What’s the Best Inexpensive Beer? We Put the Internet’s Favorites to the Test

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Cheap. Bad.

These two words seem inextricably linked when it comes to beer. With the craft brew revolution on in full force, gone are the days when most men and women can proudly walk around with their cans of domestic lager with a sense of pride.

The American, macrobrewed, adjunct lager is the kind of beer that you buy for yourself to save money and then tell people at the party, “Well, someone gave it to me for free.”

The perception is: The more money you spend, the better the beer you’re buying.

But does cheap beer truly fail our taste buds? Or are we just trying to justify spending $10 on a six-pack of brew?

After scouring the net looking at highly rated cheap beers and ones most often mentioned as favorites, we assembled a list of the twelve best cheap-os: Seven American adjunct lagers, a Jamaican adjunct lager, two wheat ales, and two pale ales. Then we assembled a crew of seven college-aged young professionals — including one with a palette good enough to correctly identify all except two of the selections — for a blind taste test with nondescript beer mugs to rate them. The judges were asked to taste and then rate the beers on a scale of one to five. Average scores are rounded to the nearest decimal place.

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12. Miller High Life – 1.43 / 5

Price per six pack: $5.99

Miller High Life, the Champagne of Beers, didn’t turn out to be so much like champagne in our taste test. Or, at the very least, our judges aren’t too into champagne.

Miller’s offering is drinkable and inoffensive, hence its inclusion on this list. Its endearing trait is the high carbonation, which spawned its nickname, giving it a refreshing quality.

It’s also one of the cheaper beers on the list, coming in at well under a dollar a can when bought in bunches. But if it’s stronger flavor you’re looking for, maybe you’re better off reaching for…

11. Trader Joe’s Simpler Times Lager – 1.71 / 5

Price per six pack: $3.99

This lager was one of the more polarizing beers on the list. It wasn’t “love it or hate it.” It was more “you don’t mind it or you hate it.”

Trader Joe’s Simpler Times lager came off as that guy or girl at the party who busts in the door and immediately makes its presence known with a loud “Heeeeeyyyyy!” It’s got a distinct, sweet flavor that says: “Hey, this is me, and you have to deal with that right now.”

Our judges were a bit put off by this beer’s personality, but some reviewers swear by it and its $3.99-per-six-pack price tag. But, if you’re looking for a safe pick, how about…

10. Rolling Rock Extra Pale Lager – 2.14

Price per six pack: $5.99

Ah, “the 7UP of beers,” according to one of our judges. Take that however you want to.

Rolling Rock comes in a light green bottle and has a carbonation level that drinks like an alcoholic soda, which helped draw the comparison. Some judges were put off by the beer’s bitter, alcoholic aftertaste. In its defense, we are talking about drinking alcohol, are we not?

Rolling Rock’s price tag is pretty friendly at $6.99 per six-pack, coming in at just over a dollar a beer. But if it’s a sweeter finish you’re looking for out of your lager, try…

9. Red Stripe Jamaican Lager – 2.29

Price per six pack: $6.99

Not all lagers are created equal, but according to our judges, the next three were.

Of the adjunct lagers, we thought Red Stripe was going to perform the best given its perception as a higher quality import lager and its higher price tag.

Red Stripe placed right beside Milwaukee’s Best Premium and PBR in the taste test and ended up the poster boy for “More expensive doesn’t always mean better.” It’s still not a terrible choice when you’re talking stock lagers.

It came in at $1.50 per 16 oz. tall boy, the same as the beer that won this taste test, and 50 cents more expensive than all tall boys of lagers that tied or placed higher. So if it’s a lager you’re looking for, maybe reach for a can of…

8. Pabst Blue Ribbon Lager – 2.29

Price per six pack: $5.99

Pabst Blue Ribbon, or PBR, has widely been crowned in blind taste tests and other lists that seek to answer the question: Which cheap beer is king?

To our judges, however, PBR was decent, but unspectacular. Nobody complained when they tasted it, and some of the sweeter-toothed beer drinkers complemented the faint sweet finish of PBR.

In terms of bang for your buck, PBR might just be the best value on this list, but if it’s a slightly less sweet taste you’re looking for, how about…

7. Miller Milwaukee’s Best Premium Lager – 2.29

Price per six pack: $5.99

When we brought this one out, everyone exclaimed: “This one is PBR. This has to be PBR!”

Really, the only difference between PBR and Milwaukee’s Best is the slight sweetness of PBR is absent in this beer. They are both a great value and have great flavor. If it’s a standard lager taste you’re looking for, this is the dirt-cheap adjunct lager to reach for, otherwise, try…

6. Shiner Bock – 2.71

Price per six pack: $8.99

Shiner Bock was one of the most oft-mentioned good, cheap beers across the net. The problem? It wasn’t exactly cheap.

It’s included on this list because of its frequency of mentions by drinkers across the web discussing their favorite discount brew, but then again, it might only be cheap in Texas.

It’s certainly not lacking in flavor. It’s a rich, darker-tasting brew that challenges the taste buds and impressed enough judges to earn its spot high on this list. But again, the $8.99 per six pack price might deter certain drinkers. If you’re looking for a great deal on a decent tasting beer, perhaps your speed might be …

5. Narragansett Lager – 2.86

Price per six pack: $5.99 (16 oz. cans)

‘Gansett offers one of the more unique deals in beer: The tall boy six pack — for $5.99.

In addition to being a good price for a lot of beer, our judges said ‘Gansett is just pretty good in general. The heavy-on-barley flavor gives it a bit of a different taste from most lagers, but it’s not strong enough to be offensive to the taste buds.

It’s another great beer when buying on a budget, but in terms of budget lagers, the judges spoke, and the winner is…

4. Yuengling Traditional Lager – 3.29

Price per six pack: $6.99

With a crew that showed it has a taste for the bitter bite of a pale ale, the fact that a lager tied in a taste test with Sierra Nevada should tell you something.

If you’re lucky enough to be in one of the 15 states that carry Yuengling, this is the one we judged to be the cheap macrobrewed lager of champions. Yuengling’s got flavor going for it, with one judge rating it a “5,” which we did not expect from the lagers.

To go along with it, the price is outstanding, coming in the range of $1.50 for a tall boy, $6.99 for a six pack, $11.99 for 12, and even as low as $16.99 for a 24 pack if you know where to look. But if lagers aren’t your thing, check out…

3. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – 3.29

Price per six pack: $7.99

Pale ales are definitely a “love it or hate it” type of taste. They’re bitter. If you can’t take bitter, don’t buy pale ale. If you are into that sort of thing, which our judges clearly were, getting them on the cheap can be difficult.

Sierra Nevada might not be the cheapest beer, but at $7.99 per six pack, you’re getting what many beer drinkers will tell you is a solid brew with a strong flavor for a little over a dollar per beer. It’s tough to go wrong, but then again there’s also…

2. Trader Joe’s Mission Street Pale Ale – 3.43

Price per six pack: $7.99

If there was a prize for most universally liked beer, this one gets it. It didn’t earn a single “5,” but it didn’t score below a “3” with any individual judge.

This one doesn’t boast the same cheap price tag that Simpler Times does. In fact, it sold for the same $7.99 price at Trader Joe’s that we found Sierra Nevada for.

The beers taste very similar, but this one for some reason came out as less divisive to our judges.

When picking between Sierra Nevada and Trader Joe’s Mission Street, it may just boil down to a simple decision based on location. Whichever one is more convenient, you’re getting a similar beer for the same price.

But if you’re not a pale ale fan, you hate lager, and you’re looking for something with more flavor, there’s always…

1. Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Ale – 3.71

Price per six pack: $8.49

Cheers to the governor.

Blue Moon earned low marks from a couple reviewers, but with solid marks from everyone else and two “5s” chalked up next to the name, it came out to be the king of this taste test.

Why do we raise our beer steins to Blue Moon? It’s a wheat ale, but it has the easy drinkability of a lager with its creaminess. It’s also brewed with orange peel, which gives it a citrus flavor that gives it the flavor that won the judges over.

It’s not always the cheapest beer. A six pack goes for $8.49, but when bought in larger quantities, the 12 pack for $13.49 comes in at over a dollar per beer. The best deal is the $1.50 tall boy.

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Let us know if you agree or disagree with the ranking of these beers in the comments!

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Prices in this article may vary depending on location.

SOURCES:

Final Raw Scores 

http://www.wisebread.com/13-cheap-beers-to-keep-your-holiday-season-hoppin

http://www.thebrewsite.com/best_cheap_beers/

http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/lastcall/2010/08/bargain-basement-beer-blind-taste-test.html

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/drink/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/31/best-cheap-beer_n_1839817.html

http://www.reddit.com/r/beer/comments/dsswi/what_is_the_best_cheap_beer/

http://www.reddit.com/r/beer/comments/17mrtj/best_cheap_macro/

http://www.reddit.com/r/beer/comments/13adzs/best_cheap_beers_what_are_

your_favorites/

http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/c6hs3/what_is_the_best_cheap_beer/

http://www.reddit.com/r/Frugal/comments/xl0l3/best_cheap_beer/

http://www.cleveland.com/taste/index.ssf/2012/08/budget_ok_cheap_beer_survey_th.html

http://beeradvocate.com/community/threads/best-beer-with-a-cheap-price.75913/

http://beeradvocate.com/community/threads/the-search-for-good-cheap-beer.54806/

8 thoughts on “What’s the Best Inexpensive Beer? We Put the Internet’s Favorites to the Test

  1. I’m not sure I understand this list. For starters, at $8.50 a six pack, I don’t consider Blue Moon to be “inexpensive beer,” certainly not in the same category as PBR or High Life. Most readily available micros average in the $9-10 a six pack price range. There are a LOT of good beers under $10. However, there are FAR fewer “good” beers that fall under $6. Also, comparing a popular Belgian-style wheat beer or Pale Ale to a cheap, mas-produced American lager seems pointless. Anyone with a properly functioning palate will pick Blue Moon or Sierra Nevada over High Life. A better comparison would be to stick to all adjunct lagers. For example: PBR, Miller, Red Stripe, Labatt, Bud, Busch, Coors, Foster’s, etc.

  2. Where do you shop that Miller and PBR cost that much? Must of bunch of chicks on the panel as well if Blue Moon was picked as top/best tasting beer. I sure hope when our Trader Joe’s is built we can get the Mission Street Pale Ale there. It is actually Firestone Walker pale. One of my Fav. breweries.

  3. @Boot_Shrew: How is the fact that Blue Moon was created by MillerCoors make it not a macrobrew? Are you thinking of microbrew?

    As others have pointed out, some of these beers are not in the same league. Why not compare Busch, Natural Ice, Coors, or Bud instead? I would take Blue Moon or Sierra Nevada over Miller/PBR any day.

  4. The author is insane if s/he thinks $8.49 a 6 pack is “inexpensive beer”.

    $1 a can is expensive beer when buying a 12 pack or case. 6 packs are for people who don’t drink enough beer to offer an opinion, and apparently from the photos, drink it out of little plastic cups.

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