Modelo Especial, often shortened to Modelo, is a popular Mexican-American pilsner. The pale, easy-drinking beer is popular both in Mexico and in the United States, where it is widely enjoyed in the South and Southwestern states. Modelo often leads drinkers to wonder when it came out and why. Here’s our abridged version:

Modelo Especial was first brewed in 1925 at the launch of Cerveceria Modelo. It was one of two flagship beers that launched the brewery, along with Corona. Modelo has been synonymous with Mexican culture and lifestyle ever since and remains popular in Mexico and throughout the world to this day. 

That’s the brief answer to when Modelo Especial came out and why, but there is plenty more to consider. In this article, we’ll take a close look at how and why Modelo Especial expanded so quickly, where it was first brewed, and why it’s so popular. 

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Why Did Modelo Especial Come Out?

Modelo and Corona were the first two beers launched by the Cerveceria Modelo in 1925 upon the brewery’s launch. Cerveceria Modelo was attempting, at the time, to capitalize on a quickly expanding appetite among Mexican drinkers for beer. Although Mexico is today the world’s leading beer exporter, a century ago, the situation was very different.

The heyday of Mexican beer did not begin until Modelo and Corona first came out. Prior to that, beer was not a widely consumed beverage in Mexico. Native, traditionally brewed alcoholic beverages were far more popular, particularly in the regions from Mexico’s midlands towards the south. Of these, pulque, made from the fermented sap of the agave plant, was the most popular. 

Beer had been brewed in Mexico for hundreds of years at this point, but it was not a popular drink. Beer was mostly consumed during Mexico’s colonial era by colonial authorities. Locally made beer was heavily taxed and far too expensive for locals to purchase. Imported beers and wines from Spain were also out of the reach of ordinary Mexicans. As a result, they turned to easier drinks, like pulque.

The late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century saw many German immigrants arriving in the United States and in Mexico. Virtually all the major American brewers (and quite a few craft brewers, too) can trace their origins to German-Americans, and the story is the same in Mexico.

As they had in the United States, Germans brought with them a prodigious appetite for beer and the knowledge of how to make it. German-Mexicans opened breweries in urban centers throughout Mexico, and the captains of Mexican industry soon followed suit. One of these was Cerveceria Toluca, founded by Agustín Marendaz, a Swiss immigrant, in 1865. Cerveceria Toluca brewed a particularly popular pilsner, the spiritual forefather to Modelo Especial. In the later years of the nineteenth century, railroads were built throughout Mexico, allowing machinery, goods, and people to travel easily throughout the country and allowing for easier importation of vital brewing equipment from the United States.

In 1925, Cerveceria Toluca became Cerveceria Modelo and began brewing their pilsner in Mexico City. Cerveceria Modelo quickly began buying out its smaller competitors, and Modelo skyrocketed in popularity like its twin beverage, Corona Extra.

When Did Modelo Especial Come Out in the United States?

The story of Mexican beer would be incomplete without mentioning its special relationship with the United States. The Mexican beer boom shows no signs of slowing down a century on, fuelled in no small part by exports to the USA. 

The Prohibition era in the United States began in 1920. The sale and production of alcohol were declared illegal, and Americans looking to enjoy a beer had to look elsewhere. Americans down south, close to the Mexican border, started crossing over to enjoy a few brews by the beach. 

The appetite for beer in areas around the Mexican-American border was noticeable, and five years later, Cerveceria Modelo began producing Modelo Especial. The pilsner style was similar to the pale lagers already widely enjoyed in the United States, and American drinkers took to Mexican beer very easily. 

It wasn’t until 1990, however, that Modelo became available in the United States. Modelo’s push into the American market was considerably slower and subtler than Corona’s. Instead, it all began with Mexican drinkers in the Southwest preferring the beer of their homeland to local domestic brews. 

Modelo Especial has long positioned itself as Mexico’s premium beer brand. Its loyal base of drinkers in the United States represented a powerful enough market to trigger a push for Modelo outside Mexico, and it has progressed in leaps and bounds ever since.

Modelo’s Expansion

Until the past decade, most American drinkers were unlikely to find a bottle of Modelo unless they were drinking with Mexicans or at an authentic Mexican restaurant. It might seem to some that Modelo’s meteoric rise in the past ten years, which saw it behind only Bud Light in dollar sales in the US, came out of nowhere. Why did Modelo suddenly become so popular?

Modelo’s incredible increase in popularity began almost a century after the beer was first brewed. In 2013, Constellation Brands acquired the rights to import and market Modelo as well as its better-known brother, Corona. Modelo enjoys enormous brand loyalty among the Latin community in the United States and continues to defy trends. American beer drinkers drifted towards trends for wellness and craft beer, but Modelo remained steadfast as a standard, quality pilsner. 

Another major coup for Modelo came in 2018 when the beer became the official beer sponsor of the UFC. This was in no small part related to Modelo’s success at the Buffalo Wild Wings franchise, which was also heavily involved in the country’s premier mixed martial arts promotion. As the UFC skyrocketed in popularity in the latter half of the 2010s, Modelo adorned screens, advertisements, and the Octagon in which athletes competed. Modelo’s slogan, “brewed for those with a fighting spirit”, echoed in sports bars around the country.

The incredible brand loyalty of Modelo’s core consumers is not to be underestimated, either. Modelo seems immune to price hikes in bars and grocery stores alike. Modelo’s core market, American Hispanic drinkers, are intensely loyal to their favorite beer. The US Census Bureau estimates that the US Hispanic population has increased by ten percent. As Modelo’s commercial fortunes have improved, so, too, has the American Hispanic population expanded. 

Of course, the main reason for Modelo’s continued success might be that it’s a nice beer. Modelo has remained relatively unchanged throughout almost 100 years of brewing history, ignoring trends for light beer, craft beer, and alcoholic seltzer while other brands have caved to market pressure. Modelo remains the premium Mexican beer, and American drinkers are beginning to recognize that.