13 Cheap Beers to Keep Your Holiday Season Hoppin’

by Paul Michael on 22 November 2011 8 comments
Photo: Alex Roberts

Hands up — who likes beer?

Both my hands would be up, but that would make typing this a tad tricky. I have to say, though, this is one of the tastiest assignments I’ve ever done in my blogging career. And I may have to follow it up with a sequel at some point. (See also: 21 Great Uses for Beer)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been sampling beers for you, the Wise Bread readers. Yes, it’s a tough job, but someone had to do it. At least, that’s what I told my wife. What follows is a list of the best 13 beers that are cheap and cheerful. There are so many good beers on the market, but I wanted to find drinkable beer that costs you $1 per 12 oz. bottle or less. Some come in at just 67 cents per bottle or can, others slightly tip the $1 scale. But they’re all worth your money, in my honest opinion.

Remember, these are not the kind of beers that make you sit back in your armchair and praise the brewmasters who concocted them. Those beers usually run you a few bucks per bottle wholesale, and even more in a bar. But hopefully, these beers will not want to make you convert to a glass of iced water with your holiday meal.

1. Boddingtons Pub Ale

Average price: $6.49 for 4 cans (16 oz.)

Some may say I’m breaking the price barrier with this one; it’s often considered a pricier selection due to having just four cans in the box. But these are 16 oz. cans, so it’s almost the same amount of beer as you’d get in a six pack (6 x 12 = 72 oz., 4 x 16 = 64 oz.). And trust me, although you get a little less, the flavor is phenomenal. Being a Brit, I spent many a night sipping Boddingtons, and I still love it now. Known as the Cream of Manchester, it’s a smooth pint of ale that goes down easy and leaves you wanting more. Yes, you’re not going to get a bunch of this in, but for those who like ale, it’s a real crowd pleaser.

2. Yuengling Premium Beer

Average price: $5.99 for 6 bottles

I tried several beers for the first time when writing this article. Yuengling was one of them. I was a little hesitant — the reviews weren’t stellar. But I found it to be quite a pleasant brew. It’s a basic pilsner, pours clear and golden, and has the usual flavors of corn and grains, plus a slight buttery aftertaste. Not unlike PBR, it’s very easy to drink, although it doesn’t leave you thirsting for more. Again, something to help you stock up for parties without busting open the piggy bank.

3. Newcastle Brown Winter IPA

Average price: $6.99 for 6 bottles

I’m a HUGE fan of Newcastle Brown Ale (aka "Dog" in Newcastle and surrounding areas, where I grew up). So I was really surprised to see a Winter IPA from the Newcastle brand. I’ve sampled several other varieties in the past, including Summer Ale and Werewolf, and they were so-so, so I was hoping for at least a little better. What I found was a very drinkable pale ale. My palette’s not as developed as professional beer tasters, but I did detect notes of tea, caramel, and some spice in the mix. And it’s got a creamy finish. For the price, it’s well worth the money. You may even find it under $6 in your area.

4. Pabst Blue Ribbon

Average price: $8.99 for 12 cans

Despite what a lot of the beer snobs will say, I like Pabst, and I think it’s got a crisp, clean taste. Plus, the price is rocking, coming in at well under 80 cents a can. It pours well, has a good head, smells malty with a touch of corn, and has a sweet aftertaste. Admittedly, it’s no killer beer for the winter season; it’s a much better summer drink. But if you like lighter beers and are on a very tight budget, this is a top choice.

5. Simpler Times Lager

Average price: $3.99 for 6 cans

If you shop at Trader Joes, you’ll know Simpler Times Lager all too well. It comes in a gold can with red and green type, and it’s cheap. Like 67 cents a can cheap. But don’t let the price fool you, although it’s no award winner, it’s very similar to Pabst, but a little lighter. With a crisp, sweet flavor, lots of carbonation, and only a very slight metallic taste, it’s a good “chugging” beer for holiday parties when money is tight. Give it a try. If you don’t like it, it’s a great beer to cook with.

6. Samuel Adams Winter Lager

Average Price: $13.99 for 12 bottles

You should always expect to pay a little more for the seasonal beers, but this winter variety of Sam Adams is priced the same as, and is a delicious variation on, the original. Pop the cap, and you’ll be greeted with hoppy, malty, nutty aromas and a definite hint of Christmassy spices. You may even spot a little ginger, caramel, and cinnamon in there. It’s very palatable, especially on a cold day when you want a beer but don’t want the crisp sensation of a regular lager. Definitely one to have in the garage or basement for any occasion this holiday season.

7. Butternuts Beer & Ale Moo Thunder Stout

Average price: $5.99 for 6 bottles

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I had to include at least one stout — after all, I much prefer dark beers. This one’s a charmer. Brewed by Chuck Williamson in a converted dairy farm in upstate New York, it drinks like a much more expensive beer. As he says on the Butternuts Beer & Ale website, “no pretense, no snotty attitudes or haughty prices.” Right on! Not as heavy as other stouts I love to imbibe, it’s got plenty of malt and a dry finish. Do yourself a favor. Look for the label, a dancing cow being struck by lightning, and pick up a very flavorful six pack.

8. Budweiser American Ale

Average price: $5.99 for 6 bottles

I have a confession to make. I don’t really like Budweiser. Maybe it’s because I tasted the far superior Budweiser Budvar (now known as Czechvar) first. However, a friend told me about American Ale, and I gave it a try. Not bad. Not bad at all. This is not in the same camp as Bud Light. With a nice copper color, a good head, and a sweet, malty flavor, it’s got way more body than a typical bottle of Bud. With less carbonation than Bud, it’s also easier to drink. And the price is definitely right.

9. Schaefer Beer

Average Price: $4.49 for 6 cans/bottles

For a cheap beer, Schaefer’s has quite the heritage. Basically, two German brothers started making this beer way back in 1842, and in 1981 it was bought out by Stroh’s. As you’d expect from such a cheap beer, it’s weak on the nose and sweet-tasting. You’ll detect corn, grassiness, and sometimes a metallic, minerally aftertaste. But let’s not forget, you’re getting a really cheap brew (it’s been found as low as $2.99/six pack in some states) and for a party or cookout, it does the job when you’re on a budget. I’d still rather drink this than a light beer from one of the big manufacturers.

10. Lionshead Pilsner

Average price: $7.99 for 12 cans

Brewed in Pennsylvania by Lion Brewery, Lionshead beer is not ideal if you like a good head on your brew. It has minimal carbonation and is very light in color. Having said that, it goes down real easy. You’ll detect barley, corn, sweetness, and a little malt. Lionshead has a slightly bitter aftertaste, but nothing you’ll really care about. It goes down smooth, the price is terrific (around 67 cents a can), and because it’s not so well known, you may well be treated with “Lionshead? What’s that?” See if the newbies can figure out if it’s a pricey beer or a cheap guzzler.

11. Genesee Cream Ale

Average price: $4.49 for 6 bottles

A few bucks cheaper than Boddingtons, I wasn’t expecting it to come close to one of my favorite ales. I was rather pleasantly surprised. It has a really good head, good carbonation, and it even smells creamy. Genesee has a hoppy aroma, a crisp, clean taste and finishes well. I didn’t get any bitter aftertaste. The price is killer too, and many liquor stores will have it available in a 30-can pack for $17.99 or less. Well worth the money in my opinion.

12. Sierra Nevada Celebration

Average price: $11.99 for 12 bottles 

The price of this one varies quite a bit it seems. In my area, one store is selling a 12-pack for $9.99, another for $13.99. I asked a few people, they all seem to be picking it up for around $12-13 per 12 pack, but you may find it for $10. And if you do, grab it. This is one of the best-tasting beers on the list, and as a seasonal beer, it’s the perfect time to drink it. Robust and rich, it’s dry-hopped for a more intense flavor and aroma. What’s more, it’s got a kick, with a 6.8% alcohol content. Highly recommended.

13. Mississippi Mud Black & Tan

Average price: $2.99 for a 32 oz. bottle

This is the only single-serving (although it’s quite the serving) beer on the list. I first discovered this a few years ago when I was buying beers to mix my own black and tan (stout and pale ale). Now, this is nowhere near as good as a hearty mix of Guinness and Bass Ale, I’ll put that out there right now. But if you want something similar and don’t fancy buying a bunch of beer to mix at home, this does the trick. It has a bit of a skunky smell, but it’s easy to drink. It has some chocolate overtones, and the bottle is cool, too. You may well find it cheaper than $2.99; it’s not a big seller. 

Well, those are my top 13 recommendations for cheap, drinkable beer this holiday season. If you have any that are well worth a try, and come in at around $1 a bottle, then please share. And as always, I’d like to remind everyone not to drink and drive; be a responsible beer-lover, please.

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Don't Quit Your Day Job's picture

Did you drink them as you were making this list? If so, I'm surprised you held it together past beer #7!

Nice list. And, as I like to point out to people, PBR may be cheap, but it won a blue ribbon!

Paul Michael's picture

Yes, I did drink as I was making the list. BUT, I compiled the list over several weeks, no more than two different types were consumed in one session. The reason is simply that I enjoy beer too much to just sample and throw away, so I would drink the whole bottle (or two). If I did it all in one day, the reviews would have been hilarious by the end!

Meg Favreau's picture

I lived in Philadelphia immediately after college, so I'm happy to see PA mainstays Yuengling and Lionshead on this list. One of the best things about Lionshead is all the beers have rebuses under the caps, which are always fun to figure out when you're sitting around and drinking.

Guest's picture
Nick

Trader Joe's also sells a 6 pack of beer called Name Tag Classic for $2.99! I've yet to find brews cheaper than that. My friends hate it but it gets the job done in my book.

Guest's picture
derek marcellus

KILLIANS IRISH RED or GTFO !

Guest's picture
Kasey

Great list - I love Boddingtons!

And I also agree - there's nothing wrong with PBR. Just ask Dennis Hopper ala "Blue Velvet."

What about any of the Leinenkugel's beers. Those are pretty inexpensive at least where I live (in WI where it's made) you can usually get it $6.99 for 6 pack of bottles.

Some of them are misses and others are hits. I'm not a fan of their Blueberry Wheat, but Creamy Dark is amazing, and pure and simple Honey Weiss is a classic.

Guest's picture
Guest from WI

I was also surprised not to see more WI made beers on the list. We have the best beer in the country! As far as cheap beers, Schlitz (since they went back to the original recipe) is also a very drinkable option.

Guest's picture
Jerry

I've become a huge fan of Boddington's. Very smooth.