Budget-Friendly Beer: Where to Find the Cheapest Ales, Lagers and Stouts
There’s something about the sound of cracking open an ice-cold beer. And somehow, the beer tastes even better when you know it was a great deal, doesn’t it?
Whether you’re enjoying a reward after a hard day's work or stocking up for a holiday party, we’re here to help you make the most of your beer budget. Note that a few of these recommendations only hold true in in states that allow alcohol sales in grocery stores; if you want to buy your beer at Walmart, you’d better not live in Delaware or Wyoming.
Here’s our guide to cheap beer: the good, the bad and the ones you probably don’t want to waste your money on.
Trader Joe's Beer
If you haven't been to a Trader Joe's yet, don't put off your visit because of the common but mistaken impression that it's like Whole Foods. Yes, they have organic and fair-trade products, but there are no $35 loaves of bread here. You'll find inexpensive healthy foods and . . . beer!
That's right: Trader Joe's offers a selection of tasty beers at decent prices. To get right to the cheapest, try their Simpler Times Lager. With an alcohol content of 5.5%, this isn't a lightweight beer, and at my local TJ's it costs 67 cents per can!
Better beers (from more complicated times) cost more of course, but they generally cost less than they do elsewhere.
In the battle of cheap beer, as in most price wars, Walmart is the winner. Whether you want Amstel, Budweiser or Corona (the ABC's of beer?) you'll need a great sale somewhere else to beat the regular price at Walmart. And they carry the really cheap brands too!
For example, Natural Ice, with an alcohol content of 5.9%, sells at our local Walmart for $2.97 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans. In case you haven't tried this brand, here what beer connoisseur Will Gordon says about it: "The soggy cardboard sensation fades after the first several cans, turning Natty Ice into a serviceable alternative to sobriety."
Okay, not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it is better (and cheaper) than many other options.
Another cheap beer that you can find at Walmart is Milwaukee's Best. It shows up in third place out of ten cheap beers in one taste test.
Total Wine (and Beer)
The name of the chain is Total Wine and More, and the "more" includes beer -- a lot of it. Some of their stores carry over 2,000 different beers. Total Wine is not the cheapest place to buy the most common beers. If you want a case of Coors or Busch, go to Walmart and you'll save at least a buck or two.
On the other hand, if you like to try imports and microbrews on a budget -- or you want to impress your guests -- Total Wine is the place to go.
Why? They carry hundreds of beers that you can buy one can at a time. You don't have to invest in a case or even a six-pack to discover that a Vietnamese Lager or German Schofferhofer Hefeweizen or a pumpkin beer isn't quite right for you. For $10 to $20, you can mix and match a six-pack of different beers and have a beer-tasting party.
The question of which beer is "cheapest" depends on your perspective. If all you want is a beer in your hand after work, simply watch for sales on regular-sized cans. Even our local drugstore occasionally discounts some beers to $2.97 for a six-pack, which makes them less than 50 cents per can. That beats even Walmart prices.
But if you're a more-scientifically minded frugal beer drinker, you'll want to know which beer provides the most alcohol for your money. We might refer to that as the lowest cost per buzz. And the winner of that contest (at least where this writer lives), is...
Steel Reserve! This beer lets you know right off the bat that it’s 8.1% alcohol. And it's not that bad. Just add a wedge of lime or three and pretend it's a Corona! Walmart sells a four-pack of 16 ounce cans for $2.97. Here's the math:
A total of 64 ounces times 8.1% equals 5.184 ounces of alcohol. Divide the price of $2.97 by 5.184 and you arrive at a cost of 57 cents per ounce for the actual alcohol content.
For comparison, let's look up the alcohol content of Milwaukee's Best, which is often considered to be the cheapest of beers. It has an alcohol content of 4.5%, and the cheapest way to buy it at Walmart is to get an 18-pack of 12-ounce cans for $10.47.
That works out to $1.07 per ounce for the actual alcohol content -- almost twice as much as Steel Reserve. Now you know.
One more way to save money on beer? Try volunteering at a craft beer festival. It doesn’t get any cheaper than free.
Your Turn: What's the cheapest beer you've bought, and was it any good?