For many, the words cheap and beer may stir up memories of old Budweiser commercials or keggers that lasted well beyond college. But since those initiating experiences, the massive industry has evolved and made way for the rise of craft beers, microbrews, barrel finishes, and coveted limited-edition bottles.
Don’t get us wrong: IPAs, ube-sweetened purple beers, rich stouts, and sours all have their place in our hearts. But there’s nothing more satisfying than a refreshing ale that can be found anywhere for just a few dollars. That said, a little help goes a long way, so we asked 10 bartenders from across the country for their top picks. From gas station finds to grocery store staples, here are the most underrated cheap beers according to the experts.
- Miller High Life pony
- Genesee Cream Ale
- Negra Modelo
- Medalla Light
“There are very few things that I’m passionate about more than ‘shitty’ delicious beer. Also love a good pairing with them as well: Miller High “pony” and a shot of mellow corn that tastes like movie theater popcorn!” — Travis Tober, bartender, Nickel City, Austin, Texas
“My most underrated cheap beer is the Miller High Life pony. There’s just something fun about holding a tiny, crisp, and crushable beer that doesn’t have time to get warm.” — Ian Lindsay, general manager, Bodega, Charleston, S.C.
“I’ve got two underrated cheap beers. One is Tecate in a can. It’s super clean and is great for all backyard barbecues, river tubing, beaching, and other warm-weather shenanigans. It’s also a great choice for Micheladas. I also love Miller High Life ponies; those little bottles ensure that it’s a cold and quick one. I also like to take a couple of sips, pop in a little Aperol for a little redneck spritz action.” — Kimberly Patton-Bragg, bartender, Palm & Pine, New Orleans
“In my opinion, the most underrated cheap beer is Genesee Cream Ale. It’s lightly herbal, smooth, and creamy with just a touch of sweetness, yet it finishes dry and crisp, and very refreshing!” — Paula Lukas, beverage consultant and bartender, New York City
“I’d love to give a shout-out to the folks at Genesee Brewing Company. I’m from upstate N.Y. and this regional favorite beer was ubiquitous throughout college because it was delicious and we could all afford it! The nostalgia and crisp, refreshing taste keeps me coming back.” — Benjamin Brown, bartender, Porchlight, NYC
“I would have to say 100 percent Medalla Light is definitely the choice for me. On top of it being one that you generally don’t think of or see often at bars, it always delivers on refreshment and flavor. It’s light but creamy, has beautiful bubbles, and when super cold and drunk in hot weather, it helps you feel like the heat is manageable. It takes me back to Puerto Rico, sitting in one of my favorite divey bars, El Batey.”— Michael Aredes, bartender, The Garret Coctelería/Bandits, West Village, NYC
“The most underrated cheap beer is Negra Modelo.The dark lager as a category doesn’t get enough love. It’s just as refreshing and crushable as its light brethren, but with added roasty-toasty complexity. It’s insanely versatile, pairing as well with fish tacos as it does with roast chicken or grilled vegetables, and is equally welcome during a hot afternoon at the beach as it is at 2 a.m. after a long shift. Modelo light gets all the love in the cheap beer debates but to me, dark is where it’s at.” — Jack Schramm, bartender and co-owner of Solid Wiggles
“As a PNW native, the quintessential cheap beer for me is Rainier. Whether I was cheering on the Mariners at a dive bar with friends, or having a beach bonfire during the few weeks of epic summer weather, Rainier was the beer to have in hand. Microbrews come and go, but nothing beats an ice-cold Vitamin R.” — Dannika Underhill, beverage director, Paradisaea, San Diego
“My favorite cheap beer is Chang. I don’t drink beer often, but when it’s mid-summer, you’re sweating your ass off, and maybe digging into something spicy to eat, there is simply no competitor for an ice-cold Chang. It’s simple, it’s thirst-quenching, and has a whisper of sweetness. My dream is that more people start to drink Chang so it appears on more menus! Also, the elephants on the label are cute as hell.” — Alicia Ekeler, director of tasting rooms, Lieb Cellars & Bridge Lane Wine, Mattituck, N.Y.