Remember when seasons mattered? Us either. Entering what is approximately week 1000 of quarantine, we’re tired, our taste buds are tired, and our wallets are feeling mighty thin. That leaves us, when needing a drink, with the cornerstone of the social gatherings of yore, cheap beer.
Cheap beer is as necessary to drinking culture as any other potent potable. Some cultures may value spirits or wine or something else entirely, but at the end of the day, chances are you’re going to be able to find a cheap beer no matter where you go.
How could they not? Cheap beers are (obviously) easy on the wallet, they’re typically low in alcohol, and you can pound through a bunch of them because they’re only a step or two away from basically being carbonated water.
With that in mind, we at The Manual put our heads together to see what the best cheap beers out there were. Shortly after beginning the discussion, we realized we’d have to figure out a few things before making the list. First, would we focus on regular beers, lite beers, or both? Would we take regional cheap beers into account? What about cheap beers that are technically craft beers?
We decided on the following: Both regular and lite beers would be considered. In the case of a brand having both, we went with the better one. As far as regional delicacies, they were taken into account. (Did we get all of them? Of course not, but we tried to have some nice regional representation.) As far as craft but cheap — sorry, Yeungling, you didn’t make the cut.
Could there be other beers on this list? Of course. We’re sure we missed 60 percent of our readers’ favorites. Let us know in the comments which ones we missed, so we have an excuse to go into every dive bar and gas station we come across to make sure we try them (in the name of science, of course).
Originally from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Rolling Rock worked to aggressively expand the brand on the back of a green bottle, a horse logo (which was co-opted by the early 2000s emo-rock band Something Corporate for their Piano Rock merch), and a “full-bodied” (their words, not ours) flavor profile. It’s crisp, and it has a flavor, sure, but saying Rolling Rock is full-bodied is like saying that anyone on staff at The Manual could beat Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in an arm-wrestling match.
Pabst Blue Ribbon
What used to be your grandpa’s beer has transformed over the last decade or so into the water of life of the young and hip. Whether you’re getting it in a 12-ounce can, a tall boy, a bottle, or on draft, you know what you’re getting every time you raise a PBR to your lips: some carbonation, the slightest hint of beer flavor, and the whispers in your head that you need to pick up more mustache wax.
Once only found in the Northeast, this Providence, Rhode Island-based brewery has slowly expanded its distribution across the country and shows no signs of slowing down. Narragansett’s line now includes a shandy, but the true joy comes from working your way through a six-pack of tallboys while sitting with your toes in the sand. It tastes like cheap beer, and sometimes that’s all you need.
When sitting on an outdoor patio at your local Mexican restaurant (or just sitting in your backyard) and housing handful after handful of chips and salsa while waiting for a heaping plate of tacos, is there anything better than an ice cold Tecate? No, no there’s not. With enough flavor to let you know you’re drinking beer, but not so much as to overwhelm anything else, Tecate is one of your best bets for a nice long session of taco bingeing.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable beers on the list thanks to the one-eyed man on the can, Natty Boh was originally a Chesapeake, Maryland beer before expansion (even though the majority of the beer is still sold in the Baltimore area). You also can’t forget the cap puzzles, which provide hours of entertainment (read: yelling at your friend who keeps saying dumb answers) long into the night.
The beer so ubiquitous they literally renamed it “America” for two summers, Budweiser is a staple of American culture no matter where you are. Cracking a Bud Heavy is as American as American could be. If it was around in Washington’s day, you sure as hell know that the “Crossing the Delaware” painting would actually depict him pounding a beer and getting ready to throw the can at the British.
Miller High Life
It’s the Champagne of Beers — the self-proclaimed pinnacle of class in a more or less classless group of beers. What more do you need from it? Really now. Is that not enough to convince you that you should be drinking this when you need a cheap beer? No? Fine, it also comes in camo cans. Happy now?
Another brewery that was eventually sold and is now contract brewed, Rainier beer is a staple in the Pacific Northwest (where it originated). There are no frills with this beer – you get a crisp lager reminiscent of the ice-cold rivers that flow through the area. In addition, the stylized R logo is one of the more memorable beer logos that you’ll find adorning cans.
Original Cream Ale
While the Genesee Brewing Company produces numerous beers, the Original Cream Ale is the standout product. Winner of numerous beer awards, this cream ale is a nice alternative to the cheap light lagers on the market thanks to the kräusening process, wherein the brewer uses wort to prime the beer for carbonation instead of sugar.
Like many classic American beers, Hamm’s was started by a German immigrant in the 1800s. While the brand has changed hands over the years (and is currently produced by MillerCoors), the stuff in the can hasn’t changed all that much. Crisp and light, Hamm’s is about as easy-drinking as they come. It’s a wonderful player in a boilermaker, too.
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