Think Cheap Beer Means Bad Beer? Our Taste Test Results May Surprise You

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Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

You scour the newspaper inserts for coupons and always hunt for the best prices on groceries.

But do you try to save money on beer? Or do you figure an ice-cold brew is a splurge, an occasional luxury?

If your answer is the latter, you might be missing out on some of the coolest deals at your local big-box or grocery store.

Store-brand items are no longer limited to pantry staples, soups and other go-to items. Many retailers are now selling their very own brewskis.

But do they stack up to name-brand beers on price? How about taste?

A few beer lovers from our office taste tested four mystery beers to see if they could tell which was the name brand and which were generic beers. What we found may surprise you.

Trader Joe’s Simpler Times Lager

cheap beer

Penny Hoarder writer Lisa Rowan sips a beer during a taste in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Six-pack (cans)

$3.99 plus tax; 67 cents per can

Trader Joe’s Simpler Times Lager has an adorable can design that’s void of much information.

While the price is right at just 67 cents per can, the experience left a lot to be desired. Tasters’ comments included:

“Tastes like the beer I’ve played every round of beer pong with.”

“Nothing special, but doesn’t taste bad.”

“Water.”

Though our testers thought this brew was weak on taste, its 6.2% alcohol by volume was the highest alcohol concentration of all our samples.

Aldi Bacher Lager

cheap beer

Various beers sit on ice during a taste test at The Penny Hoarder offices. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Six-pack (bottles)
$5.99 plus tax; $1 per bottle

Aldi’s imported Bacher Lager is “brewed in accordance with the German purity law” and “crafted from untouched pure water sourced from a natural spring,” according to its label.

Staff reactions ranged from “Oh man, no, that’s bad,” to “I could actually smell this,” to “It tastes more like a beer.”

Despite the lukewarm reception, Bacher Lager had a more robust flavor than some of the competition. Props to hops for showing up in this round.

Yuengling Lager

cheap beer

A pint glass of Yuengling Lager is pictured at The Penny Hoarder offices. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Six-pack (bottles)

$6.99 plus tax; $1.16 per bottle

While we pitted similar lager beers against one another, it was easy to tell that American classic Yuengling was not quite like the others. It had a darker, caramel color, stronger scent, and more memorable flavor. This traditional lager is from America’s Oldest Brewery, according to the label.

(Although Yuengling has been a topic of discussion in our tumultuous political climate, rest assured — we included this beer for its familiar name, not for its CEO’s political stance.)

While those who guessed they were sipping Yuengling liked the old standard, those who couldn’t put their taste buds on the brand name had a different reaction.

Self-described beer snob and Senior Writer Mike Brassfield scoffed, “I expected to like this more,” before doubling down and declaring: “This tastes like soap. I don’t like that at all.”

Walmart’s Trouble Brewing Red Flag Amber Ale

cheap beer

Walmart’s Trouble Brewing Red Flag Amber Ale and other beers wait on ice. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

12-pack (cans)
$12.96 plus tax; $1.08 per can)

Walmart’s beer cans are so charming — you’d never guess this brew comes from America’s biggest retailer. But Walmart has come under fire for displaying its Trouble Brewing beers with other craft brews, even though they allegedly don’t meet craft standards.

But when our own taste test rolled around, no one suspected Red Flag Amber to be a Walmart beer.

Video Manager Michael House and I each spent way too long trying to name the beer’s unique flavor, with him calling it a “floral” sweetness and me suggesting “a citrus something?” with a shrug.

The two of us, never to be beer professionals in our next careers, preferred this selection over the rest.

“It’s pretty smooth, but it leans toward the flat side,” Senior Audience Analyst Mark Bolden said.

How to Get the Best Price on Beer, Regardless of Your Favorite Brand

As you might have gleaned from our taste test, beer is highly subjective – and a fancy label doesn’t necessarily mean fancy taste.

It might take some experimentation to find what beers meet your taste and budget expectations. Try our tips for saving on craft beer. If saving simply isn’t enough, and you want to earn while you sip, check out six ways to earn when you buy booze.

Your Turn: Have you tried the beers we tasted at our office? Which is your favorite?

Lisa Rowan is a writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder. Get your super-hoppy double IPA away from her.