Few pleasures in life rival that of kicking back with a cold beer at the end of a long day. We’ve got a special place in our heart for seasonal favorites, like the best Oktoberfest beer, and we’ll also willingly crush any and all IPAs, wintry stouts and more. But there’s a certain type of suds we turn to without fail, regardless of season, weather or even day of the week: Cheap beer, the kind you can crush cold and out of a can in mass (responsible) quantities.
You’re likely aware of some of the most famous cheap beers on the market, and perhaps you’ve tried your fair share of cheap beer, too. What makes a beer fit the very definition of “cheap beer,” though? After all, if you tend to search out local breweries when you travel the country and the globe, you know that you’ll tend to find high-quality beer at very low prices right at the source itself. While that’s not unlike drinking from a refreshing spring (if that spring were flowing with beer), that’s not quite what we’ve got in mind here.
Cheap beers can be found just about anywhere cold suds are served in the States, and we encourage you to enjoy the pleasures of one as often as possible (safely, of course)
No sir, when we talk about cheap beer, we’re thinking moreso of cold, crisp beer made without fuss, frills or even a ton of ingredients. We’re also talking about beer that’s available in plenty of places beyond just your favorite regional brewery. And while we certainly recommend supporting your local breweries and beer bars, we also recommend variety in your beer consumption. It’s not all that different from building out your menswear rotation of gear, when you really think about it.
Just as you’ve got the best black boots for occasions both sleek and rugged, you’ve got more versatile, everyday boots at the ready when the situation calls for it. Think of a cold, cheap beer as something that, like your favorite broken-in brown leather boots, you can turn to on the daily, any time you feel like it. We’ll be sure to share plenty of examples, but a cheap beer, the kind best served in a recognizable and often classic can, is about as essential as it gets.
And as far as budget brews are concerned, we think the best ones, or at least the ones that check off the most boxes, are made right here in America. American ales have their own characteristics, especially when you dive into regional styles like New England IPAs, but again, that’s not quite what we’re talking about today. Most craft beers are also often at odds with beer from say, Germany, which is brewed in the traditional method. B
ut the beers we love the best, the beers fit for sipping on as you man the grill, smoke some meat over the holidays or tackle any other number of chores, well… those beers are light, crisp and distinctly American. The great thing is, just about anywhere you go in America — be it a dive bar, a beer-centric bar or a place with one of the best burgers in town — you can find a cheap beer to your liking. It’s even more fun to travel to a new locale (as travel returns, that is), and search out a regional beer served at an affordable price, and often in a distinct can (for instance, Seattle has Rainier beer, the Midwest prefers the reincarnated version of Stroh’s, and so on).
Cheap beers can be found just about anywhere cold suds are served in the States, and we encourage you to enjoy the pleasures of one as often as possible (safely, of course). And although it’s not for everyone, cheap beers make for one heck of an efficient deal when paired up with a shot of whiskey. Heck, if you want to spend less than $10 in a market where prices can often skyrocket (New York City comes to mind), then teaming a budget beer up with a shot is but one way to save some cash.
What else should you know when shopping around for the best cheap beers? Here are a few tips to know as you bolster your beer fridge ahead of the holiday season (and beyond, for that matter).
What to Know About Buying Cheap Beer These Days
- It’s about history: Believe it or not, many of today’s cheap beer brands (like PBR or upstate New York’s beloved Genesee Brewing Company and its Genesee Cream Ale) have decades of history, if not more. These breweries pre-date the modern craft beer boom by a long shot, and were often started as another means of mass industry to fuel hungry laborers. Early beers were lower in alcohol and made to be imbibed for refreshment after long days, much the same result of cheap beers of today. But better still: These beers were (and are!) working man’s beers that could be enjoyed by everybody, with light-drinking qualities, easy access and can or bottle designs that nodded to the region in which they were brewed. If we had to guess, we’d bet your dad or grandfather has a favorite cheap beer, perhaps one that’s not around anymore. The point being, when you can get a cheap beer, go for it.
- It’s about convenience — and quality: While there are some cheap beers out there that, sadly, aren’t all that great — like the beer you had at that frat party kegger years ago — there are plenty of cheap beers that are actually more flavorful and high-quality than you’d expect. Would these beers win medals on an international stage? It’s not likely, but like rock n’roll, cheap beers aren’t about winning awards – it’s about enjoyment and authenticity.
- It’s about regionality: Here’s another key point we touched on earlier. Luckily, you can get cheap beer most anywhere these days (especially through a delivery service like alcohol delivery service Drizly, for instance). Cheap beers, even if certain companies are owned by a larger parent corporation, are still often beloved in their regions in which they found their footing. It won’t be the last time we mention Rainier, for instance. This Pacific Northwest beer features an instantly memorable can design, and it’s a perfect beer to enjoy post-hike, or after a long day on foot exploring Seattle. When you enjoy a cheap beer, you’re enjoying a piece of regional history, so stock your beer fridge the right way with plenty of options.
There’s lots to love about cheap beers on the market across the country, but which ones rise above the rest? Know your heritage, quality and regionality, and then enjoy imbibing our picks for the best beers on a budget. We’ll have another round in the meantime.
The Best Cheap Beers to Buy Right Now
Genesee Cream Ale
We couldn’t *not* mention Genesee Cream Ale in a post on the best cheap beers, right? If you’ve had this beer, ideally at a dive bar or even at a rustic-themed establishment (the beer hails from upstate New York, after all), then you know it’s an unexpected delight in a world of beers with tons of hops. This medium-body cream ale is remarkably crushable anytime of year, with a spirited green-and-white can and a price that’s practically like stealing. Enjoy this one, but keep an eye on your beer fridge — your guests are going to love it, too.
Like we said earlier, Rainier certainly belongs on any list of the best cheap beers found right here in the States, and for good reason. It’s a classic American lager, with a more-than-agreeable ABV, a clean finish, bright and grainy tasting notes and the ability to be enjoyed alongside whiskey or a burger (American cheese, please) in equal measure. And yes, you get bonus points if you track down this beer in Seattle at a hallowed location like The Central Saloon, which dates back to the 19th century AND hosted America’s most famous grunge bands. We’ll drink to that.
Pabst Blue Ribbon
You’re certainly bound to find Bud “Heavy” (Budweiser) or Bud Light in any bar worth its peanuts and well drinks, but when the time comes to grab a cheap beer with your buddies, we’d encourage you to switch it up and give good ole PBR a try. Sure, its public image switched from a working man’s beer to a beer for hipsters for a time about a decade ago, but that seems to have died down. Recognize it for what it is: A darn fine American beer best enjoyed cold with some Tom Petty on the jukebox (just our suggestion, but we think it works just fine).
Miller High Life
You probably knew this one was coming, right? Like PBR, Miller High Life is a stone-cold classic in the pantheon of American beers, especially cheap American beers. Found just about everywhere there are good times to be had, the bottle is the best way to enjoy it, and the logo and its tagline (yes, “the champagne of beers”) are also legendary. If you’re not a fan of Miller Lite, why not give Miller High Life a try? Is anyone else thirsty out there yet?