Serious Eats: Drinks
Eyewitness Booze Investigation: Bud Light Lime-a-Rita
Tomorrow I'm meeting an old friend for lunch and I couldn't be more excited or less excited. I am exactly the right amount of excited: very extremely to be seeing one of my favorite people for the first time in at least five and perhaps as many as 100 years; and not-at-all-god-please-why to be going to Border Café in Harvard Square.
Actually, god, don't answer that, because I know precisely why we're going to Border Café: Because Amy spent formative eating and drinking years within a fajita's throw of the place, and any woman who has ever lived nearby is inexplicably drawn to this mediocre Tex-Mex-Cajun-What-Else?-Probably-Creole-If-That's-Not-The-Same-As-Cajun-Or-Even-If-It-Is joint.
I'd describe Border Café in greater detail except who cares, plus you already know exactly what it is; you have one just like it in your town, too, and if you've got young children and a taste for tequila, it's not a bad option. There's enough crap on the walls and chicken on the menu to keep the kids occupied and enough liquor in the drinks to cut some of the sugary mix down to size. It'll do better than fine if you fit that happy demographic—the parents there are always in a good mood, because they know it could be so much worse; they could be someplace without Cholula or a liquor license—but it's no place for the kidless. Yet at least half of the giant dining room is always full of unencumbered adults, most of whom are also having a blast. It's weird.
But, my snobby exasperation aside, the food isn't bad and I know I'll be perfectly content with whatever blackened, jerked, or encrusted thing happens to land on my plate. The real dilemma is deciding what to drink. I've cut way back on my weekday lunch boozing this year, but I'll be seeing Amy for the first time in two coon's ages plus it will be Quatro de Mayo, both of which conditions call for alcohol. And since I don't drink as much as I should anymore, each booze order is of great importance.
I'm normally satisfied with the plain old unsalted house margarita, but I'm already scheduled to drink a half-dozen of those on Saturday with Bottom Shelf research director Emily's family. I'm also slightly afraid that Amy's gone all Diet Coke on me in the several years (and two children) that have elapsed since our last lunch. She might look askance at noontime tequila, an unsettling thought that has me considering my beer options.
Border Café is one of those tragic places that doesn't serve draft beer. My high school cafeteria was one of those places, and so are most prisons and laundromats; why do you want your bar to remind me of a place where studious criminals wash clothes? The bottled beer stash isn't much help, either. There's a Tex beer and a few Mex beers and probably dirty nasty hateful Heineken, but nothing much to daydream about, and why go to lunch if you can't fantasize about the drinks beforehand?
The drinking pickings are fairly slim there now, but I suspect they're about to get diversified with the addition of the new Bud Light Lime-a-Rita, a "malt beverage with natural flavors" that seems born to run with the Border Café crowd. Then again, I suppose management might opt against offering a canned-a-rita to compete with their own housemade—and credible if not excellent—margaritas.
So since I might not get to try Lime-a-Rita tomorrow at lunch, I figured I'd suck one down at the house last night (also factoring into that decision: a kindly publicist sent me a sample).
I didn't read the press releases carefully when Anheuser-Busch announced this product a couple weeks ago, so I was disappointed to discover that it's not beer with tequila added or anything strictly margaritorial like that. This 8% ABV malt beverage isn't anything so ambitious: There's no tequila OR beer inside. They're clearly taking a more abstract view of the -arita distinction in which it means "a thing that might be fun to drink on the beach or when otherwise underdressed." That's not what I was expecting, but that doesn't make it a bad drink.
My 8 ounce can (they also come in 12s and 24s) told me to pour it over ice, but I MAKE MY OWN RULES and forgot to make my own ice, so I just poured it into a glass and took it straight. It looks very much like Mountain Dew—pale, cloudy yellow-green, quick and short-lived head—and thank heavens only tastes a little like Mountain Dew.
I thought I could sense a faint real-beer smell, but there was none to be tasted. I noticed much more lemon than lime, which means Bud Light Lime-a-Rita lacks Bud Light, lime, and the defining element of the traditional margarita, but that ain't no thing. This drink reminds me of under-sweetened lemonade, which I like. The fairly hefty alcohol dose is well hidden and there's none of the weird metallic or chemical notes that mar many malt beverages, which makes Bud Light Lime-a-Rita pretty good for what it is. If you drink alcopops, there's no reason this can't be your alcopop.