Beer Geek

Think craft beer is too pricey? Try these budget brews

June 14, 2012 at 1:47 PM ET

Jim Galligan /
While they are more expensive that their mass-produced cousins, craft beer can still be affordable.

I was perusing the comments on last week’s column about craft beer in cans, when I realized that some readers think craft beer is only for people with a large disposable income:

“Some of us do not have a six figure income, you dolt,” wrote one commenter. “Why only fancy beers for the rich?” another questioned.

First off, I agree with the dolt comment – my wife can provide MANY examples. But I take issue with the idea that craft beer is for rich people. 

While craft beers cost more than their mass-produced cousins, you don’t need a six-figure income to explore the wonders of a good brew. Craft beers typically have more alcohol content than mass-produced industrial lagers, so a wise drinker is going to have fewer servings in a single session than someone drinking a fizzy yellow beer. Taking this into account, the cost might actually be closer than you think.

Story: Make your craft beer budget go far with a "stretch beer"  

Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch agrees. “Beer is an affordable luxury,” he told TODAY.com. “For about the same price as an average bottle of wine, you can enjoy a world-class craft beer.” And he’s right, as the best bottle of beer in the world (if anyone could actually agree upon what it might be) will probably set you back less than $20.00.  Try that with wine.

But you don’t have to spend that much for a wonderful “bomber,” the nickname given to a large 22-ounce bottle (almost double a traditional bottle). I went down to my local beer shop this weekend and found some very well made and affordable craft brews sitting on the shelves. Here are some of the best bombers I found and what they cost.

Stone Smoked Porter: $4.99

This 5.9% alcohol by volume (ABV) porter is a perfectly roasted treat that’s lovely to drink on its own, but also loves company. “It's one of the most food-friendly of our beers,” says Stone Brewing Co. CEO and co-founder Greg Koch. “It pairs effortlessly with an incredible array of food, from backyard barbequing, to luscious berry, chocolate, and cheesecake desserts. It also pairs quite well with nothing more than your favorite glass.”

That’s how I had it, and this dark beauty shined, providing a richly roasted but not overly smoky flavor that’s pretty light on its feet.

Stone Brewing Co. will soon be releasing two new varieties of the beer, one aged with vanilla beans and the other kicked up a notch with chipotle pepper.  Both flavors will be an awesome addition to this beer, but they’ll be a bit more expensive than the original Stone Smoked Porter. But still, vanilla and chipotle smoked porters!

Rukus Hoptimus Prime Double IPA: $5.49

Considering Hoptimus Prime’s aggressive balance of malts and hops and its slightly boozy finish, I’d call it above average. Considering its low price point, I’d call it a small miracle. It’s clear that some love went into making this 9.0% ABV Double IPA.

“You have to put quality ingredients into the beer — five hops and three malts — to make it a value,” said Ruckus Brewing Company’s vice president of operations Brad Mines. “We could cheapen it by using shortcuts, but we have not and we believe we have a great quality product for the price.” That value shines through when you taste the resinous grapefruit flavor of those five hop varieties ballasted by the hearty three-malt foundation of this brew. 

About that price, Mines warns that it fluctuates state-to-state along the eastern seaboard where Hoptimus Prime is distributed, so it might be a little more expensive where you live.  Regardless if it’s $5.49 or $6.49 a bottle, I’d still consider this one a steal.

Sam Adams Griffin’s Bow Oak Aged Blonde Barleywine Ale: $6.99

Griffin’s Bow is part of the Samuel Adams Small Batch Series, a collection that offers a lot of character at a low price point. “The Small Batch beers are limited-releases of our brewers’ favorite recipes and pet projects,” says Jim Koch.  “It’s about making these unique beers accessible and sharing our passion for craft beer.”

While this is the most expensive brew I picked up, it packs a ton of beer-geekery for under seven bucks. Griffin’s Bow is an 11.5% ABV barleywine, a blonde one no less, that’s been aged on oak. That’s a wonderfully weird and potent beer for the price, and it’s tasty to boot.

The rich and grassy nose provides only a hint of the huge gush of butterscotch that runs through the backbone of this beer.  This is followed by a mild hop bite and a warming in your chest that let’s you know you’re drinking a big brew..

These are only a few of the affordable craft brews I found sitting on the shelf at my local beer store. I also recommend checking out beers from Lagunitas, Bear Republic, Sierra Nevada and whoever brews in your neck of the wood – craft beer is usually cheaper the closer you get to the brewery.

Of course you might be happy with a 30 pack of Coors Light and that’s fine by me.  But if you have an interest in craft beer, there are quite a few inexpensive offerings that will tickle you palate with delight and expand your thoughts about what beer can be. A $5 bottle of wine will only keep you warm under an overpass. 

What are your favorite bargain craft beers?  Let us know below!

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