You don't need to shake out your piggy bank to afford great-tasting beer. Gas stations and grocery stores alike are loaded with affordable lagers, IPAs, stouts, and wheat beers that deliver plenty of flavor and aroma. Of course, the phrase “cheap beer” is pretty subjective. One drinker’s bargain may be another drinker's splurge. To find a most delicious middle ground, we asked experts to pick favorite beers that don’t sacrifice flavor for the sake of affordability, so you can acquire better-tasting beer without busting your budget.
Here are the best cheap beers.
Coors Banquet Lager Beer
When it comes to cheap beer, one lager stands atop the mountain for Max Shafer, head brewer at Roadhouse Brewing Co. in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
“After long trips in the wilderness or just a long day at the brewery, you better believe I will have a Banquet in my hand,” Shafer says.
Coors Banquet delivers the full sensory experience, starting with the stubby bottle’s iconic yellow label and red cap. The lure goes beyond looks, though—it's one of the best-tasting cheap beers around. Shafer lauds the beer’s slight yet balanced sweetness and perfect carbonation, creating “an insanely crushable liquid” and “beer of choice for me at tailgates, après-skiing, a cooler in my raft, or an entire shelf in the beer fridge in my garage. Name a better cheap beer. I’ll wait.”
Price at time of publish: $9
Runner-Up, Best Overall
Miller High Life American Lager Beer
Get a gaggle of brewers together in a bar, and chances are good they’ll order Miller High Life. It's the go-to beer for most brewers, says Doug Hasker, brewmaster at Puesto Cervecería in San Diego. Jared Williamson, lead brewer at Schlafly Beer in St. Louis, likes High Life because it’s a “simple and clean quaffer.”
The so-called Champagne of Beers was first brewed in 1903, remaining an enduring classic thanks to its blend of malted barley, the brewery’s own yeast strain, and Galena hops that impart a clean bitterness. "It's also a perfect pretension-free beer," says Tom Whisenand, CEO and owner of Indeed Brewing Company, headquartered in Minneapolis.
“We’ve never taken ourselves too seriously at Indeed and believe that there is a right time and place for just about any good beer,” Whisenand adds. After the workday ends at the satellite brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, “we often find ourselves at one of our favorite neon-lit watering holes nursing the Champagne of Beers until the wee hours of the night.”
Price at time of publish: $12
Miller Lite Lager Beer
Many beer drinkers cut their teeth on light lagers bought in bulk and consumed good and cold. I spent my college years crushing Natural Light and Busch Light, a beer that still holds a soft spot in my stomach and heart.
Todd DiMatteo, owner and head brewer of Good Word Brewing & Public House in Duluth, Georgia, recently fell under the spell of I.C. Light, a 95-calorie lager brewed in Pennsylvania. “I drank my weight three times over in I.C. Light but hardly broke the bank,” he says of the low-calorie sibling to Iron City Beer, the classic Pittsburgh lager.
If you’re unable to find I.C. Light, instead snag the always dependable Miller Lite. A touch of crystal malt lends the beer its rich golden color, while hops from the Pacific Northwest impart more flavor and aroma than you’d expect from a 96-calorie beer.
Price at time of publish: $15
Best Stout or Porter
Guinness Pub Draught Stout
Though dark beers tend to get pigeonholed in fall and winter, any month is ideal for drinking a stout or porter. If you’re around New York, Colm Kirwan, a partner at New York City beer bar The Jeffrey, favors the Black Duck Porter from Long Island brewery Greenport Harbor. Its “robust malt bill and roasted coffee and cocoa notes make it as fulfilling as they come,” he says.
For a national release, you’ll want to look to Guinness. It’s the “king of stouts,” Schlafly’s Williamson says of the “smooth and sessionable” Irish beer. The creamy beer can sometimes be overlooked by flashier newcomers, “but it’s just hard to beat a Guinness,” says Dan Fontaine, beer manager at Brick Store Pub in Decatur, Georgia. Need a refresher on the flavor? The velvety stout pairs a light body with a soft mouthfeel and is sweet up front but dries out for the finish.
Price at time of publish: $11
Bell's Two Hearted Ale
The aromatic IPA is our country’s most popular style of craft beer, made by almost every brewery in America. The most extravagantly hopped varieties can be pricey per four-pack, though a worthy splurge when you’re flush with cash. Don’t fret if you’re feeling a bit pinched; there are still plenty of worthy affordable options.
You can usually find Founders Brewing’s citrusy, low-alcohol All Day IPA for less, per 15-pack, and an equal volume of Goose Island’s piney, floral flagship IPA usually costs about the same. They’re both good for filling your fridge, but Fontaine, of Brick Store Pub, is a big fan of Two Hearted Ale from Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery.
"The 7 percent ABV IPA is what I go for when I want something with a little more punch than a pale ale,” Fontaine says. “Toffee sweetness and that earthy, floral Centennial hop note are great together and make Two Hearted Ale one of the best IPAs in the world.”
Price at time of publish: $12
Blue Moon Belgian White Wheat Ale
A great wheat beer can’t be beaten, balancing smoothness with boatloads of flavor. Many experts suggested a witbier, a Belgian style of wheat beer traditionally seasoned with orange peel and coriander. The Jeffrey’s Kirwan likes Brewery Ommegang’s Witte, which he calls “perfectly executed,” boasting notes of clove and citrus.
“This beer is just as enjoyable in 90-degree heat as it is on a chilly fall evening,” Kirwan says.
Puesto’s Hasker prefers Allagash Brewing’s White, which grabbed a gold medal at 2020’s prestigious Great American Beer Festival.
“Only the Belgians do it better,” Hasker says of the beer, made in Portland, Maine, since 1995.
If you’re looking to spend a little less money, you can’t go wrong with Blue Moon. The nationally available witbier drinks bright, citrusy, and slightly sweet thanks to the addition of Valencia orange peel. The 95-calorie Blue Moon LightSky is a terrific lighter option, too.
Price at time of publish: $20
Stiegl Grapefruit Radler
At their best, fruit beers incorporate berries, citrus, and other produce to create memorable refreshment. Puesto’s Hasker suggests Sea Dog Brewing’s Bluepaw Wheat Ale, a Maine-brewed wheat ale that’s packed with native wild blueberries. “If you’re going to drink fruit beers, this is the one,” Hasker says.
Personally, I like the brunch-friendly Schöfferhofer Grapefruit, an unfiltered German hefeweizen that’s blended with grapefruit juice for a tangy pick-me-up. Schlafly’s Williamson throws his support behind the Stiegl-Radler Grapefruit, an Austrian blend of lager and grapefruit soda. The 2 percent ABV makes it super-easy to drink several.
“Its flavor and aroma just pop, and it's so refreshing and consistent,” Williamson says.
Price at time of publish: $11
What to Look for in a Cheap Beer
Taste and Style
Picking a beer is all about taste, and how a beer tastes is determined very much by its style. Dark beer, such as stout and porter, has a strong, roasted, malted, or bitter flavor reminiscent of coffee. Lager, wheat beer, and IPA are lighter, often tangy beers, with notes of citrus, spice, or fruit. The season can also guide your beer choice. Many people prefer dark beers in the fall and winter and crisp, refreshing beers in the summer.
Calories and Alcohol Content
Beers labeled as “light” are lower in calories, and as a result, lower in alcohol content than regular, full-calorie beer. Light beers can have an alcohol content as low as 2.3 percent ABV compared to 4.1 percent to 5 percent ABV and more for regular beers. If you like a certain beer, see if there's a low-carb brew variety available.
Regardless of how little you pay, the beer should be fresh. Before you put it in your cart, check the "best by" date or "bottled on" stamp on the carton, can, or bottle and select the one that has been the most recently bottled. Also, make sure that you buy it from a place where the beer is stored properly because if exposed to heat, air, or light, beer can go bad before its expiration date.
Does all cheap beer have a low alcohol content?
Typically, cheap beer has a low alcohol content but not necessarily. Cheap beer comes in a wide range, from as low as 2.3 percent to 7 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). The alcohol content is specified on the bottle or can.
How can I make cheap beer better?
You can enhance the flavor by adding beer salt or cocktail bitters or use it as a basis for a beer mixed drink such as shandy or beer cocktails.
Why is corn syrup used in beer brewing?
Some breweries use corn syrup to feed the yeast during the fermentation process; others use rice to achieve the same goal: making alcohol through the fermentation of sugars. The corn syrup used in beer brewing, unlike high-fructose corn syrup, is not a sweetener.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Joshua M. Bernstein, the author of this piece, knows beer. He's penned five books on the subject, as well as articles for The New York Times, Wine Enthusiast, Men's Journal, and Imbibe. He interviewed six experts for this story.