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Jul 31, 2006 07:59 PM

Grabbin' a six pack at the deli - what's your "safe" beer

Quite often, in a pinch, I find myself buying a six pack of beer from the corner deli - usually something of the Sam Adams/Red Stripe/fairly commercial ilk (which, for Brooklyn includes some things that would probably be considered microbrews elsewhere) and I usually end up getting the same, boring "safe" beer. I've been having horrible luck lately--I can't tell you how many skunked bottles I've had in the last six months because you can't tell how long a six pack has been in the back of that cooler. Are there any widespread/commercial beers that are skunk-resistant (I'm sure this has something to do with bottling? Glass color?) and does anyone have any bodega-find hidden gem recommendations? I've been sticking to Sam Adams Summer Ale and Smuttynose IPA (when I can get it) and as my "safe" bets but I'm ready to branch out.

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  1. To avoid the skunks, I avoid the rarer brews. And I try to gauge ny neighborhood, a bit. I may like the Smuttynose, but I also know the regular old Sam Adams has probably been sitting there for a lot less time. The brands I tend to get, when I am going to drink it with some who can appreciate them: Sam Adams, plain old Sam; Guiness, nothing exotic here; Brooklyn, but not uptown, only below 23rd Street; and in a rare instance, Negro Modelo. None of them too rare. I used to live in a rather Mexican area in Queens, but it was not a place to buy Negra Modelo. I used to go in and get some take out at a Mexican place, and the local Mexicans all drank Heineken. I got them to switch once, for a beer, when I ordered the Mexican beer. I think you need to think about the six pack as I also think about a beer on tap: if they don't pour it often enough, it will not be good. In Mexican place or a shi-shi wine bar, don't order Guiness. In an Irish pub, watch out for the microbrewed IPA. Buy what sells fairly quickly in your neighborhood and check the dates, if you can and think of it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Captain

      I live in a mixed neighborhood--right on the border of where Park Slope meets not-so-nice southern Park Slope (and things get a little industrial/less brownstone-y). I'm guessing a lot of deli owners saw all the young twentysomthing professionals moving in and bought fancier beer accordingly. I honestly have no idea what people are buying--sparks? malt liquor? In general, when at a bar and drinking on tap, I would not consider drinking Rolling Rock, SA, Brooklyn or any of those beers. Sitting at home watching a crappy movie - eh, why not.

      1. re: erikka

        Off topic, but the deli on the corner of 16th and 5th has some uncommon beers, including some Russian and other eastern european stuff.

    2. Yeah, but alternately, in this brutal heat, if you want the absolute coldest beer equivalent to ice water, go for something below the radar enough to have been sitting in the fridge for weeks (hopefully protected from the light). I find Rolling Rock ideal in these sweltering situations. No one ever orders it (because it's sort of boring), but because it's been sitting around forever it'll be ice, ice cold. Works better in bar situations really.

      1 Reply
      1. re: joypirate

        That's my worry about the nicer, rarer beers - maybe the deli ordered a few six packs god-knows-when and they've been sitting around in a warm basement ever since. At least I know the sh-tty beer has a higher turnover, even though it pains me to pick that over a craft ale, just on principle alone.

      2. True "skunking", i.e., "light struck" beer is strictly a result of beer being exposed to light. Green glass protects beer less well than brown and hoppier/lighter-colored beers are more prone to it (since hops are the ingredient that causes it and lighter beers have less going on to hide the results)- think Heineken, Ballantine, Chesterfield Ale, etc. And it happens in several hours, so "freshness" is relative. (Lots of people use "skunking" to refer to any and all stale/old beer defects).

        I never buy beer in green glass bottles that has been exposed to light. (And, having been a Ballantine Ale drinker since the 70's, I've been doing it a long time). That means "sealed cases" only of Jever, etc. Pilsner Urquel, in NJ, often comes in closed 12 packs, if a case is too much. (I buy all my beer by the case- picked up cases of Victory Prima Pils, Pilsner Urquell and Sly Fox's Pikeland Pils today- going "light" in preparation for these 100 degree days.)

        The latter beer comes in the ideal package- a can. Forget the prejudice, and look for something in cans. Granted, in the US, where "marketing" people rule, cans of imports are uncommon but, apparently, there are now canning lines that are actually cheaper than bottling lines, so look for more and more micros to be packaged that way, IF the brewers can convince people that beer is BETTER from a can after years of being told only "cheap" beer comes in that package.

        Also, learn to read date codes. Lots of good beers these days have an easy to read date code (the Prima Pils, above) and if your local brand DOESN'T, drop them an e-mail and ask, "Why not?".

        Also, if there are cases of beer in a store, "steal" a six from a closed case (often they also have easier date codes to decifer) rather than something off the shelf.

        3 Replies
        1. re: JessKidden

          Thank you--this is great info to have. You're not the first person I've heard mention cans are better than bottles--a few of my beersnob friends have said nearly the same thing. Unfortunately, the sheerly physical feeling of drinking out of a can is so unsatisfying--there's that metallic tinge you get with every sip. Bottles fit in your hand, show you how much is left. Yeah, I know I could just pour it into a glass but sometimes I'm not always in those sort of situations (parties). Are there currently any upscale breweries that have gone canned?

          I don't think I've ever had an un-skunked Heineken. I have no idea what it tastes like "fresh"--probably just as bad as it tastes aged.

          1. re: erikka

            I've had good canned beer from a place in Colorado called Oskar Blues. Dale's Pale Ale and Old Chub are both really good beers. The trick is to just pour the beer into a glass.

            Unskunked Heineken is actually pretty decent.

            1. re: erikka

              I did not suggest you DRINK out of a can. ALL beer (bottled, canned, draft) should be drunk from a glass. Pouring the beer into a glass releases excess C02, allows the hop and malt fragrences to be appreciated and forms a nice head that then forms a barrier that protects the rest of the C02.

              Try it- even "cheap" beer tastes better out of a glass. (Sadly, it won't do much for mishandled, stale or skunked beer except further expose it's problems).

              At these parties are people drinking wine, soda and hard liquor out of the bottle or can? I'm sure brewing marketers LIKE the fact that people drink from the container but brewers probably don't.

              As for "upscale" breweries and cans, the most common brands I see in neighboring NJ are the elsewhere mentioned "Dales Ales" from Colorado, Brooklyn and Sly Fox's Pikeland Pils and their IPA. (They are also nicely dated on the 12 pack cardboard box- something IIRC Dale's aren't). Lots of German, Czech and UK beers come in cans- they just don't come all the way to the US.

              And there's always Ballantine XXX Ale- yeah, "it ain't the same" since Pabst closed all the Falstaff breweries and started having it brewed by Miller, but it's still a better choice than Rolling Rock and Corona, for my money.

          2. Safe beer, go figure. A lot of it has to do with surrounding demographics. Don't buy Pilsner Urquell in Crown Heights or in the South Bronx. Chances are it's been sitting on the shelf for a while, if it's even there at all.

            Safe beer nowadays, would be the trendy ones. Corona especially. Our great country has a definite Mexican presence, and Corona is a Mexican beer. It's loved by college students, men, women, young and old. My point is, it's fresh because of the demand. Very little "skunking" going on. That would be my go-to beer at the moment. (w/ Lime).


            5 Replies
            1. re: Cheese Boy

              Years ago I heard rumors that Corona has formaldehyde in it ( sure they're just that, rumors, but I haven't drank a single bottle since. You have to wonder how the preserve the stuff when it's in clear bottles. Corona is one of absolute last-resort beers along with Bud, Miller. The chemical aftertaste is pretty bad.

              In addition to my "safe beer" catagory, I also have a "party beer" catagory--you never bring good beer to a party because you'll get one and everyone else will pilfer them, leaving you with bud tallboys and the slop they didn't want to drink. I ususally go for a beer that says "cheap...but not that cheap. I still have a semblence of taste." Brooklyn Brewery goes in this catagory (would never buy for myself--I don't particularly enjoy most of their beers), as does red stripe, etc...

              1. re: Cheese Boy

                Corona is hardly a safe beer. All Coronas are skunked. Clear bottles are even worse than green ones. besides that Corona is awful to begin with.

                My "safe" beer in NYC is usually Brooklyn IPA.

                1. re: Cheese Boy

                  Very few Mexicans drink Corona.

                  1. re: asobi

                    Enough do. That's like saying Americans don't drink Bud. Come to my hood and you can see for yourself. The streets are littered with them. Adios.

                    1. re: asobi

                      Not true asobi. Not true at all.

                  2. Brooklyn Brewery has beers in cans now and I imagine if you found it in your deli it hadn't been sitting there that long. While that's a little more difficult to find up here in Boston, I am curious as to whether it has made it to the deli level in New York.

                    Unless you plan on moving to a neighborhood with a package store or bodega that has a good stock and you drink a lot of beer, you may consider getting a kegerator. Always good, cold beer on tap and rarely have to worry about running out. Saves tons of money too.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: sailormouth

                      My roommate works for Brooklyn Brewery (I know, poor me) and I have drank so much Brooklyn Lager it turns my stomach to think about it. I do like their black chocolate stout and weisse. BB tend to be so dramatically different on tap than they are in the bottle--I'm spoiled from the former. But it's interesting they decide to go canned--I will have to ask about this and get more info.

                      1. re: erikka

                        I. hate. you SO much.

                        It almost looked like a promotional gag when I saw it at the liquor store, next to a few racks of Narragansett (total blast from the past). We've finally started to get BB beers other than the lager up here on tap in the bars, (my favourites are the pennant ale and the pilsner).

                        Anyway, please update re the cans.

                        1. re: sailormouth

                          The reason for the cans is simple. Brooklyn now sells at the ballparks and arenas in NY. Bottles just don't work there. Having set up a canning line in Utica, I guess they figured it was worth trying to market them in stores as well. Note that, AFAIK, only Brooklyn Lager (and maybe Pennant Ale) comes in cans.

                        2. re: erikka

                          Not fair! How much beer do you get out of that sweet deal?

                          1. re: subinai

                            Carrying it from the brewery all the way home is a drag, so not that much. Usually I get freebies for stopping by brewery tours, so I get to try their microbatches and rare stuff. Trust me, I don't need encouragement--it's a good thing the brewery is far away.

                            1. re: erikka

                              brooklyn brewery beers are sooverated, they are truly the epitome of mediocre. they get over due to marketing appeal of the name. they may be ok in a pinch, but they're not worth a beerfan's time.

                              my quick go-to's are negro modelo and also the original craft beer company products of sierra nevada and anchor.

                              my bottom line sweltering hot day watery fizz beer needs are met via pbr's. i think pabst has a much dryer and more appealing (lack of) taste than coors, miller, presidente, corona or esp that sugary swill bud.

                              1. re: erikka

                                It's interesting to me that mmyc finds the entire (and quite broad) line of Brooklyn Brewery products to be mediocre. Perhaps some more specific comments are in order.

                                Brooklyn Brown Ale is a fine example of an American brown ale, and one of the earlier ones. I rather enjoy Black Chocolate Stout; in fact, I think it's excellent.

                                Brooklyn's brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, is highly regarded in the brewing community, and is a wonderful spokesman for craft beer.

                                1. re: erikka

                                  I think Brooklyn's secondary & seasonals far outshine thier readily available offerings (e.g.,the stuff you'd pick up at the bodega). Their wheat, weisse and chocolate stout are great--especially if you can get them on tap. Brooklyn Lager makes me shudder just thinking about it--rancid and one of my least favorite beers. I will go without (or will drink crappy watery canned beer) before drinking BL - I think BL ties Heineken in skunkiness per six pack purchased. I guess, in general, I find them to be a little inconsistent in their offerings, but that could be said about a lot of breweries.