Taste test: Budget beers for the Super Bowl

Feb. 1, 2013 at 6:47 PM ET

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Stocking a fridge for a game-day party is more about quantity than quality.

By Kara Reinhardt,

Some days call for a full-bodied, full-flavored beer enjoyed in long, slow sips. Super Bowl Sunday is not one of those days. Stocking a fridge for a game-day party is more about quantity than quality. Yet, you want to serve something worthy of a celebration and sufficient to dull the sting of a loss. That’s why Cheapism took on a task some might find enviable: sampling 19 brews, from low-calorie light beer to good, old American lager to so-called craft beer. The contenders were presented in that order, so more assertive flavors wouldn’t drown out subtle ones. Most of the beers were cheap (exact prices vary by location) and all were domestically produced and nationally distributed.

A panel of 13 beer fans surprised even themselves with their conclusions in the blind taste test. Here are their favorites:

  • Miller Lite ($7.99 for a six-pack of 16-ounce cans) emerged victorious in the lackluster light-beer division, where the entrants were judged flat, watery and flavorless overall. This brand stood out for tasting at least vaguely of hops. It’s a decent choice for anyone trying to limit their calorie intake.
  • Pabst Blue Ribbon ($4.79 for a six-pack of 16-ounce cans) beat out eight competitors -- many of them bigger names and bigger sellers -- to take the top spot among American lagers. Panelists considered this beer highly drinkable and enjoyed the mild, balanced flavor.
  • Natural Ice ($16.49 for a 30-pack of 12-ounce cans) was one of the cheapest beers in the bunch, at less than a nickel an ounce. Not one panelist had ever considered buying this brand and many were stunned to find they had declared it a favorite. Aficionados who have reviewed the beer online suggest that the light body and 5.9 percent alcohol by volume might hold more appeal than the taste, providing a quick, cost-effective route to a nice buzz.
  • Kirkland Signature IPA ($18.99 for a case of 24 12-ounce bottles) comes in a sampler from Costco, along with three other “handcrafted” beers. It triumphed over its compatriots, as well as a couple of brews with higher prices and more craft-beer cred, to take the top spot in that category. Like any India pale ale, this store-brand IPA put off some drinkers with its hoppy bitterness. Advocates appreciated the relatively complex, balanced flavor, which included notes of citrus.
  • Kirkland Signature German-Style Lager (see above) comes from the same Costco variety pack, which lets party guests choose their preferred style of beer. This one caters to drinkers who enjoy a bready and slightly sweet malt flavor. The tasting panel described it as smooth and rich.

A couple that missed the cut:

  • Miller High Life ($13.99 for 24 12-ounce bottles) was judged boring at best and resembling a certain other golden liquid at worst.
  • Rolling Rock ($4.99 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles) displays a light, crisp sweetness ruined by an aftertaste one panelist compared to eraser shavings.

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