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How a homegrown michelada mix conquered Las Vegas

Move aside, Mary. Micheladas are having moment.

This Mexican drink, similar to a bloody, mingles beer, tomato juice, seafood broth, Worcestershire and other sauces, chilis and spurts of lime juice. In the past few years, micheladas have become increasingly popular in Las Vegas and other cities, thanks in part to younger drinkers and boozy brunchers discovering the spicy bracing beverage.

David Schy remembers the time, a decade ago, when he was gigging as a Vegas chef, and michelada enthusiasts were lonely sippers.

“After work, I would go out for drinks,” he said. “My favorite drink was a michelada. It was really unknown at the time. The bartenders would say, ‘We don’t know how to make them.’ ” (Or if they had an idea, the attempt was ghastly.)

Necessity became the mother of micheladas. Schy, a chef for decades, started tinkering. He would make micheladas a thing. A vegan thing (because he has a shellfish allergy) and a bottled thing (to save bartenders time mixing multiple ingredients; just add beer and garnish).

In November 2014, Schy launched his Michelada Love vegan michelada mix with 200 cases in his garage. Today, about 150 bars, restaurants and retailers in Vegas carry Michelada Love. If you’ve ordered a michelada recently in town, and the bartender didn’t make it from scratch, there’s a good chance Michelada Love anchored the cocktail.

But in the early days, as Schy tells it, the market didn’t know what to make of his mix.

What is this thing?

When Schy was developing Michelada Love, his shellfish allergy dovetailed with a growing demand for vegan products. Although the mix was going to be vegan — no seafood juice, anchovy-free Worcestershire — vegan wasn’t going to be its primary identity. Flavor was.

And so, more than 40 test versions ensued at home, with another 10 at the factory to ensure flavor stability in glass bottles, as various juices and citrus and gluten-free soy sauces and condiments and seasonings moved in and out of the formula.

“I would make it, taste the next day, adjust it,” Schy said. “I knew what I wanted my mix to taste like. I needed to find the right balance. It rests for six weeks (in bottle). The flavor develops as it ages.”

The chef set out to sell those first 200 cases. And quickly realized selling a vegan michelada mix wasn’t like flogging a buzzy new spirit.

“The response from the market? The people who make the buying decisions didn’t understand the product,” he said. “They would say, ‘No one likes that. No, people do not want that.’ ”

And the vegan thing? Forget about it. “For the first two years, I wouldn’t even tell people vegan. I didn’t want to scare them off. It wasn’t a selling point in a mainstream situation. It’s the flavor I wanted people to try.”

Sitting, sipping, selling

Ryan McGinnis supplies high-end spirits through O-D-V Imports of Vegas. In 2017, after frequent requests from Schy (who is a persistent fellow), McGinnis agreed to represent Michelada Love, and he’s helped Schy move the mix from cocktail curiosity to mainstream success. As always in the beverage business, tasting sealed the deal.

“It took me and Dave sitting at the bar, striking up conversations, asking to see the manager, having them sample it,” McGinnis said.

Bartenders were crucial to adopting the mix, McGinnis added. “They’d say, ‘I get asked for those all day long. I hate making that drink (from scratch). I don’t have time for it.” Michelada Love offered bartenders taste blended with convenience.

Booze, tacos — and micheladas

Other uses have emerged for the michelada mix beyond its namesake drink. There are bloody marys, with vodka swapped in for the beer, especially for the gluten-intolerant. “It didn’t occur to us at first about the bloodys,” McGinnis said, “even though it seems obvious now.”

At tastings of craft tequilas, McGinnis uses Michelada Love instead of sangrita, the tequila chaser made from tomato juice and spices (modern) or citrus and spices (traditional). The michelada mix also works nicely stirred into red rice or added to campechana shrimp cocktail or used for braising pot roast.

“For the home person, so they aren’t stuck with leftovers after they make a few micheladas, that’s why I came up with the culinary uses,” Schy said.

The pandemic slowed Michelada Love sales, but as bars and restaurants have returned, and micheladas have become a drink of the moment, “we’ve come roaring back,” McGinnis said. These days, people want “booze and a couple of tacos.”

And what better pairing than a michelada?

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ItsJLW on Twitter.

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