This weekend, America turns 240. It’s a chance to honor the best of America and hopefully gather with family and friends, turn up Bruce Springsteen as loud as legally possible, and spend your day watching baseball and fireworks. Oh, and of course, drinking beer.
(Just don’t mix the last one with the fireworks.)
We’ve already covered the best beers to take to a cookout — if you’re invited over for some grilling and fireworks, that list will work just as well for the Fourth. But what if you’re headed to a party where you’re not expected to bring anything beyond a tub of macaroni salad? What if you’re relying on a relative for your beer this long weekend? What if your dad is the beer supplier? Or, gulp, your grandparents?
Let’s face it: Grandpa/dad beer is the worst kind of beer. I know I’m generalizing here, and maybe your dad and grandfather are paragons of beer taste. But there’s a reason there’s a beer stand called “Dad’s Beer Cave” at our local baseball park that primarily serves Stroh’s and Old Style. My wife’s grandpa’s favorite beer was Genny Cream. Next time you’re with your dad, ask him what he drank when you were little — chances are, it had “Light” in the name and your dad’s primary selling point will be how cheap it was.
So for many Americans, Fourth of July weekend will bring them face to face with cheap beer. But dear reader: I’ve got your back. I placed my sensitive head into the jaws of the cheap beer monster, and I have emerged mostly unobscured.
Meaning: I went to the convenience store down the street and bought as many tallboys as I could to find out which cheap beer is the best and which should be avoided at all costs.
Here’s what I found. I’ve ranked them in order from “You’re gonna have a good time” to “Drink literally anything including brackish water rather than this.” Hopefully, it’ll give you an idea of how your day’s going to go when you show up and there’s a cooler full of your dad’s latest haul. “But sweetheart,” he’ll say, “It was such a good deal!” You’ll nod sadly—but then you can consult this list to find out how sad you should actually be.
First a couple of caveats: My convenience store didn’t have EVERYTHING. So, there’s no Bud Light Lime. There’s also no Old Style, which is my cheap beer of choice when I can find it. I also didn’t get Bud Light because I truly hate it and didn’t want to drink it. And I wasn’t able to get Black Label, Old Milwaukee, Stroh’s, some of the weird macro varietals (Bud Ice, Milwaukee’s Best, etc.) or Hamm’s, but suffice to say, you should probably stay away from those if you can unless you enjoy the taste of stale rice.
With those out of the way, here are the best and worst of the cheap beer options:
1. Pabst Blue Ribbon: Probably not a surprise, but apparently the hipsters are on to something. It’s the best of these options — it’s got a pleasantly bitter aftertaste and a not unpleasant first taste. It almost tastes like a lager is supposed to, and it’s not watery or flavorless. The flavors that are there taste like beer. As long as you finish it before it gets warm, PBR is a totally acceptable beer.
2. Miller High Life: The champagne of beers might actually be the champagne of crap beers. It’s crisp without being disgusting (considering the quality of ingredients) and its sweetness isn’t overpowering. The aftertaste actually has a little hop bitterness. You’re not going to mistake it for the world’s best pilsner, but it’ll do in a pinch.
3. Budweiser: Comparatively, has some good taste. Is smooth and wood-y from the touted “Beachwood aging.” There’s definitely rice there, but it’s in the background and is actually used to give the beer some body. But, this gets knocked down a spot because of its wildly inaccurate can boasts (real line of text on the can: “we know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age” uhhhhhhh). Plus, they just named their beer “America” which is a bold move by a beer owned by a Belgian beverage conglomerate.
4. Busch: Confession: I had never had Busch (I went to a dry college). But you know what? It’s not as bad as I thought it would be! It’s a little too sweet, but it’s not too overpowering — and it boasts some good, light effervescence without being tasteless.
5. Coors Light: The Silver Bullet is refreshing and yes, ought to be drunk very cold (as cold as the Rockies? Sure). For a light beer, it’s got a lot of flavor. Not the best flavor, mind you, but overall it’s not too bad.
6. Miller Lite: It has a nice taste and then just fades to nothing. It’s like they brewed with okay ingredients and then just added three times as much water and then went with it. It’s inoffensive, and it at least comes in a really well-designed can.
7. Icehouse: Actually manages to taste like beer, which is not a given with cheap beer. It just tastes a little off. It’s a drink obviously intended to be beer, but something happened and it didn’t quite go according to plan.
8. Milwaukee’s Best Ice: This has bad, bad malt — honestly, it tastes like maybe they used bad malt, or they used malt that had already been brewed so many times all the good flavors were gone. And somehow it’s almost 6% ABV. Its one redeeming feature is a not-too-bad aftertaste — it has some lingering bitterness that suggests they actually used hops.
9. Genesee Beer: Somehow the grain build tastes like cardboard was left soaking in a tub and then they fermented it. Not much to like about this beer It’s cold, I guess?
10. Steel Reserve High Gravity Lager: An insane 8.1% ABV, it’s super sweet and the alcohol is overwhelming. It tastes more like malt liquor than beer.
11. The drainage from a bar rag
12. Genesee Cream Ale: This beer is so sweet I only made it two sips. It’s awful. It tastes like they poured Karo syrup into some bad beer and then added some yeast they found on the bottom of a shoe.
N/A. Natural Light: This is mineral water.