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This is the drink that replaced Bud Light as the most popular beer in the U.S.

Bud Light and America have long been close. But there's a new most popular beer in the states.

Negra Modelo

For the first time in about a generation, the most popular beer in the states is not American. That’s right, Bud Light has lost its place on the throne, replaced by the likes of Modelo Especial of Mexico. What can we deduce from this change in popular beers?

The margins are thin, and Budweiser may still win out in terms of total year sales, but this is still a significant storyline. A few things are unfolding here, which speak to larger themes that exist within the beverage industry and at large.

South of the border trends and diversity

blue agave
Adobe Stock / Adobe

Part of Modelo’s success is owed to the ongoing popularity of Mexican exports, from agave spirits like tequila and mezcal to up-and-coming players like the Baja wine scene. Generally, there’s more interest in Mexican drinks culture than ever. Couple that with an increasingly diverse America made up of close to 20% Hispanics, and it’s easy to see why a big south-of-the-border player like Modelo would be doing so well. This does not appear to be a moment but, instead, more of a larger trend that will only increase.

With summer setting in, the two beer brands will no doubt continue to do well. They each specialize in light, refreshing beers built for being buried in ice in the cooler. As craft beer continues to evolve, with new styles and ingredient combinations, it’ll be interesting to see how big beer—if at all—evolves as well.

Bigger brands struggle with politics

budweiser beer can bar

If you’ve even just skimmed the news, you’ve likely heard about the blowback Bud Light endured recently. The brand, somewhat valiantly, at least in theory, teamed up with a transgender influenced for a recent ad campaign. Like so many brands, it took advantage of the money that could be made by using important and symbolic imagery like the rainbow, especially with Pride month looming. Apparently, that was too much for the brand and a good chunk of America to handle, as top executives have been placed on leave and sales have slumped some since. That’s the risk that biggest brands have to deal with—a huge audience surely made up of at least a sizable portion that likely disagrees with your stance or suggestion, should you make one.

The economy is not really to blame

beer aisle store
Good Life Studio/Getty Images

The placement and price of the two brands is pretty comparable, making the economics of it a mostly non-issue. The beers cost about the same by volume, with Modelo often a bit more expensive via major retailers and online outlets like Drizly. Both companies are dealing with the same supply chain shortages and customers being more frugal at the grocery store.

Some have attributed Modelo’s ascension to its relatively new low-carb offering. Drinkers are still pursuing the style, looking for healthier options and even non-alcoholic ones. Whatever the combination of the above factors, there’s a new most popular beer in America in town.

All in all, it’s not terrible news as Bud Light has always lacked flavor and character, and Modelo, while a far cry from a great pilsner beer, does taste a bit better. It’s not going to make any best beer lists anytime soon, but it’s a little refreshing to see a new wearer of the crown (though we do wish this change only had to do with the taste of the beer).

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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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