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Cheap Beers with Merit?

On the recently surfaced Cheap Beers thread, I commented on Steel Reserve, an 8% abv monstrosity with a rather low price tag. This beer has always struck me as a Poor Man's Duvel, and for that reason (along with its low price) I feel that Steel Reserve has some inherent merit, despite the obvious flavor flaws and potential for a larger than life hangover if one is not careful.

If anyone out there is in some way a Steel Reserve fan, tell me why you are.

Also, can you think of any cheap beers that have some merit to you?

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  1. I drink Coors Light a lot after playing ball in my various sports leagues. We call it C-Little. There’s something to be said about rolling into the bar as a team after the game and passing around huge cheap cups on a hot summer day. It’s cheap, mildly refreshing, and if you drink enough of it, you catch a buzz. There’s two bars we might head to after games. One is a great craft beer bar/ restaurant. We’ll go there sometimes and every guy will ponder the menu, order from the server, and at the end of the meal, we split up the check. The other place we go to is a dive. First guy into the bar will call out a number to the bartender, he pulls the C-Little tap, and doesn’t turn it off until he’s filled all our cups. The beers get passed back till everyone gets one and one guy can throw down a small wad of money for the round. And we’re drinking within a minute. Then, we repeat several…ok, sometimes many.. times. There’s a frugal, speedy, morale-building merit to it all.

    19 Replies
    1. re: Silverjay

      What gastronomic merit does Coor's Light in your opinion have over water?

      1. re: Chinon00

        There is no gastronomic dimension to my anecdote. The merit is purely the utility of getting buzzed cheap and quick.

        1. re: Silverjay

          Which beers do you enjoy for their gastronomic qualities that you find affordable?

          1. re: Silverjay

            "...the utility of getting buzzed cheap and quick...."

            Having come of age before the popularity of "light/lite" beer, I've never understood the concept of drinking it for a "cheap buzz".

            Most of the flagship lights cost as much or more than the same brewers' "regular" beers (which are usually around 5% abv as opposed to the light's 4.2%) , in some cases more than their higher ABV "Ice beers" or "malt liquors" (5.6% - 8+%).

            Seems to me paying more for a lower alcohol beer is going in the opposite direction of "cheap buzz".

            1. re: JessKidden

              They have it on permanent special at this place, so it is cheap. And it became a team tradition, hence the diminutive nickname . Having just played a double header in 90+ degree heat, we're not going to stand around in sport coats with patches on the elbows drinking craft beer out of tulip glasses. And Brooklyn Lager, which the bar also pours, is double the price. One guy needs to be able to throw down a twenty and get beers for the whole team.

              The craft beer bar that we sometimes go to has a strong rotating selection for $5-6 an imperial pint or 10oz. pour for higher abv. stuff. They do pour $5 Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier in tall .5L glasses that we will sometimes get as a gastronomically satisfying and refreshing option.

              1. re: Silverjay

                "we're not going to stand around in sport coats with patches on the elbows drinking craft beer out of tulip glasses."

                I don't get this anti-craft beer, snobbery reference in response to my post, where I only mentioned the flagship macros "premium" beers (at 5%) and their ice beers and malt liquors as more logical choices for a "cheap" beer when a buzz is the ultimate goal.

                I never mentioned craft beer, tulip glasses or one's wardrobe.

                1. re: JessKidden

                  Calm down. It's a one line joke. I simply shared an anecdote about drinking cheap, piss beer with my teammates and you jumped in babbling about ABV of ice beers and malt liquors and coming of age before lite beer. The story doesn't need to be analyzed to even that level of parsimonious detail. If the sport coat with the patches on the elbows fits, wear it.

                2. re: Silverjay

                  My only issue with your response was that the OP was looking for cheap beer suggestions "w/ inherent merit". The OP went on to compare his current favorite cheap beer w/ merit w/ Duvel; a fairly highly regarded brew I hope we can agree. So suggesting cheap cold flavorless beer seems out of place to me here. And in that regard I'm pretty sure that most of us know where to find $1 draft night already.

                  Anyway cheap beer with character that I like includes Yuengling lager and porter and Reading Premium.  

                  1. re: Chinon00

                    Tripeler asked if "any cheap beers that have some merit to you?", to which I wrote a personal anecdote which centered on the merit of camaraderie, thrift, and some sentimentality. It was clearly not meant as a recommendation for every beer dork in patches and tulip glasses to trip over their keyboard and race to the corner bar.

                    I like Okocim Porter for a thrifty, tasty beer with kick. It's easily available at many shops near me. Blue Point Toasted Lager is often on special at bars near me as well and this is a decent beer.

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      I agree with your suggestions. Yummy stuff that won't put a dent in your wallet.

                      1. re: Silverjay

                        You should come check out the craft beer bars where I live. You wouldn't make that silly joke about elbow patches again.

                        Contrary to the bogus blue-collar fantasy sold by BMC, not everyone who avoids corporate macro-swill is some tweed-jacketed stuffed shirt.

                        So just to clarify, so we can drop this topic, the merits of Coors Light are: it's cheap, it gets you wasted, guys who play sports like it. Noted.

                        1. re: Josh

                          I guess I can toss my elbow-patched tweed sport coat!

                          1. re: Josh

                            >Contrary to the bogus blue-collar fantasy sold by BMC, not everyone who avoids corporate macro-swill is some tweed-jacketed stuffed shirt.

                            Just like not every cheap lite beer drinker downs their 30 packs in their mobile homes while watching football in their mustard stained wifebeater tank tops? ;-)

                            1. re: LStaff

                              Yes. And I never claimed otherwise. :-)

                        2. re: Chinon00

                          I've found Yuengling Lager undrinkably skunky. But Yuengling Black & Tan has enough stout in it to take that skunky edge off. Still cheap and drinkable.

                          1. re: monkeyrotica

                            At the risk of coming across as a know-it-all-prick, I thought I'd mention that the B&T is made with neither the Lager nor any stout. It's the combination of the Premium and the Porter. Perhaps, you might want to try those quite affordable offerings?

                            1. re: MGZ

                              As someone who regularly works with knowitall pricks, your words don't sound familiar. I have never seen Yuengling Premium in the DC/MD/VA area; it's exclusively Yuengling Lager, B&T, Light, and Old Chesterfield. I will most definitely give the Premium a try if and when I can locate the stuff. Thanks for the tip!

                            2. re: monkeyrotica

                              Skunk taste in beer is a product of mishandling and not a flaw in the brewing process. Could be though you just don't like Yuengling lager. I can't imagine that EVERY bottle of Yuengling you've had has been light struck and therefore "skunked".

                              1. re: Chinon00

                                Probably a bit of both. I've tried the lager about half a dozen times (parties, restaurants, bars); it's always either flat, stale, or off tasting. Have not had this issue with either the Porter or the Half & Half.

                3. A lot depends on where you are and what you mean by "cheap." Trader Joes has a Mission St. Pale Ale that just won a gold medal at the great american beer festival. $5.99 a sixer. Its made for TJs by Firestone Walker. They also carry something called Stockyard Stout, which I believe is made by Great Lakes for the same price. Also 22 oz bottles of Mission St Brown Ale and Hefeweizen for $2.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: chuckl

                    TJ's Simpler Times Lager is pretty cheap and tasty. A good post lawnmowing beer. You can also get a 30-can cube of Miller High Life and mix 50/50 with V8 and a little Tabasco for a chelada. Or just hit it with some lime and salt. Indistinguishable from Corona at a fraction of the price.

                    1. re: chuckl

                      Stockyard Oatmeal stout is made by the Goose Island brewing company. It's alright, but I prefer the Mission St. brews, especially the IPA.

                      1. re: chuckl

                        I just tried Trader Joe's Cerveza La Playa Lager. $2.99 a six pack. Decent generic Mexican lager that's actually brewed in Mexico. Cheaper than their Red Label lager and lacks the metallic after taste.

                      2. I enjoyed a more than a few 12 packs of St. Pauli Girl this summer priced at about $1 per bottle including tax and deposit. No better or worse than other euro lagers offered in 12 packs that I also tried that cost a bit more. Costco also has good prices on cases of SPG and Hofbrau too - and some craft beer like Harpoon, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, and Dogfish Head.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: LStaff

                          At around that same buck-a-bottle point, you can get Paulaner hefe or Spaten Oktoberfest in 12 packs here. I'd go for those over a standard lager. But a good pale ale would beat either.

                          1. re: ted

                            Dale's Pale Ale in cans I think goes for around $8 for a sixer.

                            1. re: ted

                              Those deals don't exist around the Boston area anymore - haven't seen any of those beers or similar for less than $16/12 pack. Add in deposit and now tax, and you are in the $1.50 a bottle range.

                          2. For my money, Full Sail Session Black and Session Lager are the best deals going for quality beer at a low price. 12-pack price is typically $11-12, and the flavor is more than passable.

                            Corona in cans isn't bad, and I've seen it for around $6/7 for a six-pack.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Josh

                              Thats the twelve pack price Im assuming (on the Session).

                              1. re: Insidious Rex

                                Yes, sorry should have been clearer.

                            2. I think Steel Reserve is good for what it is -- a very inexpensive malt liquor. I'd take it over Bud any time. SR tastes distinctly better out of bottles, I've noticed.

                              1. The discussion so far is going in directions I had not expected. Using Steel Reserve as an example pointed out the heavy and strong flavored nature of the product. That, along with high alcohol, makes it some kind of bargain in my mind. Thus, a cheap beer with some merit. I wonder if there are many other beers like this. To me, Steel Reserve has a very strong lager flavor, which gives it merit beyond having high alcohol.

                                In my original post, I did not have in mind the kind of "me-too" brews that places like Trader Joe's will sell for around $5 or $6 a six-pack. Rather, the beers like Steel Reserve do have some notable flavor defects, yet deliver on other levels in a way that is hard to ignore. SR is certainly a "take no prisoners" brew with a distinct edge.

                                Perhaps a better description of these beers would be "on the way to a hangover" beers.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Tripeler

                                  well, for fantastic, Cheap, doppel bock, try a Troeginator. Two of them will have you balanced on your head in the closet, with no idea how you got there.

                                  [I split one with someone else. Such a lightweight!]

                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                    Troegenator is not cheap where I live.

                                    1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                      Spaten Optimator is a couple of bucks cheaper per sixer than Troegenator (like many American bocks, or even O'fests, it confuses a boatload of caramel sweetness for depth of malt flavor), and it's an order of magnitude better. I'd go with that one if I was looking for value.

                                2. I drank Steel Reserve in college at parties. Thought it was really foul and vile stuff.

                                  I think there is a lot of value in some imports. Lion Stout out of Sri Lanka is a pretty good stout that usually is pretty cheap per bottle. Another route to take is with some of the Polish Baltic Porters. These are strong, robust beers that usually sell for $2 or so for a 500ml bottle. Okocim and Zywiec make some good ones and are readily available.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: MVNYC

                                    SR and Coors Light are both nasty, but SR has more 'taste' and is cheaper than Coors Light. Coors light is like drinking water; rather expensive water at that!!!
                                    My pick for a cheap beer with merit is Miller High Life. After rarely seeing it on LI for a number of years (probably because they were pushing MGD, which is swill!!) there seems to be a push getting MHL in the stores; this seems to coincide with the MHL commercials on TV) My local deli/convenience store runs MHL for $6.99 a 12 pack every couple of weeks. There are times when you get home and you just want to quaff a beer and it would be a waste to slug down a Smuttynose old brown dog or a prima pils (two beers in my beer fridge) In that case, Miller is my cheap beer with merit

                                    1. re: imhungryletseat

                                      Second MHL. I used to be able to get 30-can cubes for $11.99, but they bumped up to $12.99. It's my go-to lawnmowing beer, with lime and salt is indistiguishable from Corona (at a fraction of the price), and with some V8 and hot sauce makes an excellent (and cheap) michelada.

                                      1. re: imhungryletseat

                                        Miller High Life and Miller Genuine Draft are the same base beer, the former pasteurized and the latter "micro-filtered/sterile filled". (Or, as Miller's PR folks term them "heat pasteurized" and "cold filtered"). A review of the stats on MillerCoor's website of both beers will show they're the same -
                                        ABV. - 4.70 Calories - 143 Carbs- 13.10 Protein- 1.00 Sodium- 7.0 Fat - 0.0

                                        That's not to say they necessarily taste identical -one would think (hope) that they package it differently to appeal to different tastes. And since Miller uses hop extract (which can be done post-fermentation) to prevent light struck beer in clear bottles, it's possible they are now hopped differently.

                                    2. Light Beer is not for people that like beer....it is for people that like to pee.

                                      2 Replies
                                        1. re: Ernie Diamond

                                          I like craft beer and I'm fine with drinking a light beer it's really not that big of a deal.

                                          But to answer the op's question when it's on sale Old Rasputain is my goto cheap beer at

                                          7.49 a 4 pack. Although it's not so much cheap beer with merit but more like merit beer that's cheap.

                                      1. I have to say that I agree with those who say that standard yuengling lager is rather skunky and I know I'm getting it fresh as I live only 30 or so miles from their tampa brewery, its the hops profile that's off (and I do like hoppy beers). I haven't tried the premium, it isn't distributed widely down here despite their proximity. but I would say that both their Porter and Black and Tan are definitely on my list of cheep beers with character.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: willdupre

                                          "Skunky" aka as "lightstruck" beer is caused by exposure to light (as the correct term kinda suggests ...). "Freshness" has little to do with it since green bottled beer with become lightstruck within minutes under the worst condition (direct sunlight) and in a day or so at typical retail florescent lighting, etc. Never understood why they went with the green bottle (which they also used at the time [late '80's] as their new bottle for Chesterfield and the Porter) but it's worked for them. I was just looking at a monthly US sales totals, and Yuengling Lager is selling pretty close to Coors Banquet's figures.

                                          Does Yuengling even brew the "Premium" (which is a typical BMC type adjunct light lager) in Florida? Seems like the distribution of that relatively cheaper beer stays local in PA and NJ. I don't quite understand why the TTB allows Yuengling to not mention the Tampa brewery at all on the labels (unlike, say, the only somewhat deceptive technique of Boston Beer Co's listing Boston, MA and then Cincinnati and the Eastern, PA brewery site, even tho' 12 oz. bottles are not coming from the Boston facility).

                                          The TTB rule is that "The bottler's or packer's principal place of business may be shown in lieu of the actual place where bottled or packed if the address shown is a location where bottling or packing operation takes place." But "...The appropriate TTB officer may disapprove the listing of a principal place of business if its use would create a false or misleading impression as to the geographic origin of the beer." http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/...
                                          Maintaining that all their beer still comes from the 19th century era, tiny little brewery on the hill in Pottsville rather than also from a former Schlitz brewery in Florida built in 1950's or their new (would it be too snarky to call it "ugly"?) warehouse-like facility outside of town sure strikes me as "misleading".

                                          1. re: JessKidden

                                            I am very familiar with what the term skunky means, and I stand by what I said, but I will rephrase if you want to be pedantic about it, the taste of yuengling lager has an element that is reminiscent of skunky beers. sure it is possible that a few bottles can be lightstruck or old but since my brother for some reason actually likes yuengling I get lots of opportunities to try it and it consistently has that taste to me.

                                            1. re: willdupre

                                              The chemical that registers as "skunk" is caused by UV light breaking down the isohumulones (which come from the hops), and them reacting with sulfur proteins in the beer. That reaction produces a chemical which is also present in the skunk's musk.

                                              Miller High Life prevents this by using a special hop extract where the isohumulones can't break down from UV light.

                                              If you were to obtain Yuengling lager in a can it's doubtful you'd register this flavor.

                                              1. re: Josh

                                                Yeungling Lager on tap always tastes a bit skunky for lack of a better description as well. I have no idea why nor have I detected this in any other kegged beer before or since. It is definitely not bad tap lines either because I know far too wel what that tastes like.

                                                1. re: MVNYC

                                                  Seconded. I've tried the lager in in cans, bottles, and taps and experience the same aftertaste. If I had access to Yuengling Premium Beer, I'd be willing to give that a try, since I'm quite fond of their Black & Tan.

                                        2. This isn't cheap by most standards, but in terms of Belgian dubbels, I've found that I quite like Grimbergen, and it's both priced lower than most and is easy to drink with its lower alcohol content (6.5%). I'm actually fairly impressed with the flavor they get at that lower ABV%.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Ghostly

                                            "I'm actually fairly impressed with the flavor they get at that lower ABV%."

                                            Sure 6.5% abv is on the lower end of the spectrum for the style but we're talking about a bigger style to begin with. A 6.5% abv beer is a substantial beer period.

                                          2. Been seeing reports of Sam Adams mixed Winter 12 pack being sold at Walmart for $9.

                                            1. While I appreciate both good, spendy, high quality beers as well as affordable quality I find Steel Reserve totally un-drinkable and until I had SR I didn't even think there was such thing as a beer I wouldn't drink.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Strangewine

                                                I feel the same way about Schlitz. Intensely metallic. It seems to combine the worst elements of cheap beer and malt liquor, but you have to drink several to even get a buzz.

                                              2. Miller High Life in bottles, is delicious in my parts.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: robotmw

                                                  i agree - i like it way better in bottles than in cans...i actually recently bought a case of cans and am having troubles getting through it...where as the bottles go down like champagne (as their motto states, it is the champagne of beers).

                                                  before - i get called out - i bought the case because i was having friends over one night and i didn't want them drinking all my more expensive, good stuff just cause they were trying to get wasted...figure they could drink that...my usual is miller lite but i was just trying to change it up.

                                                    1. re: chuckl

                                                      i don't make up their slogans :) ...but yeah the bottles go down easier for a cheap middle of an all day drinking bender type of brew.

                                                2. This year's Vintage Ale from Trader Joe's is outstanding, and for $4.99 per corked 750ml bottle, an amazing brew.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: chuckl

                                                    Had a bottle this Thanksgiving of the 2009 VA from TJ and it was really tasty and the price was icing on the cake (bottle). On the label it says it improves with age. Just bought two bottle of the 2010 to save.

                                                  2. It's been mentioned a few times but I think Trader Joes is your answer. The Simpler Times pilsner was $3.49 a six pack of 12 oz cans for me. Pretty smooth, good pilsner taste; inoffensive at worst, and downright enjoyable at best. Seeing the prices I also bought a 6-pack of the lager (that was $2.99, actually), and the lager is really bad and is likely to find it's way into a recipe.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: joypirate

                                                      Second the Simpler Times pilsner, as well as the Simpler Times Lager being nasty. I thought TJ's "Red Label" beer was pretty bad, but the lager was worse.

                                                      1. re: joypirate

                                                        correction, it was actually the TJ's "name tag" lager that was really bad...

                                                      2. Another one to keep an eye out for is Mendocino. Apparently they offer a large-drop discount to the retailers, so if your local store buys in quantity you can get a case for around $24, maybe even a bit less. That price for the Black Hawk Stout is a very good deal these days.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: TongoRad

                                                          That will depend on the state, as quantity deals are illegal in some states. In NoVA there used to be a good QD on Mendocino, but I haven't checked on it lately.

                                                          1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                                            Even if you can't get it that cheap it'd probably still be a 'good value' every now and then, just not 'cheap'. (My arbitrary line between the two distinctions is probably right at the $24/case mark).

                                                            Fwiw- I tend to think of that beer as more of a porter when I go for one; don't approach it thinking it will be a big roasty beer. It's not. But it's got a really nice yeast signature which hits you first, and then has a mild coffee/chocolate like quality on the finish. Overall, a good quaffer of a beer if that's what the occasion calls for.