Over the past year or so, Budweiser Chelada has become the white whale of The A.V. Club’s weekly Taste Test. The clam-juice-and-beer concoction has been on our radar for some time now, and many of you have posted comments or sent e-mail demanding that we try it. But for some reason, we could never seem to find this mythical beer in the wild. (Granted, we weren’t looking that hard.) Two separate trips to Binny’s, a Chicago-area booze emporium, yielded no Chelada, though they did result in two other taste test subjects, Pizza Beer and Pomegranate-Raspberry Michelob. I once spotted it in the cooler at a 7-Eleven near my house, but when I went back the following week to buy it, it had disappeared into the ether, never to return. Since when is it so hard to find Budweiser products? What were we doing wrong?
Basically, we were being ignorant white yuppie-types. Chelada is marketed heavily toward the Latino market, not nerdy pseudo-journalists looking for weird new foodstuffs to mock on their pop-culture website. It’s named for michelada, a combination of beer, tomato/clam juice, and spices that’s been popular in Latin American countries for decades now, and in hip American bruncheries for the past few years. A liquor store or bodega in a heavily Latino-populated neighborhood of Chicago would obviously be a smarter place to look than the area immediately surrounding our downtown Chicago offices, which is devoted mostly to austere art galleries and incredibly expensive high-rise condos. And what do you know: A Latino neighborhood is exactly where we found it, in both Lite and regular varieties. Tallboys, no less.
And what better way to celebrate finally hunting down our elusive quarry than sharing it with another Taste Test legend: Jeremy, a.k.a. partdavid on the comment boards. Earlier this year, Jeremy ponied up a whopping $500 donation to Rock For Kids in order to come to Chicago and drink clam beer with a bunch of dorks in the middle of the day. (While he was here, we also drank various other boozes that we’ll get into next week. That’s right, he got a twofer!)
As the accompanying video shows, The A.V. Club doesn’t exactly comprise Chelada’s target market. But cultural heritage doesn’t dictate taste, and as Steve Heisler so eloquently put it, “If it’s good enough to be put on a can and advertised, it’s good enough for me.” Well, it may have been good enough for him, but most tasters’ reactions ranged from “Gross.” to “Fuckin’ gross!” Look, we’ll readily admit that a properly prepared michelada might hold some unknown taste nirvana for us silly gringos, but Chelada is certainly not the best ambassador of the drink’s charms.
To start with, Bud/Bud Lite just isn’t that great a beer, and the addition of Clamato certainly does it no favors. The foam left behind an unappetizing pinkish sediment, even though we followed the instructions on the can and rotated it slowly before drinking. The beer itself has a fishy sweetness that soon gives way to that familiar skunky Bud twinge, and eventually, salty burps of regret. Obviously, anyone with an aversion to tomato or clam juice (which describes a large number of our tasters) isn’t going to like this, but even those of us who are down with the Clamato couldn’t fathom drinking more than a couple of sips of this. Of course, Chang would have, but he’s been sent off to a lovely farm where he can chase rabbits all day (and then eat them)—so we poured one out in his honor.
In lieu of the suicide of both varieties that Chang would have certainly downed for your amusement, Ad Ops Brett and I stepped up and had a chug-off. I like to think I had him beat for endurance, but Brett wins points for neatness, as I promptly slopped a good portion of the drink down my chin. Our mothers are so proud.
• “It looks like beer mixed with menstrual blood.”
• “It doesn’t taste as bad as it looks.” “No, it’s awful.”
• “That is almost incomprehensibly bad. It’s like thin tomato soup that’s gone so rotten that it’s fermented into a vague approximation of alcohol. I can’t even taste the clams, just rotten, foamy tomatoes.”
• “It’s like I drank a shrimp bucket at Red Lobster.”
• “Oh, that’s fucking gross.”
• “It’s like drinking tomato soup. And I would drink tomato soup if it got me drunk.”
• “Can I get a grilled cheese with this?”
• “It smells so much like rotten vegetables.”
• “It has visible, chunky tomato particles in it!” “Beer should not be chunky!”
• “I’m burping pure vile.”
• “Cheap beer blendered with cheap salsa. Where are the cheap chips?”
• “The tasting order goes tomato, then clam, then beer. It’s just that clam juice is really wretchedly awful stuff.”
• “Ever taste MSG plain? It’s like a momentary heightening of your sense of taste, and for a second, your whole mouth tastes bitter and putrid. Reminds me a lot of this blamato thing.”
Where to get it: Your friendly Latino neighborhood.