Jan 26, 2015

A commoner’s 15 favorite classic American beers

Drinking on a commoner’s budget (particularly when the commoner is unemployed) is a lot like travelling on a commoner’s budget – sometimes you have to settle for cheaper accommodations and hope to discover a few diamonds in the rough along the way. 

With that in mind, I was recently inspired by a friend who forwarded me a list of classic cheap American beers, ranked in order of the author’s preference, which first appeared on the Thrillist website.  The author ranked 36 old-school beers your Dad might have drank, from suckiest to least-suckiest.  I was impressed by the detail put into the article, even if I didn't necessarily agree with some of the reviews.  Of course, each person’s taste buds are different.     

So, I decided to share my own list of 15 favorite cheap American beers and why I like them.  It also gave me something fresh to write about as I’m travelling less these days while I’m *ahem* in between jobs.    

Some of these beers are admittedly harder to find than others.  But most tend to be less expensive than mega-brews like Budweiser, Miller Lite and Coors Light.  In some cases, they’re considerably less expensive.  To paraphrase my friend Terry Hupp, “You can’t afford not to drink them.” 

I also tried to apply a rule that the beer had to have been around at least as long as I have.  In other words, “Would my Dad have possibly enjoyed this at his favorite dive bar?”  So, sorry, Abita Amber, you’re still my all-time favorite beer but you’re too young to make this list. 

Finally, I tried to limit my list to 10 but simply couldn't.  I enjoy cheap, crappy beers way more than I should, I suppose.  And don’t be offended if your favorite isn't on the list. I may have never tried it, or even heard of it.  But I’m willing to become more educated.  With that in mind, I begin with …  

15. Blatz:  I though this beer was lost to the ages until I rediscovered it (on tap!) in Lemont, Ill., a couple of years ago (thanks to Miller and Pabst for bringing it back!).  If your body can resist the “Blatz splatz,” I suggest you have a light, slightly malty taste of history whenever you can find it.  Just don’t tempt fate with more than a couple, though. 

14. Falls City:  I first “enjoyed” this beer about a dozen years ago while on a beer run in Glasgow, Ky.  The town was in a dry county, so we had to drive about 40 minutes into Bowling Green, home of Western Kentucky University.  I thought I was getting a deal when I purchased a six-pack of this Louisville-based brew for $1.49.  I wasn't.  I figured the taste that takes some getting used to was the reason why I could no longer find it a few years ago, but happily it’s back after a brief hiatus.  If for no other reason, I ranked it because I learned Falls City was a great choice for washing down that famous salt-cured ham you find throughout Kentucky.  

13. Rolling Rock:  This would have scored a lot higher on my list if Anheuser-Busch hadn't purchased the brand a few years ago.  Maybe it’s missing that Pennsylvania spring water, but I feel it’s just not quite as smooth and easy-drinking as it once was.  Still, the green bottle appeals to me when I’m looking for a cold beer on a summer night.    

12. Little Kings Cream Ale:  I find these slightly skunky (or maybe it just sat on the shelf for a while) with a truly mild, creamy finish.  And the little seven-ounce bottles are just hard to resist when you see them on a display case in your liquor store.  It’s like they’re inviting you to say, “What the hell?  There’s always room for at least one Little Kings.”  

11. Lone Star:  If I judged Lone Star on my first experience drinking it, I wouldn't have considered it for this list.  But when I found myself drinking Lone Star on my most recent trip to Austin, it seemed like perfect lager for a Sixth Street pub crawl or live music at the Continental Club.  Just be sure to drink a fresh one. 

10. Colt 45:  I know it’s technically a malt liquor, but I like the taste, pure and simple.  Those 24-ounce and 40-ounce bottles are also perfect for filling up those glasses when your party calls for a game of Flippy Cup. 

9. Dixie:  At one time, Dixie was my favorite beer to drink, period.  It’s wonderfully light, crisp, refreshing and slightly sweet.  Then, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the brewery and those Louisiana cypress wood barrels used for the aging process, which I always felt gave the beer a flavor unique to the industry.  The recipe is still a damn good one, though.  It’s currently contracted out to another brewer in Wisconsin, so thankfully I can still taste something close to the original Dixie whenever I can find it.    

8. Pabst Blue Ribbon:  This was the first beer my Dad made me try when I was in college.  He drove a semi for a living and left me and my roommate a refrigerator full of it that he could not take with him on the road.  He did not, however, warn us about the “Pabst Splats.”  The taste of PBR still makes me feel like an old man (and now, perhaps, I really am).  I still like to think someone gave it a blue ribbon once for a very good reason, and not every beer can claim that.   

7. Coors:  By contrast, my Dad always referred to Coors as “Rocky Mountain pee water.”  I was determined to find out if that was true or not.  My palette passed the test, and I fell in love with the taste, which I always felt was slightly sweeter and more malty than standard-bearers Budweiser and Miller.  To this day, in my opinion, the “original banquet beer” beats its light beer brother by a country mile.  You simply do not host a banquet without having Coors on hand.    

6. Miller High Life:  I love how Miller High Life is considered “the champagne of bottled beers” because if you drink enough of them, you’ll have the headache to prove it.  It’s easy to let that happen; the High Life is just about the smoothest, easiest drinking beer I’ve ever encountered.  Anytime I feel like drinking my first beer quickly, I reach for the High Life.

5. Old Style:  There’s only one beer to drink if you want it fully kräusened … or if you want to be fully kräusened yourself.  And there’s only one beer I want to drink at Wrigley Field.  Drinking Old Style helps you appreciate all things Chicago just a little more, which is ironic since Old Style has always been brewed in Wisconsin.    

4. Shiner Bock:  I've loved the iconic bock-style of Shiner long before the brewery expanded its output.  It used to be hard to find outside of the southwest, and Memphis was the closest place to my hometown where I could purchase it.  Now, Shiner has so many offshoots, it’s almost like the company is threatening to achieve “craft beer” status.  Admittedly, I like some of them, but none are better than what I consider the classic Shiner.  One positive result of the brewer’s recent popularity boom is that I can now find it just about anywhere.  Heck, there are places in Springfield, Ill., that now have Shiner on tap, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.    

3. Stag:  I can’t imagine walking into a small town dive bar or VFW hall in Illinois without ordering a Stag.  It’s easy-drinking, it’s refreshing, it’s flavorful, and it’s a genuine man’s beer (but I do greatly admire female Stag drinkers, too).  It’s also reportedly a good beer for diabetics to enjoy due to its low sugar content.  But who needs a better reason than its taste? 

2. Yuengling:  Aside from Abita Amber, if there’s one beer I’m loading up my car trunk with before I return from a road trip, it’s Yuengling.  America’s oldest brewery, from Pottsville, Penn., also happens to produce one of America’s most refreshing lagers, which is actually a little amber in color.  It’s probably no coincidence that I like it almost as much as Abita Amber then.  It’s also very hard  -- if not impossible – to find in Illinois, which probably makes it seem all the more tasty whenever I have the opportunity to drink one. 

1. Hamm’s:  Maybe it’s the mystique of the land of sky blue waters.  Maybe it’s the cartoon bear.  Or maybe it’s the feeling that I get more bang for my buck with Hamm’s than any other cheap American beer (we’re talking about $13 for a 30-pack of cans!).  I love the golden taste of the grains involved in the brewing process, the clean finish and the slightly malty aftertaste.  It’s easy to drink.  It quenches a thirst.  I could try to over-analyze why else Hamm’s is my favorite “crap” beer, but what other reasons are needed? 

Have a favorite crappy beer I didn't mention or one you feel outclasses all of these?  Let me know about it.  Like I mentioned earlier, I'd love to do more research.   

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