial has an herbal hint missing in Tecate. Both these beers are very drinkable, although Tecate has a slightly higher alcohol content.

The answer above doesn’t tell the whole story about both beers and which is better. For that, factors like flavor, mouthfeel, smell, calories, alcohol content, and appearance must be considered. We will consider all of that in this article. Also, we will examine the history, beer classification, and brewing process of both beers. All of these will help which beer is the better option. Read on!

a man holding tecate original and modelo especial cans
Time to test Tecate Original and Modelo Especial!


Both Tecate and Modelo Especial have a rich history and are among the pioneers of Mexican beers in the United States.

Tecate was officially founded in 1944 in the Mexican city of Tecate by Cervecería Tecate. The beer has always had close ties with the United States because of its proximity to the border. It was officially launched in the United States in 1947 in various states, including Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.

Modelo Especial was first brewed in 1925 by Cervecería Modelo in Mexico. For a few years after its launch, this beer battled Pulque, a traditional Mexican drink predominant in the country. Immediately after the fall of Pulque, this beer rapidly rose to prominence in Mexico. Now, Modelo Especial is the second best-selling imported beer in the United States.

Both these beers have established themselves in the United States today, sitting among the top-selling beers in the country.

Beer Classification

Tecate and Modelo Especial are both lagers. This classification is due to the use of the bottom-fermentation technique at cold temperatures when brewing the beers. However, Tecate and Modelo Especial have different sub-classifications.

We will rely on the Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines for the sub-classification of both beers. According to these guidelines, Modelo Especial is an international pale lager. Using the same guidelines, Tecate is best classified as an American lager.


Both beers have rich flavors. Modelo Especial has a well-balanced taste, with a crisp and clean finish. The beer has decently high levels of carbonation and is refreshing. While drinking Modelo Especial, there are noticeable notes of fresh corn, grains, and pilsner malts.

Tecate also has a well-balanced flavor of corn, syrup, and hops. The beer has a noticeable hop character and a hint of hops. Also, there are notes of corn and floral hops in the beer.

Both beers have close alcoholic content, with only a 0.1% difference, implying that they are not too far apart regarding their drinkability. Another critical factor that determines beer’s drinkability is its bitterness.

Both beers are not overly bitter. However, Modelo Especial has slightly more pronounced hints of bitterness. This is unlikely to put you off, and the bitterness does not linger for too long on the palate. Modelo and Tecate deserve credit for how they have managed to strike a nice balance all through the beer.

If you want to bring out the flavor of Tecate even more, you can add a lime wedge to the bottle of the can. This wouldn’t work as well for Modelo Especial, though.


Both beers are quite full-bodied lagers. They both have a smooth taste and are crisp.

One area of interest is which of the beers is heavier. Typically, the higher the calories and alcohol content of a beer, the heavier it is. In the case of Modelo and Tecate, it is not as easy to ascertain the heavier beer theoretically. This is because Modelo Especial has more calories, but Tecate has more alcohol.

Taking a sip, there is no clear winner of the heavier beer battle. Over long drinking sessions, though, Modelo Especial starts to appear as the heavier of the two beers. Also, Modelo is the more refreshing of the two beers.


The two beers have quite different aromas. Modelo Especial has an orange blossom honey aroma with a citrusy, herbal hint. On the other hand, Tecate is more malt-forward, with faint cracker malts aroma.

While the aromas of the beers are not too pronounced from a distance, you can tell them apart fairly easily when drinking.


The calorie count in beer has become one of the most crucial details about beer. Of the two beers under review, Modelo Especial is the higher-calorie beer. It has 144 calories per 12 fl. oz. (one can) of the beer. In contrast, Tecate has 140 calories per can.

Something strange with the calorie count of the beers is that Tecate is higher in alcohol. Often, beers with higher alcohol content have higher calories.

Also, Modelo Especial has slightly more carbohydrates in a can with 13.7 grams than Tecate’s 13 grams of carbs. These values suggest Modelo Especial is the heavier of the two beers.

It is not uncommon for people to make buying decisions based on the calories in beer. Tecate would be the better option for people aiming for lower-calorie beers. Nevertheless, both beers still have lower calories than the industry average for regular beers, around 150 calories.

Alcohol Content

The alcohol content of beer measures the pure alcohol in the beer and is calculated using alcohol by volume. The higher a beer’s ABV, the stronger it is.

Tecate has an ABV of 4.5%, compared to Modelo Especial’s 4.4% ABV. You may think that’s only 0.1%, and it can’t be too consequential; well, not always.

In normal drinking portions, that is, restricting yourself to only a can or two in a reasonable time, there will be no observable differences in effect. That changes when you drink large amounts of the beer in short periods, though. Then, the higher alcohol content may begin to impact the beer’s drinkability. In this case, Tecate would have more pronounced adverse effects after continued drinking.


Tecate and Modelo Especial both have medium yellow colors. They look very alike, and you may have difficulty differentiating between the beers unless they are placed side-by-side. If you closely inspect the beers, you notice that Tecate is slightly duller in color than Modelo Especial.

Modelo traditionally comes in clear glass bottles, with the Grupo Modelo intent on showing off the beer’s golden color. Tecate comes in canned bottles. There’s a bit of history here, too, as Tecate was the first Mexican beer to be canned.

Brewing Process And Ingredients

Both beers have different styles, so you would not naturally expect them to have the same brewing process and ingredients. Before we consider that, though, note that the beers have the same fermentation technique, both using bottom-fermenting yeast at cold temperature, as is characteristic of lagers.

Tecate lists hops, barley, and water as the three ingredients they use to make their beers. Before you ask – no, it is impossible those are the only three ingredients used. Taste and flavor analysis of the beer suggests there may be some rice adjuncts in it.

Modelo Especial is brewed with water, barley malt, non-malted cereals, and hops. Judging from taste and flavor profiles, Modelo Especial is expected to have corn adjuncts.

Brand Image

Modelo Especial and Tecate are two of the most popular Mexican beers in the United States today. In 2018, Heineken-owned Cervecería Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma shipped 680,000 barrels of the beer. That’s good enough to be barely among the top 30 beers in terms of shipments that year.

This is where Modelo Especial blows Tecate out of the water. Wait for it. In the same year, Modelo Especial shipped 8,180,000 barrels, placing it in the top ten in terms of sales in the country. Also remarkable is that Modelo had 4% of the 2018 market share, while Tecate had only 0.3%.

Modelo Especial is clearly the bigger of the two beers. This is also reflected in the amount and quality of advertisement campaigns both beer throw.

What Do People Think About Both Beers?

We have talked quite extensively about the characteristics of both beers. Now, let’s consider what other people think of these beers. To do this, we will examine the ratings from five of the biggest beer review platforms and online communities. They are as follows (on a scale from 1 to 10).

PlatformTecateModelo Especial
Average Score6.67.2

Well, it is fair to say there’s no ambiguity on which of these beers the public believe is better. As you can see, we examined five platforms. The first four of these platforms are the most experienced of the lot, often reflecting the opinions of experienced drinkers.

From the results of these four platforms, there is one clear winner. What’s more, Modelo Especial wins quite convincingly, too.

The last platform on the table is not nearly as experienced as the preceding four. But we will use that to our advantage, as it shows what inexperienced drinkers think of the beers. Again, the attle of public opinion quite clearly goes to Modelo Especial.

Our Takeaway

We have shown you what the public thinks, and now it’s time for what we think. Note that the average rating among the beer platforms isn’t a knock on Tecate. In fact, that’s higher than most of the other beers we have reviewed. It just shows you how good of a beer Modelo Especial is.

We also agree wholly with the public rating. Modelo is simply the better beer of the two, and the fact that it is the second best-selling Mexican beer justifies that.