Beer Taste and Overall Value
Light Beers.Panelists offered up a lukewarm mix of beer reviews for the light beers in the sample, with many describing them as "flat," "bland," and "watery." Among this group of beers, about which most tasters were unenthusiastic, Miller Lite (8 cents/ounce) claimed a slight edge. Five of our 13 aficionados said they preferred Miller Lite to any other beer in the category.
It's worth noting that Bud Light, one of the more popular light American lagers, garnered the fewest "favorite" votes from our panel but suffered less criticism than all but Miller Lite.
All the light beers were considered nearly identical in appearance by our testers. One beer reviewer said they looked like "water with a touch of Tang or Gatorade." Of the four light brews in the beer tasting, the panel noted that Miller Lite showed the deepest color.
As with appearance, the light brews proved very similar in taste, showing off only subtle flavor nuances. More than one beer-tasting panelist dittoed their remarks from one beer to the next, and few descriptive comments were unique to any one product. "Light" and "flat" were the adjectives used most often to describe Coors Light (6 cents/ounce), whereas Bud Light was considered "bland" and Busch Light (7 cents/ounce) "uncarbonated." Miller Lite edged past the others with a "hay-flavored," "slightly nutty" taste that was deemed the "boldest taste of the four."
Standard American Lagers.Domestically-produced American lagers dominate the budget beer market, largely due to their easy drinkability. During our beer-tasting session, the emerging consensus opinion was that these brews were interchangeable. The beer review produced comments such as, "these all taste the same" and "I can't tell the difference." When asked to focus on the subtleties of each sample, however, some distinctions were drawn.
Perhaps surprisingly to panel members who noted their liking for Coors and Bud before the taste-off began, Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) and Natural Ice rose to the top for their "mild" and "drinkable" qualities. Of our 13 discerning beer drinkers, five named PBR a favorite while another five chose Natural Ice as their best lager pick. Because PBR attracted more positive comments in the beer review and one fewer negative assessment, it squeaked by to become the category winner.
On the opposite end of the drinkability spectrum sat Miller High Life. Although two panelists approved of this brew, none considered it a particular favorite and a whopping 10 tasters' beer reviews dismissed it outright, calling it "flat," "unpleasant," and "pee-like." One person even described it as having a "strong gym-sock mustiness."
Icehouse revealed itself to be the wallflower of the standard American lager category. While the beer tasting yielded no positive appraisals, it didn't generate strong negative reactions either. This beer initially fell somewhere in the middle and then quickly fell off our radar. Reviewers called Icehouse "ok, but not wonderful" and "not very flavorful." "Meh" was the prevailing impression, as one panelist so succinctly put it.
Craft Beers.If you're shopping for beer on a budget, craft beers probably aren't on the top of your list. There is no getting around the fact that they cost more than a light beer or standard American lager. However, if you can't reconcile yourself to the milder-tasting alternatives, or if you're simply seeking affordable craft brews for your next bash, our beer tasting uncovered several decent and cheap options.
We picked up a case of Kirkland Signature from Costco and sampled it alongside two popular -- and pricier -- craft brews, Samuel Adams Boston Lager and New Belgium Fat Tire. The case of Kirkland Signature was a sampler that included four separate craft beer styles: German-style lager, IPA, amber ale, and pale ale. (Online beer reviews indicate that the variety included in the sampler changes periodically and may vary by location.)
Kirkland Signature IPA beat out the brand-name competition and secured the top honors in our beer tasting. The IPA boasted a "darker, redder color" and a "hoppy," "citrusy" flavor. Some panelists detected a "sweet aftertaste" and an element of "honey." One drinker was turned off by what she called the "aggressively bitter and sour floral taste," but a full four of her colleagues called this their favorite of the craft beer bunch.
Kirkland Signature German-Style Lager was the preferred craft brew of three testers and generated a significant number of approving nods from our panel. The "smoky," "malty" flavors of this "dark" lager were deemed "quite nice," but a few tasters asserted that the "aftertaste isn't great."
The costlier Samuel Adams Boston Lager earned nearly the same amount of favor as the Kirkland Signature German-Style Lager, with three reviews awarding it the category gold ribbon. Tasters warmed up to the "complex," "hoppy" profile of this designer brew and savored the "roasted marshmallow" flavor and "caramel finish." This beer tasting turned off a few panelists, however, with one decrying the "pilsner-like graininess" and another exclaiming, "Taste, finally! Unfortunately, it tastes like tires."
One unexpected result in the craft beer category was our panelists' reception of New Belgium Fat Tire. A well-known, pricier beer selection that many testers initially claimed to enjoy, it was the least-favored craft brew in our blind taste test. Several disliked the "bitter, strong taste," saying they "couldn't finish it." Fans of Fat Tire painted a picture of a "roasty," "chocolate" beer that "grew on me." Others described the flavors as "woody," "eggy," or "murky." No less than five tasters spurned the brew and only one considered it a favorite.