Thai Chelada

6 oz Lager
4 oz Thai Chelada Mix (below)
1 oz Lime Juice
Handful of Basil

Rim outside of a pint glass or mixing glass with a cut lime, then dip in salt (we like kosher) to coat
Muddle basil in glass
Add ice, then the mix, lime juice, and lager.  Stir

For Thai Chelada Mix
4 oz Tomato Juice
1.5 tsp Thai Fish Sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
0.25 tsp Sriracha Hot Sauce

Combine all ingredients and stir
Consider this a base recipe and adjust the sauces to taste

* * *

I must not fear.  Fear is the mind-killer.  Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.  I will face my fear.  I will permit it to pass over me and through me.  And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.  Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing.  Only I will remain.
– Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear

Oh, the things I’ve consumed over the years.  Hearts, brains, kidneys, livers, tongues, feet, stomach linings, cheeks, glands of all sorts, and even testicles.  Still, I am brought quaking to my knees by the thought of the Chelada – at least, the Chelada as I first encountered it: an unholy union of Bud Light and Clamato (Clam-Tomato juice) which, even as I write its name here, causes my esophagus to flutter.  When I stare into the abyss, it is the Chelada that stares back at me.

If ever a beverage was perfectly captured by the sentiment “adding insult to injury”, the 24 oz can of Anheuser Fish Beer is it.  Over the years, Clamato, all by itself, has successfully managed to keep me at bay, repelling my grocery cart to the far side of the aisle.  But then, to commit the injustice of adding light beer (horror of horrors) and making it double the size of a normal brew – well, I’ve been scanning the horizons for four horsemen of dubious intent.  It’s almost as if all the atrocities of time have been condensed into one shining, anodized can of fear, remorse, and incredible gastric distress.  So, why then – in the name of all that is good and happy and full of rainbows – are we featuring it?  As always, I’m glad you asked.

With the Super Bowl upon us, we began to research the drinks we might want to do.  It may be a slight spoiler that tomorrow’s drink is called “The Pigskin”, a name we promptly began to Google once we had decided upon it.  At the top of the search results was Dean Fearing’s “Pigskin Michelada”, an elevated form of the Chelada which the award-winning chef created just for the big game.  Fearing’s version is 4 oz of Michelada mix (tomato juice spiked with Worcestershire sauce, lime juice and lobster stock) and 6 oz of Corona – proportions, at least, which I’ve adopted here.  If you happen to be in Dallas, the drink can be enjoyed at the Ritz-Carlton’s Rattlesnake Bar.  Not a plug – just a fact.

Here is where I’ll reveal the first bit of information I’ve withheld from you:  Every time I’ve eaten something strange or seemingly unappetizing, there’s always been a safety net.  See, my one rule is that I have to trust the chef.  So, as strange as the opening assortment of offal may be, it’s all been prepared by some of the world’s most gifted hands.  So it goes that if Fearing – the proclaimed Father of Southwestern Cuisine and one of the country’s most celebrated chefs – had found a redemptive form of the Chelada, surely I could too.  Which led me to dig deeper into the origins of the drink.

As it turns out, much like Coquito, the origins of the Chelada or Michelada are a bit hazy, with multiple variations – not to mention monikers – battling for authenticity.  If you take the word Michelada as “Mi Chelada” it can mean “My Iced Beer”, and indeed, one of the primary versions is merely lager with lime juice, ice, and salt.  If desired, hot sauce, Worcestershire, and/or Maggi seasoning (soy sauce without the soy) can be added to taste.  A second version is the tomato juice or Clamato juice version, which is typically called an Ojo Rojo, Red Eye, or Red One.   Depending on where you look, the actual name of the drink could be any of the above.    Indeed, the Bud Light can calls itself “Chelada” on the front but “Red One” on the side.  Fearing’s version, still tomato and fish based, is a Michelada.  We say, take your pick.

Whatever the drink may be called, it’s the Clamato version that I’ve found haunting me for so long.  If the Michelada was indeed an “official” Super Bowl drink, well, it was time to man up and take one for the team.  It seemed only moments later that I found myself in the checkout line, purchasing my Bud Light-Clamato with a level of embarrassment which would have only been exceeded had my basket contained an industrial-sized tub of Ex-Lax.  The world around me began to dim as the abyss came into focus – what had I become, and what would my neighbors say?  The kid from next door was bagging groceries just one aisle over.  Surely, he saw me.  I raced home to dive head first into my downward spiral.

Psychologists say that a key indication of addiction or clinically unhealthy behavior is when you know something is wrong but you can’t help but do it anyway.  Had I really reached that point with the Chelada, or was it fear, the mind-killer, getting the better of me?  To complicate matters – and heighten the illicit quotient – I couldn’t drink the thing in the comfort of my home.  Of the three people with whom I live, one is deathly (I mean deathly) allergic to bivalves, another gets stupidly sick from them, and given the genetic history, we’re suspicious about the boy’s tolerance.  Clamato indoors was strictly verboten; my experiments were relegated to the garage.

There, I stood – can in one hand and, not wanting to contaminate any of the household glassware, Lightning McQueen Dixie Cup in the other.  With a deep breath, I cracked the lid.  First, the smell – quite light, actually.  Certainly not the waft of fermented chum that I was expecting.  Next, the pour.  As others have noted, the drink has a Strawberry Shortcake pinkness about it.  Arguably, it’s very processed looking.  Finally, the moment of no return – my first sip.  In all honesty – and maybe it’s because I had let fear build me up for such a horrific experience – it wasn’t half bad.  As much as I despise light beer – both in principle and in the mouth – it was tolerable here.  Moreover, the drink was much more balanced than I would have ever expected.  The Clamato wasn’t too strong by any means, and if nothing else, it masked the tinny quality of the cerveza.  Would I buy it again?  No, but I’d take it over a straight light beer any day.

The second bit of information which I’ve withheld so far is that I had tried and enjoyed a home-made Michelada before cracking the Bud product.  I knew pretty much what to expect.  If you like Bloody Marys and aren’t put off by things like ceviche, you should certainly give the drink a spin.  The light effervescence makes for a refreshing brunch quaff, and I can certainly see the Michelada’s place on Super Bowl Sunday.  If you’re serving beer anyway, the mix is easy to keep in the fridge and you’ll have a quick option to offer your guests.

As mentioned above, Clamato was out of the question when developing our recipe, but I also had another direction in which I wanted to go.  Umami is a sensation that I’ve longed to explore in drinks, and the Michelada presented itself as a ripe opportunity.  Rather than combining soy sauce or Maggi along with a fish product, I opted for the all-in-one Thai Fish Sauce, which is made from anchovies.  It’s salty and has a depth of flavor that’s incomparable.  Combined with the light bite of a good lager (we used Red Stripe because it’s one of our favorites), I wanted the drink to have a discernible complexity and roundness.  Which led to Sriracha, a Thai hot sauce, as my choice for the spicy quotient.  Whereas I typically find Tabasco very one-note, Sriracha has a whole range of flavors going on, bringing much more than just spiciness to the drink.  Our final Thai twist is the basil, gently muddled in the glass before the liquids are added.  For me, the basil really bridges the sweetness of lager with the savory of the tomato and pulls the whole thing together.

Less a kitschy theme than an invention of necessity, our Thai Chelada is the first of our two Super Bowl drinks this year.  It’s a lighter, brighter version of a Bloody Mary – with a much lower alcohol content to boot (which you may see as a plus or a minus).  As presented, there’s nothing particularly fishy or chum-like about the drink, and it’ll pair beautifully with chips and salsa or the like.  Worst case scenario, I’ll even go so far as to recommend the canned stuff if you find yourself having to choose between it and light beer.  It’s certainly not the demon that fear had led me to believe it would be.  And, maybe, more than anything, that’s the solace I found in the Chelada – a pat on the back for not only overcoming a great culinary anxiety but for finding a way to embrace it.  After all, the worse the experience was, the better the story would be – and, on a blog, that’s really what counts, isn’t it?

Esoterica: Clamato isn’t the only successful tomato-based hybrid.  In 1999, Homer Simpson created Tomacco, a grafting of tomatoes and tobacco.  As both plants are members of the same family and as humans are never ones to leave well enough alone, Rob Baur of Oregon decided to grow his own tomacco – with the resulting plant not only thriving but also producing fruit.  Since the fruit was believed to contain toxic levels of nicotine, Baur never bothered making a BLT out of it. 


13 responses to “Thai Chelada

  1. As a lover of Bloody Mary’s, beer AND shellfish I find your description of the 3 combined intriguing. I think I’d try it, but only with a large loaf of really good crusty bread handy to kill the taste should it be unbearable. And because I also love really good crusty bread . . .

  2. I never knew what a michelada was until I read your post. I posted a michelada preparada today having no idea what it meant except that it was cold beer and a spicy tomato juice. Thanks for an informative post!

  3. Hey take it easy on the Clamato eh? Add Vodka, Worcestershire, Tabasco and maybe some horseradish and you have the quintessential Canadian Sunday morning breakfast. AKA the Caesar.

    Great post as always!

    • Colin — you have to admit, on paper at least, Clamato and Bud Light — horrible idea. The Caesar’s restorative properties are unquestioned — the question that begs to be asked, though, is “What the heck were you up to the night before to need one?” 🙂

  4. this is worse than a brown cow? i think not, my friend…

    sounds rather refreshing, to be honest…but, then again, there’s no accounting for my south georgia cracker taste…

  5. You know I’ve been thinking about this lately. Not tomato juice and beer exactly but… think about it… you wouldn’t give a thought to drinking beer with chili or pizza. How different is it to get a jump on the flavor combination and put the beer in a drink with the same flavors? I often put beer in my chili when I cook it and like the Italians do with a famous meat dish, add anchovies for umami … you don’t taste them exactly they just add a little something!

  6. Love this! And what a great way to utilize fish sauce in a cocktail. 😉

  7. I actually write a blog where I review god-awful booze– and one of the worst I’ve reviewed is the Bud Lite Chelada:

    Unlike your blog it is ludicrously crude and riddled with pop-culture jokes, but I thought you’d want to know that at least one other person knows your suffering well.

    • Jasper — I know your blog well based on the piece in which you mentioned us sometime ago. I highly recommend it to anyone reading this. I have to stand by my “not as life draining as I thought” and “better than a straight Bud Light” assessments — but of course, neither of those is high praise.

      I dig your Smith references, and in particular the wisdom of the line: “Can I just say that my spellchecker doesn’t recognize Clamato as a word? That’s because it shouldn’t be.” That’s Hunter Thompson deep.

  8. Pingback: Painkiller Peeps | 12 Bottle Bar

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