The craft beer revolution has thoroughly swept through America. Even the least beer-friendly stores will have craft or local options on the crowded shelves. But you know what’s also on those shelves? Cheap macro beer. It always has been there and it always will be. It’s time to accept the inevitability and choose the best of the worst.
For this list, we narrowed it down to full-calorie beers, because if you’re counting calories while drinking beer, you’re already too far gone for us to help you choose. Full calorie doesn’t mean these beers are heavy, though. Some of them are actually lower on the calorie count than some light beers, thanks to the low alcohol content. But these also aren’t marketed as “light” (or “lite”) beers, and in many cases, there’s a lighter option.
Here are 11 of the cheapest full-calorie American macro beers, ranked from worst (never drink again) to best (fine, we’ll have one more).
Did you even know Natty Light has a huskier brother? If you didn’t, skip this and continue reading this list in blissful ignorance. Natural Ice (and it’s higher-alcohol sibling, “Natty Daddy”) are thick, syrupy, adjunct-filled, 6 percent alcohol by volume slammers that have “ice” in the name because you need to drink them ice cold to get them down. This goes for all beers with “ice” in the name. When it comes to cheap beer, the less taste the better. This could do with a little less.
Most people become familiar with Busch in college, where it’s often referred to as “Busch Heavy” rather than simply Busch, and typically sits in a cooler of Natty Daddies, Steel Reserve, and Bud Ice. That’s good company for this beer. It’s got a lot of corn sweetness, but the most noticeable flavor is a weak skunky taste. And no, the skunkiness doesn’t taste like it was put there on purpose.
Yuengling has more to it than your traditional macro lager, and also feels heavier. So cross out chugging, if that’s your cheap-beer goal. It’s malty, toasty, and sweet, but it also tastes like parts of the metal tank got into each can and keg. It’s not available in every state, but if you can’t get it where you are, don’t worry, you’re only missing out on a middling cheap beer.
Miller High Life
Lots of people swear by Miller High Life, a.k.a. the Champagne of Beers, when it comes to cheap and macro, but that might be more for appearances than how it actually tastes. Not everyone likes the faint whisper of armpit flavor left in the mouth, but it goes great when chugged as a boilermaker with a shot of Jack Daniels.
Want to feel like an aging man from the North? Grab an Old Milwaukee. The beer is made by Pabst Brewing Company and comes in cans that look straight out of a commercial form the 1970s. It also won an award in 2001 from the Great American Beer Festival. Really. It’s got less adjunct rice and corn flavors than the big guys, but it has a slightly metallic acid taste instead. The metallic acid isn’t so off-putting that you never want to have another one again, but it’s there. In the end, it goes down easy. There’s not much more to say than that.
Ah, Milwaukee’s Best, a.k.a. the “Beast.” It’s a beer renowned for its chuggability and its prevalence at college tailgates and fraternity houses. Milwaukee’s Best is better than Old Milwaukee — sorry, nostalgia-loving bandwagoners. This beer has earned its position on the list because it actually tastes like beer. Of course, if you really want something that is relatively cheap and tastes like beer, there are plenty of local craft options out there. Keep Milwaukee’s Best for keggers.
The King of Beers is only the king in sales, not taste. Business practices of its parent company, AB InBev, aside, Budweiser is a perfectly middling beer. If there’s only one thing we could ever say about Budweiser, it’s that it’s always there. Literally, always. There’s a sweet rice aftertaste and not much else, but if that’s what you’re looking for, go ahead and buy the cans with the bowtie.
Coors Banquet is by far the best heavy macro beer out there. Sure, that’s like being named America’s least-hated corporate overlord, but take a win where you can get one. It’s an adjunct, which means there’s plenty of cheap corn in there taking the place of grains like barley, but it’s an adjunct with some lasting flavor. Kind of. If you consider heavy carbonation and sweet corn flavors something desirable (or at least desirable enough to crush a couple cans by the barbecue). Just don’t save it for 32 years before drinking it. It doesn’t work.
Pabst Blue Ribbon
Don’t call us hipsters. Yes, PBR’s artist-inspired tall boy cans have taken over Brooklyn and faux dive bars around the country, but when matched up against the rest of this lot, it’s a fine and dandy beer for $2 a can. It’s watery, slightly grainy, cheap as hell, and easy to find. You don’t have to have a mustache or wear flower-patterned short sleeve button-ups to drink this, but it does seem to taste better in places with dim lighting and sticky floors.
Rolling Rock is undeniably refreshing on a hot summer day when you really want to get rolling. In California, 36-pack cans get the party started, but if you get it in bottles, it looks a little classier and people might mistake it for an import. Rolling Rock is a beer that’s honest with you. It cops up to the fact that it uses both rice and corn as adjuncts. It’s light as carbonated water, and at only 4.4 percent alcohol by volume, it kind of tastes like sweetened water, too.
We could go on and on about the accolades of Narragansett’s pop culture cache (Jaws) and prep boy sailing cred (blame the New England lifestyle), but this list is about taste. Narragansett is the best tasting cheep beer out there. It can clean your palate after a briny oyster, quench your thirst after a marathon of sailing the high seas, and wash away the taste of a bad day. It’s less sweet than many of the other beers on this list, and tends to lean more toward tasteless than tasteful (see above statement about less is more for cheap beer).