The Best Cheap Beer


Bottoms Up to Low Prices

by Andrea Moya– Sepember 23, 2009

looking at beer

Bringing beer to a party (even cheap beer) is an art. In the same way that you wouldn’t just buy the cheapest wine (check out our Wine on a Dime), it’s worth considering what kinds of quality beers are out there that aren’t much more expensive than the standard Coors and Bud. Many are widely available, and will win you some serious points with your friends, without having to spend serious cash!

After surveying the beer blogs, talking to some New York beer aficionados, and the Thrifty Beverage Center in Brooklyn, NY, I put together a list of widely available beers in the cheap and moderate price range that will give you the most bang & flavor for your buck.

For a perfect Labor Day party, just pair some of our recommended beers with our Hot Dog Bar for a Fab & Fru feast!

wine icon.jpgAmerican Adjunct Lagers

Average Prices
: $8.99 for a 12 pack, $16.99 for a case of 24

Some of the cheapest massed produced beers, or macrobrews, in America tend to be Adjunct Lagers. These are mildly flavored beers with a low hop content (so not very bitter) and an alcohol per volume percentage (APV) between 4.0-6.0%. The reason they’re cheap is that they contain adjuncts, meaning unmalted grains such as rice or corn, along with the malted barley used to make beer. These are very light and don’t have a very complex flavor, almost no bitterness.

Here you will find the King of Cheap Beers, immortalized by Dennis Hopper in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet: Pabst Blue Ribbon. As Claire Wingfield, world traveler and beer drinker, put it, “Nothing beats a cold PBR on a hot summer day.”

According to The Brew Site, which compared Beer Advocate and Rate Beer’s top “cheap beers”, the best and cheapest Adjunct Lagers are PBR, Rolling Rock, and Miller High Life. You can buy most of these beers in cases at any supermarket, though we recommend Costco or Trader Joe’s for the best value.

Corona Extra is a slightly higher-end Adjunct Lager ($9.99 for a six pack, $36.99 for a case) that also comes recommended for its clean flavor, but with a hit-or-miss warning since the clear bottles makes it more likely to become “skunked.” When a beer becomes “skunked,” it has been exposes to UVA rays causing a chemical reaction within the hops that gives the beer a sulfuric taste and smell much like a skunk’s. Clear and green glass bottles do not protect beers from being lightstruck– but brown bottles, cans, and kegs do!

wine icon.jpgEuropean Pale Lagers

Average Price: $8.99 for a six pack, $33.59 for a case

With a similar alcohol content as the American Adjunct Lagers (4.0-6.0%), European Pale Lager offer more complex flavors while still being light bodied. These brews balance the bitterness of hops and the sweetness of malt to different degrees. Among the better ones that are widely accessible: Sapporo Reserve, Harp, Stella Artois, Peroni, and Heineken. Most can be bought in cases. Most of these come in green bottles so be careful not to expose them to light and if possible to drink them in the shade, not a tall order with the summer heat still beating down.
many beers.jpg

wine icon.jpgAmerican Pale Ale (APA)

Average Price: $10.99 for a six pack, $37.99 for a case

While more subdued in flavor than Dark Ales and IPAs, American Pale Ales are a crowd-pleasing option with the potential for a higher alcohol content depending on which you buy (APV: 4.0 to 7.0%). Described by Beer Info as “fruity, floral and citrus-like American-variety hop character producing high hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma,” these beers will be more nuanced and flavorful than Lagers, as well as heavier. They tend to also be thicker and more bitter. The most widely known and among the highest rated are the Sierra Nevada Ales.

wine icon.jpgMore Interesting Beers

While some of these are widely available, such as Guinness and Blue Moon, they are easier to find in big cities.

•    Irish Dry Stout: The classic example is Guinness ($9.99 for a six pack, $36.99 for a case), is dark because of the process of roasting some of the barley used to make it and very heavy. If you don’t like the taste from a bottle, opt for the canned Guinness. According to a discussion on Chowhound, because of the “nitrocans” used by Guinness to can their beer, it ends up preserving a lot of the flavor and texture so it tastes very similar to draft Guinness.

•    Witbier: The Belgians dominate this arena with Blue Moon ($8.99 for a six pack, $33.59 for a case) and Hoegaarden ($12.99 for a six pack, $38.99 for a case). These are slightly spiced, citrusy, and have high levels of wheat and yeast that make them cloudy, hence the name “white beer.” Light and slightly sweet. The American Allagash White ($9.99 for a six pack, $36.99 for a case) is an excellent choice if you can get it. These are my personal favorites, but not necessarily for someone who prefers bitter or dark beers.

•    American IPA: Highly hoppy, bitter, medium to full bodied, and with a high alcohol content (APV: 5.5 to 7.5%). Called IPA (Indian Pale Ale) because of their origin in India. When these ales were transported to England, brewers would add a larger amount of hops so the beer would keep during the long journey. This resulted in the distinctive flavor that became its own kind of ale. These are challenging, heavy beers which you either love or hate. Sierra Nevada and Magic Hat ($9.99 for a six pack, $37.49 for a case) produce excellent IPAs.

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14 Responses to “The Best Cheap Beer”

  1. melissa xm says:

    i’ve found the best beer prices at rite aid it may seem strange but blue moon is often on sale for 12.99 a twelve pack and yuengling can be as low as 15.99 for a case. For big partys thats a great price.

  2. Drew says:

    I’m constantly updating beer sale prices at several national and regional chains across the country. If you’re looking for cheap beer prices, try http://www.cheapbeerprices.com

  3. Maggie says:

    Yuengling is also a great beer for a sweet price. Plus, it’s from the oldest brewery in America and it’s family run. (Am I showing my PA bias?)

  4. rick savitt says:

    A little trivia trick I learned the hard way is if you like Black and Tans, that layered dark and light beer mix, you can’t use bottled guiness as your dark blend, but must use the canned guiness with the nitro flush in it. Without the nitriogen flush, the brew won’t layer. Any light color beer will work for the 2nd ingredient.

  5. Pat says:

    Blue Moon is a great beer but is not Belgian. It is brewed in Golden, Colorado and is a Belgian-style wheat beer.

    • Hyacinth says:

      Pat, Blue Moon is brewed in Canada these days, actually. Save for smaller (and higher quality) lots being brewed at the Sandlot near Coors Field in Denver where it was originally started.

    • pearls58 says:

      I can buy a 12-pack (cans) of Busch Light for 6.79. It is even cheaper in the grocery stores.

  6. Julie says:

    The best cheap beer I have recently found is, Trader Jose Mexican Style Beer, at Trader Joe’s. It tastes similar to Pacifico, and it’s only $4.99/six pack

  7. davenycity says:

    great blog thank you

  8. Tom says:

    Yuengling beer is fantastic-any version. Get it, imbibe and enjoy!

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