In today's Weekly Media Mix, a documentary on soul food, plus hospitals phasing out McDonald's
The Daily Meal brings you the biggest news from the food world.
Chefs and Personalities
The folks at Delfina made an excellent slow motion food fight video for the holidays, where owners Craig and Anne Stoll get a bucket of spaghetti dumped on them. [HuffPo]
A man in Tunisia died after eating 28 raw eggs; the cause of death has not been determined. [LA Times]
A Kansas City, Mo. hospital has closed their McDonald's, the final boot after 20 years. [NPR]
The FDA cannot find any scientific reasons to prohibit the sales of genetically engineered fish, and honestly, "frankenfish" are not as bad as fast food, a bioethicist says. [NBC]
The most tweeted about restaurant of 2012? Mission Chinese Food (Danny Bowien wins 2012). [Grub Street]
A documentary called Soul Food Junkies looks at how African American culture has been linked to high-fat foods such as ribs and fried chicken. [Reuters]
Here is a guide to the best and worst of cheap beers. This is important. [Slate]
The 5 Best Hawaiian Beers for Potable Paradise
As big and diverse as our nation is, there’s nothing quite like Hawaii. The Rainbow State touts tropical weather, unmatched geology, mouthwatering beaches, incredible National Parks, and a culture completely its own.
The islands are also home to a surprisingly strong craft beer scene. No, Hawaiians are not harvesting local hops for production like we do on the west coast of the mainland, but locals are taking advantage of select indigenous ingredients and throwing them in tasty batches of brew — things like coconut, passion fruit, hibiscus, pikake flowers, and more.
Unfortunately, being part of a small enough production scale, a lot of the most interesting beers stay in Hawaii because it really doesn’t make sense for them to cross the Pacific. Yet, as the relatively young scene grows, more and more Hawaiian-made options will likely land on the mainland.
More Beer Guides
From large outfits like Kona Brewing, with production facilities both in Hawaii and in the lower 48, to small operations like Beer Lab or Lanikai Brewing, the Hawaiian beer story is a promising one. Here are the five best Hawaiian beers we strongly suggest that you can almost surely find in your own zip code.
Sea Dog Blue Paw Wild Blueberry Wheat Ale
Coming in at just under $10, we've got a New England specialty. If you happen to order a pint of Sea Dog Blue Paw Wild Blueberry Wheat Ale. well, first things first, try to figure out a shorter name. That's a mouthful. And speaking of mouthfuls (segue!), you might find yourself chugging a delicious beer that's accompanied by a hearty helping of actual blueberries. It's not as gross as it sounds, we promise — and it's just when you order it at the bar.
When you enjoy a blueberry ale in the comfort of your own home, you can skip the actual blueberries if you want, because this beer packs enough of a flavorful punch without them. It's a great brew for enjoying an early summer weekend on the coast of Maine or, if you're not really feeling that vibe, it's just a delicious, fruit-flavored beer for occasions like. Tuesday. It's an award-winning beer, too. In 2007, it won silver at the World Beer Festival, in the fruit beer category.
2. Lioco Pinot Noir Mendocino
Lioco wines do a great job at showing a sense of place, says Todd Phillips, sommelier and beverage director at Ariete in Miami. He means they don’t go over the top with oak and instead “let the grapes speak for themselves,” sourcing from California vineyards in Santa Cruz, Sonoma, and Mendocino. You can expect this pinot to be silky smooth, with notes of black cherry, fresh plums, and pomegranate, Phillips says. Plus, this bottle will convince you that a snappy pinot—not just white wines—can pair with light meats like pork or chicken. Bonus: Cheap wines don’t have to look chintzy this bottle is beautiful enough to bring to a dinner party.
Get it Cooper Mountain Pinot Noir Courtesy Image
Why Cheap Beer Is Still Awesome (And 5 You Should Enjoy This Summer)
Everywhere you look these days, attention is being paid to craft beers — heavy, hoppy small batch brews made by independent companies with artisanal recipes, new combinations of ingredients, and unique flavor profiles.
Cheap, old school beers — the kind your dad used to drink while grilling some brats or watching the World Series — have come to be looked down upon by some as boring, bland, water-downed corporate swill — the “fast food” of brews.
While craft beers can be tasty, there still a place in a man’s fridge, and definitely his koozie, for cheap beer. Today I’ll talk about why the old school stuff should still be celebrated, and make 5 suggestions to enjoy (unironically) this summer.
Let’s see what your Pops knew all along.
A Very Brief History of “Cheap” Beer
When I talk about “cheap beer,” I’m talking about any domestic beer sold in large quantities, and made by Coors, Miller, or Anheuser-Busch (known as “the Big 3”). These three brewers sell the vast majority of beer in the US and their brands include: Coors and Coors Light, Budweiser and Bud Light, Busch, Natural Ice, Michelob, Miller High Life, Miller Lite, etc. Beyond those, these brewers also still manufacture a number of what would be called “nostalgia brands” like Hamm’s, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Rainier, etc.
The ironic thing about these brands is that while they’re today seen as mediocre budget beverages, 100 years ago, they were actually considered premium stuff, and priced accordingly
In the mid-1800s, most brewers were still making the heavy German lagers of yore, using only malted barley as the alcohol-producing grain. They were catering to a largely immigrant or first-generation market, so this made sense. Once the Midwest started to really come into its own, though, and step out from its immigrant roots, Americans wanted something different. In an industrial, fast-paced world, one couldn’t leisurely drink a heavy beer over a two-hour lunch. Businessmen needed something lighter that wouldn’t fill them up and would sit a little easier over the course of a busy day or evening.
And so brewers adapted (particularly those in the Midwest), and searched out other ingredients, like corn and rice, that might be used in the brewing process. From experimentation and innovation was born a uniquely American beer: the Bohemian lager — a style now technically known as “American adjunct lager” (because it uses “adjunct” ingredients besides just barley). Even though grains like corn and rice were more expensive at the time, making for a pricier beverage, the brew soon became a worldwide sensation, winning numerous accolades and awards. Pabst Blue Ribbon is in fact called such because it took the top prize at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago (though that’s a hotly debated and even litigated story).
Right from the start, a few titans of brewing — Frederick Pabst, Augustus Busch, Frederick Miller, Joseph Schlitz (recognize those last names?) — made their beer on an enormous scale and took over nearly the entire industry even back then, the market was dominated by 3-4 big-time companies.
Over the last century, the once novel American lager has come to seem humdrum, a victim of its own success. And the Big 3’s monopoly of the beer biz is now viewed as stifling and constricting, if not a nefarious corporate conspiracy. The American consumer has thus gone looking for new tastes, and the craft beer industry has swelled to quench this thirst.
Yet while there’s certainly merit in the new (and yes, in many cases, improved), there’s also something to be said for the straightforward, non-fussy, comfortingly familiar, and wonderfully cheap.
Why We Should Still Celebrate the Cheap Beers
They’re easy drinkin’. As a style, Bohemian/American lager is effervescent, pale to pretty much clear in color, and slightly sweet because of the corn (and sometimes rice). They go down easy, sit a little lighter in the stomach, and don’t fill you up as much as other beers. They’re also lower alcohol by volume (ABV) than a lot of craft brews, which means you don’t have to worry about sitting in the backyard and throwing back a few brewskis with your friends.
They’re cheap. They’re not called cheap beers for nothing. While a sixer of craft beer here in Colorado is likely to cost me $8-$10, that same price point gets me a 12-pack of something like Miller High Life or Hamm’s. That’s a big difference, especially as years — and beers — go by.
They support a ton of American jobs. While the Big 3 companies are no longer independent or American-owned and have extremely complex structures for their brands and beer-making, they are still producing at the same large ( often unionized ) breweries they started at here in the States, and providing thousands of jobs across the country, and especially in their local markets. While it’s definitely nice to support independent businesses sometimes, it’s not like the big beer makers don’t also contribute to their respective communities.
They’re nostalgic. Cheap beer is very likely what your father or grandpa (and definitely your cool uncle) drank back in the day (and perhaps still drinks today). Dad gave you a sip now and then, and that taste is imprinted in your memory, or you can picture him doing work around the house with a specific beer in hand. Cheap beer is probably what you started drinking in college and a connection to it has stuck with ya all these years. While nostalgia alone isn’t a reason to choose one brew over another, it does add an intangible layer of enjoyment to drinking one.
5 Cheap Beers to Drink This Summer
Recently I taste-tested a dozen or so brands of cheap beer, and very unscientifically suggest the following 5 (plus their light counterparts in a couple cases), based not solely on taste, but also availability, and other not-so-quantifiable factors (like nostalgia) as well.
My top picks, listed in no particular order, for post-lawn mowing relaxation, backyard BBQs, and grilling brats (Dad was right about that too), are:
While Hamm’s started as more of a regional Minnesota brew before Prohibition, after the repeal, it took off as a national beer, even climbing to the top 5 in domestic sales in the ‘50s.
While currently made by Miller, it’s experiencing a bit of a resurgence, especially in the Midwest where it was originally brewed. Because of Miller’s huge distribution network, though, it can actually be found just about anywhere.
Not only is the vintage branding just cool, the flavor has a crisp sweetness that sets it apart from other domestic brews. It’s not necessarily as bubbly as other beers, but sometimes carbonation is used to mask a bland flavor, so that’s not a bad thing. The flavor here can actually come through, and it’s a decent one at that.
Pabst Blue Ribbon
At one time, PBR was indeed made from a blend of 33 batches of beer (hence the fine brews…” at the bottom). Nowadays it’s still made from a blend, but my research found it was now 12 batches into one.
To be honest, I don’t love the flavor of PBR, but it’s become the cheap beer of choice for hipsters and is thus available at a lot of trendy restaurants and bars for often just a couple bucks (compared to $7-$10 for a nice craft brew). In my research, it also tended to be the cheapest that actually tasted good enough to drink.
As noted briefly above, Pabst Blue Ribbon got its name from winning a hotly debated contest in 1893 that wasn’t even supposed to be a contest. The World’s Fair had a beer hall, and any brew that received over a certain score was supposed to earn a certificate of recognition. But Frederick Pabst and Augustus Busch turned it into an all-out competition between PBR and Budweiser, in which Pabst ultimately won out by less than a full point. From then on, Pabst has put the “Blue Ribbon” appellation on every can.
While it’s not bad (like some of the beers I tried), PBR seems to lack some of the stronger pure beer flavors you get from a few of the others on this list. It’s just a hair boring. That said, a 16oz can of this stuff hits the spot when sweatin’ outside and bagging up yard waste. It’s just dang refreshing.
Miller High Life + Miller Lite
Though the beers on this list aren’t ranked, Miller High Life was my overall favorite. The sweetness of the corn really comes through more than any of the others I tried, and it was balanced nicely with a highly carbonated mouthfeel which still allowed that flavor to really be tasted. Frederick Miller was right to market this brew as “The Champagne of Beers” when it debuted as a premium, foil-wrapped product in 1903.
And while light beers aren’t my own personal preference, the top 3 domestic brews by sales are indeed light beers. Miller Lite, being the first to really hit the popular market back in the ‘70s, was my favorite of all the lights I tried. Again, a little more sweetness than the other beers, but not in an overpowering way. It also happens to be AoM food expert Matt Moore’s go-to beer (he in fact only rarely drinks craft).
Budweiser + Bud Light
Budweiser, from its inception, has been marketed as the “King of Beers” because it was modeled after a beer called the “Beer of Kings” which was (and in fact still is) made in an old Czech brewery that dates all the way back to the 13th century. Bud Light and Budweiser account for almost a full quarter of all domestic beer sold in the US, and rank respectively as the number 1 and number 4 beers by sales. Bud Light alone in fact has almost a 19% market share, which is 50% more than the entire craft beer industry .
Whereas most of these domestic beers use corn (well, some liquid derivative of it) to give the beer flavor, Budweiser and Bud Light use rice as their adjunct ingredient. This gives it a decidedly different flavor than the others listed here. Rather than being sweet, it actually has a drier, more crisp finish that doesn’t linger in the mouth. While I prefer Budweiser to its light cousin, either beer is perfect for a cookout with friends or a day at the beach.
Here in Colorado, Coors is definitely the de facto cheap brew, and regional loyalty aside, its taste is right up there among my favorites.
The original, non-light beer is called Coors Banquet, and a 24oz can of this stuff is about as good as it gets on a hot summer day at the ballpark.
Interestingly, it was only available in 11 states until the mid-1970s, meaning it didn’t hit the national scene until much later than these other brews. Because of its exclusivity, it actually developed somewhat of a cult following before it became widely available. Eisenhower kept it aboard Air Force One, Gerald Ford served it every Thursday at the White House, and Paul Newman called it “the best domestic beer, bar none.”
Once it went big, though, it went really big, and Coors Light is now the #2 selling beer in the states. While I didn’t enjoy the light variety myself, most of my neighbors do, so pick your poison and enjoy it without shame.
Ultimately, there are no real definitive “bests” when it comes to cheap beer (or really any beer). You probably already have a favorite that you’re going to remain loyal to. And if you don’t, give these 5 a try, remember the long history of what was once considered the finest style of beer in all the land, and don’t be afraid to celebrate the enjoyment of easy, cheap refreshment.
A 12-Pack of Beer Cocktails
The big wet story of this incandescent summer concerns your ice-cold beer, America. Ask yourself: Has that pint in your hand been sugared or spiced or juiced up? Repurposed as a mixer? Elevated with a jigger of liquor?
All the papers are onto you. News flows from all corners about happy marriages of stout and bourbon and about elderflower liqueurs fragrantly flirting with pale ales. Last May, Frank Bruni reported on “the advance of beer cocktails” (called such “whether or not the drinks include hard liquor”) this May brought notice of the book Beer Cocktails: 50 Superbly Crafted Cocktails that Liven Up Your Lagers and Ales (including the Maru—a fruity booze-up inside your Sapporo). The mass-market gateway to the new frontier stands in St. Louis, where Anheuser-Busch HQ has launched Shock Top Lemon Shandy, a wheat beer “perfectly complemented by spices and natural lemonade flavor.” And meanwhile the kids on happening Hillhurst Avenue in Los Angeles are infusing gin with hops, mixing it to make “Gin & Chronic,” and telling LA Weekly that it evokes a cottonmouthed hint of pilsner.
America, you drink 20 gallons of beer per head per year, and you’re definitely adulterating some of it. Yet, despite the efforts of cunning commerce and supple craft, the beer cocktail has never taken off as a respectable beverage. This is uncharted territory, exciting and dangerous. I sense your keen thirst for helpful hints, pro tips, and historical context.
America, I’m bringing over a 12-pack of pocket notes on the theory and practice of beer cocktails.
I shall begin by cracking open an Anchor Porter for (1) Porter Sangaree, or Porteree: dark beer with a dollop of something sweet and a garnish of grated nutmeg. This here partic’lar porteree relies on a dribble of maraschino liqueur.
For background about the general history of the sangaree, consult the scholarship of Dr. Cocktail. For a classic take on the porteree, see David Wondrich in Esquire. For a different mood, follow the whims of Food Newsie: “Add one or two shots (depending on your childhood) of Limoncino.” For a stout sangaree dressed up with a drizzle of brandy, look in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bartending. For actual complete idiots, look to the comments on Huffington Post stories.
There, beneath a slide show highlighting beer cocktails, you can see ninnies dismissing the category categorically: “What a waste of good beer.” I anticipate that similar philistines will object to the article you are reading, and though they are scarcely worth the procatalepsis, I will point them to the fine tradition of the (2) Shandygaff.
Charles Dickens described this concoction, sometimes rendered Shandy Gaff, as “an alliance between beer and pop.” Since the 1800s, some of us have found it agreeable to twirl together earthy English ale and snappy ginger beer. Each elixir celebrates the other—an herbal interplay you could help further along with a squeeze of lemon or dash of orange bitters. The old-school shandygaff is great drink for such outdoor activities as reading detective novels on a patio, attempting hedge mazes, and officiating badminton matches from a hammock.
The shandygaff has evolved into (3) the Shandy. One version, often known as Lemon Shandy, involves trickling an ounce or two of fresh lemonade into a shy little beer. In addition to Shock Top, Samuel Adams, Harp, Saranac, and Labatt are pushing forward into the realm of selling premixed shandies along these lines. In so doing, they follow the English brewers who bottle the most famous sort of modern shandy, an alliance of lager and “lemonade.”
All this weekend, in Boston and Washington and Philadelphia, sweat-glazed British tourists will toe into bars and try to order a shandy. If you see one of these persons, clammy as an uncooked veal cutlet, encountering any difficulty getting one, do the right thing and offer a translation. Gently remind the bartender that Britons tend not to speak English correctly: When they say lemonade, they mean a carbonated lemon soda roughly approximated by 7-Up, not the cloudy yellow stuff you purchase when taking pity on urchins sitting roadside with pitchers and Dixie cups.
I had been keenly excited to disenjoy my first shandy. Prejudging it as cloying silliness, I had rough drafts of fine insults all ready to roll. Thus, I was disappointed to find that a basic dive-bar shandy made with lager and Sprite is an easy pleasure. It is kind of sweet, yeah, but only half so sweet as soda and twice as interesting, with the two flavors fusing into a zesty third.
In France, a shandy is a Panaché. In Germany, it is a Radler, which belongs to a category of beer cocktails described, naturally, by a mammoth compound noun: Biermischgetränke. In time for the Olympics, someone please invent a drinking game predicated on exploiting the many worldwide variations on this beer spritzer so that a Cuban dissident rooting against his native land’s boxers quaffs a Bul (beer, ginger ale, lime juice), while an Argentinian watching basketball sips a mix of lager and orange Fanta with every basket.
I strongly recommend experimenting with shandy adaptations. The alliance over ice of an I.P.A. and a gourmet grapefruit soda will fortify your yuppie picnic. But maybe you’re playing around with something less rarified, like the Broadway, a combo of lager and Coca-Cola, which is full of brightly bitter surprises. In that case, use a beer that is neither conspicuously awesome nor flagrantly crappy. Red Stripe works nicely, and you will be thankful, as day spills into evening, that its squat bottle has a low center of gravity.
Beware of mixing lager and tonic if you’re in a fragile mood. Its bitterness is nothing less than poignant. A member of the beer-cocktail tasting panel I assembled described the Tonic Shandy as “something you would drink, alone, in the tropics while thinking about that woman you really should have written a letter to before it was too late.”
The point should be obvious, but we would be remiss not to state outright that the lightness of the shandy recommends it as a summertime refreshment. Like (4) the Cincinnati Cocktail—one part muscular microbrew, one part chilled soda water, no ice, all good—it’s good for when you want to spend the whole afternoon in the sun drinking while keeping your wits about you. It’s also good for when you just spent the whole afternoon in the sun drinking and need to ease up before—“Oh, oooh, really sorry. Let me pay for [the next round/the cleaning bill/the cost of pet cremation].”
Let us briefly lurch down Mexico-way to consider the (5) Michelada and similar drinks such as the Chelada and the Chavela.
Translating michelada, we encounter a diminutive endearment: My little cold one, it chimes, in a tone indicating that you should cherish its vivid assembly of lime juice, seasoning, salt, and Mexican lager. Perhaps this explains why people who get dogmatic about the drink—quibbling over nuances regarding Maggi and Worcestershire sauces—tend toward possessiveness and protectiveness. Many people have many opinions about when a michelada can be called a michelada, but none deny that whatever you call it, it tastes best served at a resort-hotel swim-up bar.
The matter of adding tomato juice to a Mexican beer, as in a Cerveza Preparada, brings us to the matter of (6) Red Beer, also known as Red Eye: beer mixed with tomato juice. Jane and Michael Stern put a few away in Oregon for their book Two for the Road, and report that “the exact ratio can vary from an effervescent five to one, in which the beer is merely flavored, to a two-to-one mix as fruity as a drink in a health-food juice bar.” (Similar drinks include Red Rooster, Tomboy, Bloody Beer, Red Eye à la Cocktail, The Brutus and the kinetic Ugly.)
Red beer, made in the spiceless traditional fashion, isn’t terribly thrilling, but it has a certain country-club appeal, a cheerful WASP calm. Goes well with Triscuits, spills well on tennis whites.
In its brunchiness, the red beer bears some relation to the (7) Beermosa, which is perfectly self-explanatory and only mildly gross.
This brings us to (8) the Boilermaker—beer with a shot of whiskey in it—but are we sure we want to go there? Its name is redolent of Rust Belt bars serving 50-cent beers at 10 in the morning. Its tradition embraces the Beer Buster (beer with vodka and Tabasco) and the Dog’s Nose (beer with gin in it). (Actually, the Dog’s Nose might not count, as it dates from an era when Londoners put gin in everything.)
The uncountable number of variations on the basic boilermaker points us to a law of human nature: Anything that can be put in beer will be put in beer, including peaty scotches, fruity liqueurs, and other beers.
But this is not the place to get bogged down discussing the depth charges, car bombs, and theatrical bad ideas with which young people amuse themselves—except to note that a teenager banging a table in a sushi restaurant to detonate a sake bomb is continuing a distinctive undistinguished tradition. Here is David Wondrich in The Oxford Companion to Beer: “Beer features prominently in what may be called ‘folk mixology’: mixology that takes places in the field, without the mediation of a trained bartender.” We are talking, in other words, about traditions passed along orally at dive bars and in off-campus undergraduate housing, in a manner similar to, and indeed sometimes coincident with, herpes of the mouth. In the 21 st century, thank goodness, the Internet collects such knowledge, so that an anthropologist stumbling across Urban Dictionary can discover an improbably heavenly concoction called the Orange Blastaphon (three parts wheat beer, one part gin, one part Fresca or Wink or Squirt): “Sounds terrible but it is actually refreshingly delicious.”
Wondrich cites the 1970s-style (9) Beer Margarita, equal parts cheap beer, frozen limeade concentrate, and tequila, as the “very model of the popular American beer cocktail,” but I respectfully wonder whether that distinction more properly belongs to (10) The Skip and Go Naked.
The skip and go naked is a punch traditionally made with thinly fizzing domestic lager, frozen lemonade, and gin or vodka—or gin and vodka—plus whatever else at hand looks good. When made with pink lemonade, the skip and go naked is known as The Pink Panty Dropper. Its most evocative cognomen is The Porchcrawler—one unhyphenated word, with the crunch of consonants enhancing its cinematic imagery. You can feel the floor beams creaking under your knees.
The skip and go naked has been in circulation since at least the mid-1960s, when a Rochester, N.Y., rock group called The Invictas was distinguishing itself as the great upstate bar-band of the first garage-rock era. The lyrics for “Skip ‘N Go Naked,” a reunion-tour ditty, memorialize the band’s golden days:
In the back seat of my car,
The windows got steamed up.
The cops knocked on the door,
Said, “Get your clothes back on”
We blamed it on our drinking.
I enthusiastically recommend this reader-submitted Epicurious recipe for the pink panty dropper. (“If it’s hot, you’re low on cash, and want to have a lot of fun, this is the answer!”) The recipe below represents a pastiche of wisdom from it and the following websites: DrunkInCollege.com, AskMen.com, Food.com, CoedMagazine.com, GroupRecipes.com, and Boozemixer.com. I am especially inclined to credit the Boozemixer recipe on account of the author’s academic credentials and the extracurricular expertise they imply: “drink recipe by: CSU Chico Student.”
Best made in big batches, this is a great alternative to Jungle Juice.
Start with a CLEAN 5-gallon bucket of some sort. Seriously, anything.
Mix four cans of frozen pink-lemonade concentrate with the cheapest handle of 80-proof vodka available.
Pour in a case of canned beer. Get the worst beer you can. Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) and Miller Genuine Draft (MGD) are always good here because they’re watery. Cheap Canadian beers are even better. You could also step things up and substitute a 30 pack of Natty Ice.
It’s rather unavoidable that there will be a LOT of head from all that beer, but it will go down after a while. Also, don’t be concerned about the beer going flat as the day goes on. You won’t be able to notice.
America's Best Cheap Beers, Ranked
Yesterday, writer Will Gordon set a certain segment of the suds-swilling, butt-scratching Internet on fire with a list on Deadspin titled, “36 Cheap American Beers, Ranked.” Since we’d been working on our own cheap-beer rankings in honor of July 4, our first thought was, “Damn, we’ve been scooped!”, followed shortly by, “Oh wait, this is not an original idea at all!”, and then finally—upon reading through Gordon’s hastily summarized picks—”This list completely blows!” So in the interest of (un)civilized dialogue, we decided to respond directly to Monsieur Gordon and settle this matter before any good Americans have their day ruined.
First up, props where props are due: Shout out to Gordon for including regional classics like Iron City, Natty Bo, and Genesee Cream Ale. Props also for knowing what the hell Beer 30 and Game Day Ice Ale are, because straight up, we have never actually seen them in real life.
But let’s not linger on the positives, because for the most part, this list is what Bravo TV might describe as a “hot mess.” First of all, ranking thirty-six cheap beers, some of which don’t even have a reason attached to them, is a good way to let us know that you could only think of 36 beers, but that’s understandable—you might still be tired from writing amount of words about how Budweiser Black Crown is not that bad, when really it is horrendous (yes, we tried it too).
But more importantly, there are some inconceivable choices in the mix that undermine the validity of the entire endeavor. Here we have Lone Star, positioned super high at #8, yet no mention whatsoever of Shiner Bock, which is controversial enough to warrant comment if we’re being generous, and grounds for a complete disbarment from Cheap Beer Drinkers Club of America if we’re being real. Then there’s the fact that a full five of the top ten—Schaefer, Olympia, Rainier, Lone Star, and, PBR— are owned by Pabst Blue Ribbon and are, essentially, just regional versions of Pabst Blue Ribbon, which makes us wonder whether you are either getting a kickback from PBR or you just really love PBR. We’ll assume it’s the latter, since you ranked the hipster beer accessory of choice way up there at #5 and even included a self-conscious defense about “image.” Well, we all know about the In the spirit of July 4th and the Internet, two bastions of saying what you want in a loud and obnoxious manner, we decided to set the record straight with the real ranking of the top 8 cheap beers in America. Read it before you start drinking today, and then we can all forget this ever happened as we drift off into adjunct-lager oblivion.
8 Cheap Light Beers, Ranked
We all have a go-to cheap, mass-produced light beer. They aren’t the best tasting, but they’re ubiquitous, consistent, and built for day drinking into the night. Maybe you chose your go-to because of brand loyalty, or maybe it’s an image thing. Or maybe you think they all taste the same so it doesn’t matter anyway. But what if you’re wrong?
VinePair blind-tasted eight widely available light beers to find out which is the best. The testers: VinePair CEO Adam Teeter, VinePair tasting editor Courtney Schiessl, and Zach Mack, certified cicerone and owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. The beers: Miller Lite, Coors Light, Yuengling Light, Natural Light, Bud Light Platinum, Keystone Light, Bud Light, and Michelob Ultra. The ranking system: worst, middling, and best.
Time to change your light beer drinking routine.
Yuengling Light blind tasting notes: “Ugh, I don’t like this.” The tasters immediately noticed the darker color of Yuengling Light, but none were familiar with the product beforehand, so there was some confusion as to what it was. All were repulsed by the aftertaste, with Zach saying the only reason he didn’t give it a zero out of five was because it was too early in the tasting and something worse might come up. He gave it a 1.5 instead.
Natural Light blind tasting notes: Tastes like “you drank beer mixed with water.” Zach also noted that the beer has a beachy feel to it and a waxy finish. Courtney said the beer tasted like the last beer of a 12-pack at the beach that was once really refreshing but is now just disappointing.
Keystone Light blind tasting notes: “Bready,” with an aftertaste like the aftertaste of “milky cereal.” This beer led to a long discussion about adjuncts like rice and corn that add fermentable sugar without adding much flavor.
Coors Light blind tasting notes: “Corn husks.” Courtney also noted that it was a lot sharper than the first beer she tried (Miller Lite), and all the tasters agreed that there was more there compared to the Miller Lite.
Bud Light blind tasting notes: “It just tastes like light beer. I think this is Bud Light.” Bud Light was beer No. 7, so everything was starting to run together at this point. It wasn’t negative, it was refreshing, and it tasted the most familiar to all three tasters.
Miller Lite blind tasting notes: “It tastes like… adjunct.” As the first beer, all three tasters weren’t sure exactly what to look for. There was, however, a general consensus that “it tastes familiar, and I think that’s the point,” although Courtney also noted that “it tastes like college.”
Michelob Ultra blind tasting notes: “A little sweet and feels cool.” The final beer was close to water and reminiscent of No. 5 (Natural Light). The vessels of the tasting got in the way a bit, though, when Zach picked up some burnt plastic. These are the dangers of drinking light beer out of Solo cups that we all must live with.
Bud Light Platinum blind tasting notes: Zach said that, compared to the other beers at least, this one had “a real nose.” There weren’t many complaints about Bud Light Platinum while drinking it, and it was generally accepted as a clean-tasting light beer. The higher alcohol (nearly 2 percent alcohol by volume more than the other options) wasn’t noticed at all.
The 21 Best Beers You Can Buy at Your Local Store
From domestic to imported, not all of the best brews are impossible to find.
The top-rated beer in the world, according to Beer Advocate , is the Toppling Goliath Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout. Good luck finding it though. As Esquire noted, the barrel-aged coffee stout is only released about once a year, 300 to 400 bottles at a time, and straight from the brewery in Decorah, Iowa.
If a trip to Iowa that coincides with the release isn't in the cards for you, fear not. There are plenty of beers that are easily accessible, either through an online portal like Drizly or at your local grocery store or liquor store. To determine how to find the best of the brews, Town & Country consulted two beer experts:
Greg Engert is Beverage Director & Partner of Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which runs 22 independent restaurants and bars, including the craft beer bars ChurchKey in Washington, D.C. and The Grand Delancey. Engert, who chose "consistently excellent, steadfastly reliable, readily available, and downright affordable American craft brews," has been nominated by the James Beard Foundation for &ldquoOutstanding Wine & Spirits Professional&rdquo and Food & Wine named him its first-ever &ldquoSommelier of the Year.&rdquo
Tom Peters is the proprietor of Philadelphia's legendary Monk's Café. Peters began in the Philadelphia restaurant industry in 1980 as a waiter, bartender, host, line cook, sous chef, head chef, pastry chef, and general manager before opening Monk&rsquos Café in 1997. Noted beer writer Michael Jackson called Monk&rsquos &ldquoSimply the best Belgian Café in the United States," and All About Beer magazine named it one of the top five places in the world to drink a beer. Peters founded Philly Beer Week, the world's very first Beer Week, and is a four-time James Beard Foundation semifinalist.
Suffice it to say, these two know how to find a tasty brew, whether you are looking for a light or craft beer, or maybe just a pale ale or an IPA. Here are their picks.
"Bone dry and hop-driven, Pivo delivers zippy effervescence and earthy bitterness along with inviting aromas of fresh cut flowers and lemon candy."&mdashGreg
"American brewer Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker added his touch to Czech pilsner by hopping it up, California style. One of the best widely-available American takes on Czech pils, a style that is best drunk fresh."&mdashTom
"This is a balanced brew that delivers a nuanced interplay of bready malt and herbal hops. Dortmunder Gold is clean, refreshing and crushable, even at nearly 6% ABV."&mdashGreg
"Malt-driven notes of caramel and toast provide a rich backbone to this hoppy ale. Expect waves of piney, citric and resinous hop flavors along with a bold and bitter finish."&mdashGreg
"This classic beer was one of the first hoppy beers many people ever had, and remains the definition of the West Coast pale ale style. Refreshingly bitter, with balanced malt. Great with spicy food. It is the one beer that is always in my refrigerator."&mdashTom
"Two Hearted explodes out of the glass with fruity aromas of orange peel, grapefruit and tangerine, underpinned by a bit of pine. The body is lean and balanced while showing a restrained bitterness that makes this IPA eminently drinkable."&mdashGreg
"Sierra Nevada's entry into the crowded field of hazy IPAs is remarkably consistent, widely available, and downright delicious. Creamy, slightly sweet and softly bitter, this brew is chock full of juicy fruit flavor, with pineapple, apricot, and citrus notes throughout."&mdashGreg
"Not just a low-calorie brew, Lagunitas DayTime IPA has remained impressive since its debut back in 2010. Full flavored and hop forward, this IPA brings bold citrus hop character along with a refreshing malt base."&mdashGreg
"The only dry-hopped Trappist ale, this refined Belgian brew is in a class by itself. A touch of Brettanomyces yeast gives the flavor profile a distinctive lift and contrast to the pale roasted malt and soft astringency of the hops. This beer ages well."&mdashTom
"Aged in massive oak barrels called foeders, this Belgian pale ale takes on tart quality from the microbiota living in the wooden barrel staves. Unlike American style pale ales, this is not characterized by hoppy bitterness, but rather a dry, complex bite that recalls Champagne."&mdashTom
"Brewed by Brasserie Dupont in the Belgian countryside near France, Saison Dupont is the benchmark farmhouse ale that inspired brewers the world over. Peppery hops in the nose and palate and rich, fruity esters define this brew, whose name means "season." This style was brewed for consumption during the hot summer months when brewing was historically not possible."&mdashTom
"This Belgian Trappist abbey invented the triple style, a golden ale with fruity esters originally brewed for sale to support the abbey's operations. Westmalle is the first notable triple and certainly the best widely-available triple, with notes of stone fruit. This has a dry, hoppy finish&mdashnot sweet like many imitators."&mdashTom
"For 25 years, Allagash White has remained the benchmark for Belgian-style Witbier in the US and beyond. Bright, thirst quenching and slightly sweet, this wheat brew combines warm spices with a lemony tang and gentle peppery bite."&mdashGreg
"Brewed with a touch of orange peel and coriander in the classic Belgian Wit style, this hazy wheat ale is even better than the originals brewed in Belgium. Soft on the palate but not flabby, Allagash White is super refreshing and low enough in alcohol to have a few."&mdashTom
"SeaQuench fuses all sorts of zesty lime (black limes, lime peel, lime juice) with a generous dollop of coriander, plus sea salt, and layers it atop a clean, wheaty base to create the quintessential year-round crusher."&mdashGreg
"Though this remix clocks in at a big 9.5% ABV, the tantalizing tartness keeps everything tangy and bright, while aromas of banana, rum, apple, lemon, and clove bring complexity to the beer."&mdashGreg
"Brewed by Van Steenberge outside of Ghent, Belgium, Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale is a definitive 'oude bruin' or Flanders red beer. Evoking a cherry Warhead with lactic sourness and a touch of malt sweetness, this is a great introduction of the vast array of beers broadly classed as 'sour.'"&mdashTom
"Rochefort 10 is often named among the 'Best Beers in the World,"' but the 8 has perhaps even more nuance. Brewed in a Belgian Trappist monastery, this is a high-alcohol, bready, and rich brew with caramelized toffee notes. "&mdashTom
"Rich, yet restrained, Black Butte delivers bold notes of chocolate, licorice, fig and burnt caramel, all in a silky smooth package."&mdashGreg
"Rich with oats added to the mash, this silky-smooth stout is dry, bracing and classically English. A stalwart that will never go out of style."&mdashTom
"This now classic Brown Ale is creamy and round on the palate with a dry, bittersweet finish nutty malt flavors, punctuated by notes of coffee and cocoa, give way to an earthy, herbal hop character."&mdashGreg
"The key to finding a low-calorie beer isn&rsquot looking for mass produced ultra-lights, which rely on brewing adjuncts like rice to produce thin, quickly made, flavorless beer. Instead, look for correctly made full-grain bill beer that is low in alcohol, like Brasserie de la Senne&rsquos Taras Boulba. This is a sessionable Belgian Pale Ale brewed in Brussels, 4.2% ABV, and 135 calories per 12-ounce bottle. It is super dry, aromatic, and absolutely delicious. If a mass produced, widely available beer is required, the Irish dry stout Guinness is about 125 calories per 12 ounces and also about 4.2% ABV."&mdashTom
"This seasonal stout is all about sitting by the fireplace on a snowy evening and enjoying this massive beer out of a snifter. This is all about the copious amount of they malt use. Notes of espresso and bittersweet chocolate come through when served at cellar temperature. This beer ages extremely well."&mdashTom
Best Aged Rum: Appleton Estate Reserve Rum
Region: Jamaica | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Tobacco, Molasses
"Appleton Estate Reserve offers an incredibly well made, consistent rum that is a great introduction to the high-ester rums of Jamaica,” says Tyson Buhler, the national beverage director of Death & Co. "While there are many different styles of rum made in Jamaica, it’s most well-known for these funky, sugarcane spirits loaded with flavors of tropical fruit and spice." He adds, "At under $30, you’re getting a mature spirit that fits into all sorts of cocktails from Old Fashioneds to island favorites like Mai Tais and Daiquiris."
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for many years. His work has appeared in various national outlets reporting on trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac and all things distilled.