Beer is, by and large, pretty cheap. For about 10 bucks, you can change the entire trajectory of your day without even resorting to the bottom shelf. It’s remarkable, really. Plus, beer isn’t, strictly speaking, absolutely necessary for human survival. It’s mostly optional. So I have very little patience for complaints about beer pricing. However, just because every single beer is a bargain in the grand scheme of things doesn’t mean that some aren’t even better deals than others. Presented below are eight of the beers that I find to be uncommonly good values. Please tell me which ones I’m wrong about and which others I missed.
Stone beers tend to have reasonable pricing across the board, especially now that Enjoy By is available in 6-packs, and this Belgian IPA is probably the best deal they offer. It’s simply Stone IPA fermented with funky yeast, which adds banana and clove and all that type of stuff to the tropical fruit, citrus, and bitter pine character of the original. A bomber of Cali-Belgique goes for around $5 near me in Boston, far cheaper than peers such as Green Flash Le Freak and Allagash Hugh Malone.
St. Bernardus Abt 12
This is one of the more expensive beers on the list at about $11 per 750 ml bottle, but there’s really no such thing as a cheap Belgian quad, and this one is alleged to taste nearly identical to the famed (and exorbitantly expensive on the after-market) Westvleteren 12. I’ve never had the Westy myself, but I can confirm that St. Bernardus 12 is fantastic, and well worth the price.
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Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout
I had a disturbing number of mediocre imperial stouts last winter, so this year I might play it conservative with one of my favorite styles and just stick to proven winners. It’s hard to do better in this category than a $9 bomber of 9.5-percent ABV Yeti, which has all of the coffee, chocolate, tar, and leather you want from a Russian imperial stout.
Pabst Blue Ribbon
We’ve moved beyond fretting over what is or isn’t a hipster beer, right? Please tell me we’re past that. PBR is still what it’s always been: a perfectly serviceable American pale adjunct lager whose sixer costs a buck or two less than the competition.
Allagash Little Brett
Man, how far in the bag for Allagash does a blogger have to be to find a way to shoe-horn one of America’s most expensive breweries into a bargain beer list? Allagash’s flagship White costs about the same per 4-pack as your average craft 6-pack, and the prices only rise from there, but this new year-round wild ale is still a great value at about $13 per 4-pack. It’s rich and earthy and funky, with a bright pineapple edge from a Mosaic dry-hop. I haven’t found a similarly complex, rewarding brettanomyces beer for anything close to the price.
Alchemist Heady Topper
It’d be fun to create an anti-resumé on which you detail all the reasons you’re unqualified for your line of work. The top item on mine would reveal that I’m a longtime professional copyeditor who doesn’t really have a firm grip on how to conjugate lay and lie. Then next up is the fact that I’m a New England-based beer writer who has never set foot in the state of Vermont. But! I’ve had a fair bit of Heady Topper in my day, because I have nice friends who like to drive and wait in lines, and therefore I am qualified to report that yeah, sure, it’s great. Is it the best IPA in the world? Well, it’s not my favorite, but it’s certainly in the top five percent. And it still only costs $14 for a 4-pack of tallboys, which isn’t cheap in absolute terms, but it’s a great bargain when you consider what the market will bear. The $14 4-pack of 16-ounce cans is a ubiquitous and despicable fact of New England beer life these days, and Heady gets the blame for inventing it but also credit for not cashing in even harder. Places you’ve never heard of, and for good reason, charge just as much for their own weak imitators, but the original hasn’t pushed the price as far as it could. Kudos, I guess.
Founder’s Backwoods Bastard
Founder’s is a fantastic brewery, and this is probably its best beer and definitely its best bargain. Kentucky Breakfast Stout is quite some goddamn thing, no doubt, but it’s been replicated and maybe even surpassed. Devil Dancer is also great, but it degrades fairly quickly; I love Blushing Monk, but it’s $18 a bottle. Backwoods Bastard has no equal as a barrel-aged Scotch ale. You can get 6 bottles for about $15. That’s nuts.
Noted beer villain Andy Crouch put it best:
The balls on craft brewers to charge double the price of Rochefort 10 or Orval. I'll never understand.
— Andy Crouch (@BeerScribe) January 21, 2016
Belgian-inspired American breweries should think thrice before trying to compete with Orval at $5 per bottle.