Bottoms Up: Ranking 9 Cheap Beers in a Blind Taste Test

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Looking for a reason to celebrate? National Beer Day, observed each April 7 in the United States in honor of Prohibition's end, is a little-known and unofficial holiday. For brew lovers, however, it's a welcome excuse to pour a pint, clink a glass, and drink to good health. Budget-minded imbibers will find plenty of affordable options to tempt them -- but how to discern the toast-worthy from the party poopers? assembled a panel of enthusiastic beer drinkers for a blind taste test of widely distributed beers, from American-style lagers to some of the least expensive craft brands, available at $10 or less for a six-pack. The contenders are ranked from those that fell flat to those deemed most deserving of fridge space.


A recent revival in popularity has made a 172-year-old brand the darling of hipsters and average working Joes alike. Our tasting panel, however, gave less-than-glowing reviews of this "candied," "generic," "keg party" beer. The poor reception landed PBR in last place. On the other hand, at $7.50 for six-pack of 16-ounce cans -- and $6 on sale when we shopped -- there's not much risk in reaching for PBR. Try this if: "Cheap" is your favorite type of beer.


The consensus was clear among our beer-tasting panelists: The so-called King of Beers doesn't deserve its throne. Not one of the testers had anything positive to say about Budweiser ($8.50 for a six-pack of 16-ounce cans). They considered the prevailing flavor of this American lager to be "no flavor" and called both its taste and mouth feel "watery." Those who didn't dislike it were indifferent. As one put it, "Why bother?" Try this if: You're at the ballpark and it's the only brand in the beer vendor's tray.


It's hard to wax poetic about the mild, quiet flavors of a mass-produced lager -- even more so when it comes to Rolling Rock ($5.50 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles), which rated average among the American lagers in this taste test. It didn't have the off-putting flatness of Budweiser, but panelists said it tasted diluted and unremarkable. Try this if: You want something super-cold to drink while working in the yard on a hot day.


Like most American lagers from the biggest producers, Miller High Life ($7.50 for a six-pack of 16-ounce cans) has very subtle, underwhelming flavor and easy drinkability. Of the American lagers we poured out, this brew was better received than most. Some gave a nod to the mild sweetness, grassy grain and corn flavors, and noticeable lack of hops. Others thought it tasted cheap and called it a "slow-down" beer to grab late in a long night of drinking. Disparity of opinion aside, most considered this beer inoffensive and manageable when served ice-cold. Try this if: You enjoy understated flavor and are sensitive to beer bloat.


Considered a more distinguished cousin of Corona and produced by the same parent company, this imported adjunct lager was the lukewarm favorite among the American-style lagers in this taste test. Despite some light skunkiness and an overall flavor some panelists deemed "basic," Modelo Especial ($8 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles) had a slight effervescence and a clean, faintly citrusy taste that redeemed it with testers. Served ice-cold with a wedge of lime, this beer fills a certain niche. Try this if: You are on vacation or want to drink as though you are.


A bright, citrusy pale ale, Sierra Nevada ($10 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles) drew less praise than any of the other craft brews, although it was favored more than any of the lager selections. Some panelists said this beer had a sour, vinegary tang. Others declared it one-dimensional and a little flat on taste. Overall, sippers found it palatable, but the mildly discordant flavor notes kept it from emerging as a top pick. Try this if: You like pale ale and find it on sale.


Our band of brew swillers commended Sam Adams ($10 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles) for being relatively flavorful and drinkable, if not distinctive. Mellow hoppiness and subtle caramel notes balance out a slight underlying sourness. Samuel Adams Boston Lager may not have taken top honors from tasters, but after the sampling ended and the beers were unveiled, more than one person willingly accepted another bottle. Try this if: You want something dependable, classic, and middle-of-the-road.


India pale ales tend toward the hoppy side and finish on a bitter note. This distinctive and concentrated taste profile attracts some and repels others; Full Sail IPA ($7 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles) is no exception to this rule. Even though some tasters longed for a milder brew, on the whole our flavor-seeking panel raved about the fruity nose and creamy bitterness of this surprisingly cheap craft beer. Three of the seven deemed it an unequivocal favorite. Try this if: You appreciate a full range of flavors and like beers that finish with a bite.


Belgian-style beers are known for an underlying sweetness and spice, and this amber ale nods to its ancestry with hints of chocolate and toasty malt. New Belgium Fat Tire ($10 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles) manages a smooth and balanced nuttiness that all our tasters seemed to enjoy. Although Fat Tire earned fewer "favorite" designations than some other beers we served, its bipartisan appeal won over lager lovers and craft brew aficionados alike. Try this if: You are entertaining guests and hope to satisfy a variety of tastes.