A popular, well-crafted wine is fine and liquor may be quicker, but sometimes only a beer will do. But the beer aisle can be a scary place. With hundreds of microbreweries and dozens of styles vying for space, the beer run has become a daunting errand full of acronymic complexities like ABVs and IBUs. And while we can all agree that great beer is delicious, it can also be expensive, and certain sacred occasions (such as game day) demand quantity and dependability over discovering the best new brew on the market.
This is why economically minded beer isn't going anywhere. In a world of hop-snobbery, macro brews offer a sudsy solution you don't have to think too hard about. Brewed by big, old companies with enormous marketing budgets, these well-known beer selections are thrifty and ubiquitous -- with reliably low cost, alcohol, and flavor. Refreshing for both your palate and your wallet, they're not pretending to be anything other than what they are: good, cheap beer.
So how did we determine the best cheap beers for beer showers, barbecue cookouts, and boilermakers? It's a tough question, and factors like regionality and nostalgia are often more important than flavor. For many people, preference for cheap beer is inherited -- if it's what your dad drank, chances are it'll be what you drink, too.
But this subjectivity makes them hard to rank, and in the absence of a national blind-tasting of all macro brews, we were left to scour the web and dig into a little history to compile our list. You may not see your favorite beer listed below, but everything that made the cut is guaranteed to do the job. Cheap beer is often more about circumstance than preference, but when all else fails: just drink what's coldest.
Pabst Blue Ribbon
Pabst Blue Ribbon proves that what's on the can (or bottle) might be more important than what's in it. Production began in the mid-1800s, and until 1916 every bottle was adorned with an actual blue ribbon, making it the most conspicuous -- and therefore most popular -- beer on the market. Times and tastes changed, but PBR came back with a vengeance during the hipster revolution of the early 2000s, when old things became automatically (or ironically) good. Either way, PBR is the same reliable lager it's always been, only better because now it comes in a tall-boy.
Narragansett Lager began as a New England darling, brewed in Providence and prescribed by doctors as an "invigorator" to yankees feeling under the weather. It's still the preferred brew of many a surly sailor (the beer made its cinematic debut in Jaws when Quint famously crushed a can of it), and you'll find the "Hi, Neighbor!" slogan tattooed on a number of New England bartenders' forearms. Gansett straddles the line between craft brew and cheap beer, with a number of specialty brews in their lineup like a coffee stout and shandy, but reach for the can with LAGER in big letters and you'll never be disappointed. This pairs great with oysters and frigid days at the beach.
In addition to tasty beer in a pretty green bottle, every Rolling Rock comes with its own conspiracy theory (foil hat not included). This beer's millions of fans have spent years trying to deduce what the "33" on the back of the bottle means. Theories abound. Is it the proper brewing temperature for the beer? The year the Steelers were founded? Evidence of ties to Freemasonry? Grab some friends and drink 33 of them and we're sure you'll figure it out. At just 4.4% alcohol, it might take that many to feel anything.
Tecate proves that Americans haven't quite cornered the market on good cheap beer. It's everything you want in a Mexican lager -- crisp, refreshing, great with a lime, and better than Corona. A cooler full of Tecate is the only pairing you need with tacos and tequila, and pros know salting the rim of the can and adding a couple dashes of Cholula make the perfect low-effort Michelada. Your hangover will thank you.
Nearly 90% of Natural Bohemian is sold in Baltimore, so don't feel bad if this is your first introduction to Mr. Boh, the well-coiffed one-eyed mascot. "Natty Boh," as it's known to the locals, is one of the few beers that can claim to be the "official" beer of anywhere, so despite its cult status, it was a shoe-in for this list, as cheap and inoffensive as any beer on this list with a little added pizazz. If you visit and attend an Oriole's game you are morally obligated to order it on draught.
While the Germans might raise a few objections to Budweiser's self-appointed title as the King of Beers, Americans are more than happy to add it to the list of things they're definitely best at. Through decades of unforgettable Super Bowl ads and sports affiliations, Budweiser has become so synonymous with amber waves of grain that nobody seems to notice that it's actually brewed from rice. If the Statue of Liberty could drink, she'd drink Bud Heavy. You don't have a problem with freedom, do you?
Miller High Life
When celebrating something tacky, only the Champagne of Beers will do. This golden nectar is synonymous with ironic class, making it the perfect beverage for toasting a bad day at work. It's also a near-universal bartender's handshake -- order one almost anywhere with a shot of Fernet, and you might be asked where you sling drinks. We won't guarantee it'll get you a round on the house, but it can't hurt your chances.
According to urban legend, Washington state's Mount Rainier was named after this beer when the brewery's owner bribed a state committee. And while it definitely isn't true, the persistence of the legend speaks to the beer's regional staying power. Like many beers on this list, Rainier lager has been around since the middle of the 19th century, when it was founded by a German immigrant, and there remains no better way to end a hike in the Pacific Northwest than with a summit beer that pays homage to the region's highest peak.
Genesee Cream Ale
Founded in 1960 in Rochester, New York, Genesee Brewing Company is definitely the new kid on this block. But on a list of mostly American companies producing German-style beer, Genesee Cream Ale stands out with its truly American tradition. Cream ale was a style invented and perfected in the States, a top-fermented ale that's conditioned like a lager, resulting in a sort of hybrid of the styles. What you get is a smooth, mild beer that retains the crispness of an ale, with some fun fruit notes coming through on the finish.
Hamm’s rounds out our geographical brew tour with a stop in Minnesota. Begun as a humble local lager maker, the company grew to a national sensation with a series of post-Prohibition acquisitions and some marvelous marketing, eventually becoming the fifth largest brewing force in the U.S. Their ad campaign focused on a common theme with American beers: the natural beauty of the American Midwest.
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