America is in the midst of the Great Craft Brew Revolution. You can’t visit a bar in this country without seeing a bunch of mysterious tap handles at the bar. Before you read any further, let me make this clear: This micro-brewization is a good thing. Niche breweries are popping up in even the blandest of cities. Shiner Bock is now available in New York. It’s the American Dream.
But there is a price to pay for this movement. Literally. A bar can charge $6 a pint and the customer won’t bat an eye. This is the cost for local/craft/brewed-from-the-heart/authentic beer. (This doesn’t typically apply to folks who live in naturally expensive cities like NYC, D.C., L.A., etc. This is about Amurrica, where the rest of us live.) While the cost is understandable for a small operation going up against Big Beer, I can’t always justify a $20 bar tab for three beers, and my dad would probably disown me if he heard that number.
There is also an inherent elitism with craft brews. What, you don’t like IPAs? This oak-barrel-aged, cask-brewed double dark pecan rye doesn’t suit your fancy? Go have a Bud Light, bro, while I judge you.
My argument: There’s nothing wrong with popping a Bud. Or Miller. Or, hell, a Natty Light. Please, support your local brewery. Please, sample all the exotic taps at your favorite bar. But don’t feel shame when you just want to tap the Rockies.
The one advantage the big-box beers have over craft brews: your memories. No one was shot-gunning Sierra Nevada Pale Ales freshman year, right? So here are my top 10 favorite beers for less than $7 a six-pack, based on nothing but personal connections to them. Oh, and they’re cheap.
Yeah, it’s lame to self-proclaim that you’re the “King of Beers.” Seems like it would take someone with real authority to give out that distinction. But Bud gets a pass because it truly is an inoffensive American lager. And because it has one of the most iconic cans–when it chooses to use it. This new “bow tie” can offends me on multiple levels, but each year during SXSW in Austin, Bud rolls out the classically-designed tallboys – essentially the beer equivalent of your 1992 Andre Rison jersey that never goes out of style.
9. Keystone Light
Frats across the country have tarnished this beer’s name. But my father has drank this beer religiously for the last 15 years ever since Coors priced him out. You can get a 30-pack for $15. Hard to argue with math. Every time I come home, my parents try to buy me “fancy” beer like Blue Moon or Shiner. But all I really want is to pop open a ‘Stone and lean on the bed of my dad’s ’88 Chevy and shoot the shit. Plus, winter is one of my favorite times of year because that’s when my dad busts out his Keystone sweatshirt that reads, “Parties Happen.”
8. Coors Light/Bud Light
Essentially interchangeable, these should be your go-tos during a long night of bar hopping. At dinner, go for the fancier craft brew that most compliments your meal. But when you’re looking to go six beers deep, you can’t go wrong with either one. Note that Miller Lite didn’t make the cut. Miller fails on the taste level for me. A generic American beer should not have an unpleasant aftertaste, and of all the stupid marketing gimmicks the Big Three have thrown at us, the Vortex Bottle wins the award for “Completely Useless.”
7. National Bohemian
I went to an Orioles game at Camden Yards a couple of years ago when the Orioles still sucked. They played the A’s in front of about 5,000 fans. The only time I’ve ever had a stadium usher tell me to come down to the better seats. But the lasting memory came from the hastily thrown together bars across the street before the game. When visiting a new city, I enjoy trying the local craft brew, but what I really want to know is what the dockworker on the wharf pops open after a long day of stevedore-in’. Outside of Camden Yards, some dude with a tub full of Natty Bohs was selling them for $1.50. This is how pre-gaming is done. Bonus points for what is likely the coolest beer logo in the world. Thousands of tatted up Baltimoreans agree.
6. Labatt Blue Light
I’ve never been to Canada, but I’ve been close. I recently had to venture to Grand Rapids, Mich., for a funeral. Friends and family gathered at my friend’s grandmother’s house and shared stories over cold Lights. We quickly plowed through a case, so I went on a beer run. When I got back, they told me to put it in the “fridge on the back porch.” I acted like that was a normal place for a fridge, went to the porch only to find an empty deck. I turned around to see them laughing at me. I was standing in the fridge. You know, outside. It’s cold in Michigan.
A no-fuss Mexican import, the joy of Tecate lies within the pronunciation. Is it Teh-cah-tay? Teh-cah-tee? Tee-cat-ee? It’s basically the beer version of a choose-your-own-adventure book, except by the end you’re crying over your lost love from sophomore year of high school. It’s basically Dos Equis’ blue-collared brother. While “The Most Interesting Man in the World” drinks Dos, “The Most Normal Guy in the Continental United States” drinks Tecate. Fun fact: Both are now owned by Heineken.
4. Lone Star
If any Texan says they don’t like Lone Star you have Hank Hill’s permission to slap them across the face. I had a friend that moved to California and would make any visitors from Texas drive just so they could smuggle a case of the cheap brew into the Golden State. While technically not illegal in California, Lone Star is treated as contraband due to state rivalry. Texas wins. Lone Star’s history is a tale of how modern mega-breweries work/don’t give a shit about authenticity, no matter how vintage the can looks. It was originally brewed in what is now an art museum on the banks of the San Antonio River, then moved to a giant complex just south of downtown that had an Olympic-sized swimming pool in its beer garden, but now it’s owned by Pabst and brewed by Miller in Fort Worth. That makes sense.
Granted I live in a state that doesn’t have it, but Yuengling feels like one of the rare beers that bridges the gap between the mainstream and craft worlds. Maybe it’s the green bottle. Maybe it’s because it’s dark, a rarity among cheap beers. While in the Smoky Mountains, the only thing that helped ease fears that a black bear attack was imminent was a twelver of Yuengling. I can’t speak to Pennsylvania’s love for it, but Yuengling is an example of big-beer production done right. Legitimately the oldest brewery in America, true to its roots. See, it’s possible to drink cheap beer and not feel like a sellout.
2. Modelo Especial
Summers in Central Texas are spent in one of two places: the air conditioning or an inner tube on a cool river. Tubing is a sacred ritual for Texans, as is which brew a tuber chooses as his “river beer.” Mine has always been Modelo. More modest than its gold-foiled, bottle-only brother Negra Modelo, Especial is as easy-drinking as it gets. When you’re spending four hours with your ass in the water and your top half baking in the searing Texas sun, easy-drinking is vital.
1. Coors Banquet
The iconic yellow can was a fixture of my childhood. This was the beer my dad poured into my baby bottle. Is that true? I have no idea, I was a baby. As mentioned earlier, my dad’s cheap ways turned him away from the Yellow Bellies and to its cheaper cousin Keystone. But once I came of drinking age, I always made time for the Banquet beer. And now, Coors is rolling out vintage commemorative cans that are straight out of the 1980s. I’m a sucker for nostalgia, especially liquid nostalgia.
Not ranked: Pabst Blue Ribbon (Tell your hipster friends you drank PBR before 2005 to really blow their minds.), Stroh’s (The pride of Detroit now brewed in Wisconsin. A damn shame.), Old Milwaukee (Will Ferrell is keeping it alive.), Busch Light (Someone will bring this to a party once, but it won’t be consumed. It will be found months later in the back of the host’s fridge, he’ll wonder to himself, ‘Who the hell brought Busch Light?’)