The Beer Hacker: Best of the cheap beers?

At the risk of using an inflammatory headline, “cheap beers” seemed easier to convey than what I really mean: American macrobrewed light lagers. Yes, the Millers, the Buds, the Coors… if you have to drink them (say you find yourself at a party with only the cheap stuff), which one(s) should you choose?

I thought this would be an amusing topic to write about for my first “Beer Hacker” column, though I kind of wish I’d written it to be timely with the Super Bowl. Ah, well, better late than never.

10 cheap beersThe beers I selected are what you’d typically find at your local grocery/convenience store/bodega: Miller (Genuine Draft, Lite and High Life), Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Keystone Light, Rolling Rock, and Corona. To get at the best of the bunch I’m tapping the collective resource of the web—namely, the BeerAdvocate and RateBeer websites.

I’ll be utilizing these two sites quite a lot for my Beer Hacker columns, I think. Between them, you can find nearly any brewery and beer out there, and their rating systems give you a fantastic overall view of a particular beer—which I’ve usually found to be quite accurate. In a word, they rock.

Unsurprisingly, none of these beers has high scores on either site, so obviously they have to be judged on their relative merits: what turns out to be the “best” beer of this group will still be an order of magnitude lower in the rating scale than a decent microbrew.

Let’s examine the scores, in alphabetical order:

(out of 100)
(out of 5)
Bud Light 61 1.2
Budweiser 67 1.39
Coors Light 62 1.33
Corona Extra 65 1.71
Keystone Light 65 1.31
Miller Genuine Draft 67 1.63
Miller High Life 73 1.66
Miller Lite 66 1.42
Pabst Blue Ribbon 74 1.75
Rolling Rock 71 2.09

We can see from these scores that BeerAdvocate’s top three are PBR, Miller High Life and Rolling Rock; RateBeer’s are Rolling Rock, PBR and Corona. The two sites dovetail pretty well; both Bud Light and Coors Light are in the bottom of the list.

My own subjective experience backs this up. (Don’t you just love subjectivity?) Regular readers probably know PBR is my preferred macro lager, and Coors Light is just nasty. And Miller High Life is “the champagne of beers,” so it’s no surprise that it rated highly. :)

Let’s translate these scores into something more friendly. Using the highest-rated beer for each site, I “graded” each one on a curve, and sorted in order from high score to low score (I used the 5-point scale BeerAdvocate also uses on the back-end of their scoring system, which skews their original numbers a bit):

BeerAdvocate RateBeer
PBR 100% Rolling Rock 100%
Miller High Life 99% PBR 84%
Rolling Rock 93% Corona 82%
MGD 85% Miller High Life 79%
Keystone 84% MGD 78%
Miller Lite 82% Miller Lite 68%
Bud 81% Bud 67%
Corona 76% Coors 64%
Coors 70% Keystone 63%
Bud Light 68% Bud Light 57%

That seems pretty clear to me. The main variance I notice between the two datasets is the higher ranking of Corona on the RateBeer side. Corona is easily one of those beers that can go either way—it tends to get skunked easily due to being bottled in clear glass—so it’s no real surprise. Personally, I can drink Corona without complaint, as long as it’s not skunked.

So, when presented with the American macrobrewed light lager (and no other choices!), you should choose something from (arbitrarily) the top three whenever possible: Pabst, High Life, Rolling Rock, and maybe Corona. The numbers don’t lie! :)

One comment

  1. After reading your article I must disagree on your remarks about coors and coors lite. The important thing to note with coors is that it must be stored and shipped almost ice cold. Many stores and people make the mistake of letting it get warm, then storing it cold or warm, which causes it to "skunk" . If you ever have the chance to get to Colorado give one a try and you will be pleasantly suprised. Personally I prefer an MGD if I can’t get a good coors. Also, I am stationed in Germany, so I don’t need to drink the "horse piss" american beers, except when I come back stateside to visit friends and family. Over here I drink a ‘dunkel" called Alten Munster (get the green label which has more hopps, but this is seasonal). For a Pils I drink Bitburg Sun or Bitburg. A good Weisbiere is always good, doesn’t really matter which brewer.

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