Food & Drink

And the blue ribbon goes to… the search for the best cheap beer

Picture 36One of the benefits of brokedom in BK is that we have intimate knowledge of the taste and texture of Pabst Blue Ribbon, that ubiquitous lager of dubious award-winning credentials. It is the default option at many a bar due to its bottomed-out price, and its inescapable association with those lovable, huggable hipsters (because who doesn’t want to be lumped in with this guy?).

But we know you want more out of the world than just one can. And so it’s time to break free from those blue ribbons and embrace a post PBR-era. And there are plenty of other low-cost options.

This we determined by slogging through them, one by one.  With low budgets and thirsty gullets, we set out to answer the question: when it comes to the bottom-of-the-cost-ladder beers out there, which ones are the best?

Our approach was academic—we collected a representative sample of 13 of the cheapest brews (we’re saving malt liquor for a future panel) available in Brooklyn and put them before a panel of eight diverse, educated (and mostly financially challenged) beer drinkers to blind taste test our way through this watery, gassy, mess. All beer prices are from the Thrifty Beverage Center at 990 McDonald Ave., unless otherwise indicated.


Our eight-member panel consisted of a beer industry expert (Ryan Clement, who manages the beer section at Trader Joe’s Brooklyn), a home brewer, a budget conscious journalist (holla!), several beer enthusiasts, a guy who only had his first beer a year ago and one person representing the very important “female” demographic. We ranked each beer on a 10-point scale in terms of taste, appearance, overall quality and drinkability, a word we’re pretty sure was made up for Bud Light ads. We’ve also standardized the per-ounce price for ease of comparison.


Yeungling Black and Tan
$11.99 per 12-pack ($0.08 per oz.)
Overall score: 7.3
No surprise here: the beer selection that cost slightly more than the others was our panel’s favorite. The panel noted that Black and Tan stood out from the pack for its “nutty taste” and “qualities of granola.” It was also the only brand for which the word “urine” did not appear in nearly everyone’s reviews.

(beer section manager): “I can taste some level of quality control in this beer.”
(enthusiast): “Most complex so far (not saying much).”
(home brewer): Sharp, great bitter that lingers and keeps me interested. Sweet smell.”
(enthusiast): “You’ll be the most sophisticated looking guy at the frat party.”


Overall score: 6.1
$22.99 for 36-pack ($0.05 per oz)
Don’t even mess with the Silver Bullet, according to our panel.

James: “Well-rounded sweetness.”
Curtis: “Tastes like old style. Good associations.”
(me): “A nutty concoction that would taste good with Thanksgiving dinner.”

Picture 22
Our panel agrees: it's especial


Modelo Especial
Overall score: 5.5
$13.99 per 12-pack ($0.10 per oz)
The panel gave Modelo a modest overall score, but still chose it as their second favorite in a final round of voting. It got props for its “back of the tongue bitter” taste, its pleasing amber color and smooth drinkability.
(female): “This tastes like Gowanus Yacht Club.”
(enthusiast): “More complex flavor. Possibly made with actual hops.”
: “No crap after taste.”

beer side by you.HONORABLE MENTION #2

Simpler Times
Overall score: 5.9
$3.99 per 6-pack: ($0.06 per oz) only available at Trader Joe’s
This high-alcohol content (6.2 percent) lager has been an increasingly common site around the borough since it appeared on Trader Joe’s shelves last winter. With a flavor our panel, not unkindly, described as “tastes like beer” and “reminds me of grandpa,” it’s a serviceable beverage a few lunges above swill at an indisputably recession-friendly price. (Full disclosure: seven out of the eight members of the beer panel are currently or have recently been employees of Trader Joe’s.)
(had his first beer last year): “I like this beer.”


Overall score: 3.0
$21.99 per 24-pack ($0
.08 per oz)
In the biggest shocker of our blind taste test, our panel learned that, bereft of its alluring red can (and optional lime garnish), everyone absolutely despised Tecate. This was true even for Ryan, previously a Tecate fan, who brought this entry to our competition and even cracked one open as an appetizer before the tasting began. His comments: “Words cannot describe how much I hate this one. I would pay $0 for it.” The poor Tecate was also maligned for its bad aftertaste, wretched odor and weak flavor.

Robin: “I can’t even make a funny pun about this it’s so bad.”
Tim: “Tastes like Saltines. How is this possible?”
Curtis: “The association I’m making with ‘Old English’ is not flattering this brew.”
Dave: “Unconvinced it’s beer.”

Picture 24THE UGLIEST (Lowest appearance score)

Old Milwaukee
Overall score: 4.5
$1.25 per 16 oz. ($0.08 per oz)*
The beer named after America’s drunkest city ranked a pitiful 2.65 on the appearance scale, though it only eked out low-ranking vile-looking competitors Ballantine and Tecate by a fraction of a point. Its murky, tampered drug-sample consistency means that handing this beer out to guests at a party ensures they will forever associate you with the dregs of impoverished hostdom (or, worse yet … Milwaukee).
: “Too light for me. Not enough bitter action nor lingering flavor.”
: “Looks like Diet Beer. Tastes like Diet Beer. Fuck Diet Beer.”
: “I actually smell something other than cheapness in this. Metal?”


Natural Light
Overall score: 4.82$13.99 for 30-pack ($0.04 per oz.)
“May be the crispest so far. Also, it sucks.”

Busch Ice
Overall score: 4.98
$13.99 for 30-pack ($0.04 per oz.)
Tim: “Reminds me of the drowning face of a sad hobo.”

Miller High Life
Overall score: 5.95
$12.99 for 30-pack ($0.04 per oz.)
James: “The flavor is gone in the time it took me to bitch about it.”


beer side by you.
Jeremy braces for another round of tasting

Overall score: 4.13
$1.75 for 22 oz ($0.08 per oz)*
Curtis: “Could be more boring.”

Miller Genuine Draft
Overall score: 4.44
$16.99 for 30-pack ($0.05 per oz)
Noah: “Bubbly”

Overall score: 5.36
$22.99 for 36-pack ($0.05 per oz)
Jeremy: “It’s all blending together at this point.”

Overall score: 4.46
$5.99 for 4-pack ($0.12 per ounce)*
Robin: “Tastes like a fraternity floor.”
* Not available at Thrifty, purchased from random bodega or Trader Joe’s. Prices rounded to the nearest cent.

(Many thanks—and many apologies—to our beer panel! Ryan Clement, James Cunningham, Curtis F. Glenn, Robin Monheit, Jeremy Yuan, Dave Colon and Noah Ben-Eishai)


  1. Chris E.

    Now this is news I can use. Especially about the high booze content of Trader Joe’s beer. My only beef is that Modelo doesn’t really belong here, at $14 a 12-pack. Plus, I want to know how PBR stacks up. Rolling Rock, too. In general, though, my compliments to a heroic panel.

  2. Modelo and Bitburger are over $1/beer and Yuengling is up there too so this isn’t exactly an apples to apples comparison. I also can’t abide any cheap beer taste test that doesn’t include the beast.

    I’m glad everyone picked up on the fact that Tecate is garbage, though. I’ve never understood how people can drink that swill.

  3. wow! im amazed that a beer exists out there that is worse than natty light.

    and i love this because im in college and the only beers on this list that i see at parties are pbr, obviously, and natty ice, busch and high life, aka the three beers included in “the cheapest” section.

    but what about keystone ? and milwaukees best? cmon guys…..

  4. Brian

    Are we all so broke that we must ignore our societal responsibilities in our beer drinking? In terms of their social and economic practices, your top two choices are the pits. Coors — geez, they are one of the most anti-union beer companies there is, and the Coors family is an enormous funder of right wing republican party efforts. Yuengling, tho I love it so, recently squelched it’s PA union and moved one of its factories to Florida.

    Let’s remember that good union jobs pay livable wages, and keep working class stiffs from having to surf thrifty sites like Brokelyn. One of the most annoying things about hipsters is that they do things just because they are cool, never knowing why they are cool, but PBR became cool for a reason — it’s a long-time union-made beer. Drink it and be both thrifty & proud.

  5. Brian, you win for most socially conscious comment. I should note also that our entire beer tasting panel was barred from joining a union due to the intrinsic unsafe work conditions of the project.

    When I lived in Ocean City, Maryland, Schaefer was our default beer pong beer. Except one time, we walked into a liquor store and asked the guy what his cheapest beer was.
    He said: “Get these boys a case of Genny Light.”

    I still recoil in fear at the name to this day.

  6. XperiencedBeerDrnker

    1. Coors Original is not “the silver bullet”. That’s Coors Light. Coors original is, however, the best inexpensive beer on the market, hands down.
    2. No Strohs? That actually won a Consumer Reports award for best cheap beer in 2001
    3. Old Milwaukee is great
    4. Ballantine, when actually purchased from a place that sells more than a bottle a month of it, is incredible
    5. Any Yuengling product is ram’s piss, I don’t care what anyone says
    6. Leave it to some urban hippie to overthink his beer purchase. Please leave the Coors on the shelf then, and buy your PBR. By ‘doing the right thing’, you’re also heaving more banquet beer for me. And I thank you.

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