Over the past two decades, the craft beer world has exploded in the US. But just because there are more than 9,000 breweries (most of which are craft breweries) doesn’t mean drinkers have stopped buying mass-produced, little to no-frills, macro beers.
We understand completely. While we love a good, juicy, hazy, New England IPA or bourbon barrel-aged stout, there’s nostalgia surrounding some of the classic domestic beers. For many of us, they were the first beers we ever sipped. For some, they’re beers we continue to drink to this day when we want something simple, crushable, and refreshing that doesn’t cost $20 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans.
But just because there are so many macro brews at a similar price point doesn’t mean they all taste the same… does it? We’re on a mission to find out by taking ten of the most popular, similar tasting, cheap grocery store beers and doing a blind taste test to see if we can actually name them without peeking.
Here are the beers selected:
- Miller High Life
- Narragansett Lager
- Samuel Adams Boston Lager
- Yuengling Traditional Lager
- Coors Banquet Beer
- Pabst Blue Ribbon
- Busch Beer
- Natural Light
- Rolling Rock
Let’s get this cheap beer blind taste test started!
Part 1: The Taste
This beer smells a lot like corn and some grains, but really nothing else. It’s really sweet on the nose, almost overwhelmingly so. Sipping it was more of the same with some malts, a little hint of floral, slightly bitter hops, but a more sweet, sugary corn syrup flavor. It’s sweet, crushable, and corny.
There’s not much else going on with this beer, which shouldn’t be a surprise with this group.
Based on my drinking history, I guess this is Rolling Rock because it’s very light with little to no flavor. It’s pretty much just fizzy water and I haven’t had Rolling Rock in years, but that’s how I remember it.
The nose is filled with caramel corn, sweet malts, floral hops, and a slight fruity flavor. The palate is dominated by sweet corn, some grains, fruit esters, and a slight hit of citrus. It’s crisp, clean, and very crushable. A fairly well-rounded, yet light beer.
I’ve had my fair share of Budweisers over the years as I usually opt for the original over the fizzy water they called Bud Light. I’m going to guess this is Budweiser and I’m fairly certain I’m correct.
In a sea of super corny cheap beers, this beer’s nose begins with a dose of biscuit-like malts followed by caramel and then slight corn and some noble hops. The palate continues this trend with freshly-baked bread starting everything off, followed by caramel malts, sweet corn, and floral, slightly bitter hops. There’s also some fruit in there.
It’s very complex and refreshing.
The malt-forward flavor of this beer makes me think that it’s probably Coors Banquet. I’ve always enjoyed this beer because, while it has some corn flavor, it’s more malty and balanced than most of the grocery store staples.
Sweet grains, wet hay, corn, and some floral hops are present on the nose, but it’s fairly muted. The palate is extremely watery with some light grains, some floral hops, and a lot of sugary sweet corn. That’s it. It’s fizzy, watery, and has very little flavor.
I don’t think I’m surer about any beer on this list than this one. This is absolutely Natural Light. It’s fizzy, borderline flavorless, and crushable. That’s it. It couldn’t be anything else.
A heavy dose of sweet corn, wet grass, caramel-like malts, and wet grass met my nostrils when nosing. Sipping it, I found more floral hops, some bready malts, and a lot more sweet corn flavor. It’s crisp, dry, and very refreshing, but doesn’t have much substance to it.
This one is tricky as it tastes like sweet corn and fizzy water mixed together. It’s not terrible, there’s just not much to it. I guess that it’s Miller High Life, a crushable, easy-drinking, yet fairly bland beer.
Nosing it reveals some caramel candy, sweet grains, slight fruit esters, and a lot of sweet corn. The palate is similar with more notes of caramel candy, sugary corn, slight fruit esters, and some floral almost Noble hops at the finish. The finish is clean, light, and thirst-quenching.
It’s pretty much exactly what you hope for in a cheap grocery store beer.
This is a tough one for sure. I’m really having a tough time placing this one. It’s definitely a beer I’ve had many times before, but it’s fairly muted. I’ll go with Pabst Blue Ribbon because I honestly can’t think of anything else it could be.
There’s a ton of freshly baked bread present on this beer’s nose. Along with bready malts, I found caramel-like grains, ripe fruit, herbal hops, and some corn. On the palate, I found a gentle mix of wet hay, freshly cut grass, some corny sweetness, caramel malts, light fruit, and floral, slightly bitter hops. It’s crisp, clean, and very crushable.
I’ve been fairly certain with a few of the beers on this list, but if I get this wrong I’ll be really mad at myself. I believe this is Narragansett Lager and I know this because it’s the beer on this list I drink most often — meaning I’d better know what it tastes like.
Rice, corn, slight malts, and a little bit of fruity aroma on the nose is a decent start for a cheap beer. The flavor continues this trend with rice adjuncts, sweet corn, and slight fruit making an appearance. There’s a strange, slightly skunky, slightly sour tart element at the finish that’s both mysterious and intriguing. Not good though.
I haven’t had this beer in years, but I still get real Rolling Rock vibes from this sample. It’s the slightly tart, skunky, sour flavor that makes me think this.
This beer has a surprisingly complex nose of slight vanilla, dry hay, herbal hops, and a healthy dose of caramel malts. Drinking it, I found flavors of biscuity malts, sweet grains, caramel, and some slight hops at the very end to tie everything together. This is a pretty well-rounded beer.
This was a real toss-up between Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Yuengling Traditional Lager. I’ve had both of these beers over the years, but neither in quite a while. I’m probably going to embarrass myself here, but I’m picking Yuengling.
Caramel, bready malts, slight fruit esters on the nose. The palate is caramel-driver with notes of bread-like malts, biscuity malts, slight fruitiness, and herbal, floral, subtly bitter hops. It’s a fairly complex, well-balanced beer when it comes to cheap, grocery store offerings.
The combination of caramel malts, fruit esters, and bright, floral hops screams Samuel Adams Boston Lager. If I’m wrong, then I should probably stop guessing grocery store beers and just stick to drinking them.
Part 2: The Ranking
10) Natural Light — Taste 4 — GUESSED RIGHT!
Average Price: $12 for a twelve-pack
This beer was first introduced back in 1977, but in recent years it’s become the official beer of partying. It’s cheap, light, low in ABV, low calorie, and highly crushable. It’s no surprise this malty, corny, sweet beer has become a trendy beer choice.
This was by far the easiest beer to pick on this list. Natural Light is bland, flavorless, and watery. Unless you hate the taste of beer, stay away from this one. It’s just awful in every sense of the word.
9) Busch Beer — Taste 1 — GUESSED WRONG!
Average Price: $6 for a six-pack
Busch beer is the epitome of no-frills. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that this simple, refreshing beer has been made the same way since 1955. While it doesn’t list fancy ingredients like a craft beer, it’s made with “premium” hops, barley malt, grains, and water. That’s about it and that’s all you really need, right?
I guessed this beer as Rolling Rock. I guess I couldn’t place it because I haven’t had this borderline fizzy sugar water since my college years. It’s as flavorless and bland as it is cheap.
8) Pabst Blue Ribbon — Taste 5 — GUESSED WRONG!
Average Price: $6 for a six-pack of 16-ounce cans
Pabst Blue Ribbon should be the official beer of bowling alleys because we always see pitchers available there. This 4.8 percent beer is known for its crisp, easy-to-drink flavor. Yet another beer that won’t win awards for innovative flavors, it’s just a classic, simple beer.
I incorrectly guessed this was Miller High Life. It goes to show just how similar some of these beers are and the fact that it really isn’t easy to pick the right ones based solely on smell and taste. This beer doesn’t have much substance at all, but at least the can is cool.
7) Rolling Rock — Taste 8 — GUESSED RIGHT!
Average Price: $6.50 for a six-pack
Launched originally in 1939 by the Latrobe Brewing Company in Pennsylvania, this grocery store staple was purchased by Anheuser-Busch back in 2006. Available almost everywhere, this pale lager is known for its cheap price and simple green bottle, and light, crisp, refreshing flavor.
As with many of the samples, I wasn’t completely confident in my guess. I was glad to learn that even though I haven’t had Rolling Rock in at least a decade I can still at least vaguely remember the flavors. The flavors being those of weirdly tart and tangy, skunky, corn nonsense.
6) Miller High Life — Taste 6 — GUESSED WRONG!
Average Price: $6 for a six-pack
This beer is referred to as the “Champagne of beers” and, while you likely don’t want to toast this beer on New Year’s Eve, it’s still a refreshing, memorable beer. Launched in 1903, Miller’s flagship beer is brewed with malted barley, proprietary yeast, and Pacific Northwest hops.
Obviously, Miller High Life isn’t sparkling wine. But it is slightly fruitier than most of the other domestic lagers on this list and its crisp, dry finish makes it one of the better options from a pretty sorry lot. Sadly, I didn’t realize that and I incorrectly guessed Pabst Blue Ribbon.
5) Budweiser — Taste 2 — GUESSED RIGHT!
Average Price: $7 for a six-pack
Budweiser is touted as the “king of beers” and we get why it calls itself this moniker as it’s one of the most popular beers in the world. We say “one of” because China’s Snow is actually the most popular beer in the world. This classic pale lager is known for its balance and refreshing flavor.
Regardless of my bank account, the crisp, easy-drinking flavor of Budweiser has always had a place in my life. While some of these other beers might be hard to place on taste and nose alone, I’m not surprised I picked out this well-balanced beer.
4) Coors Banquet Beer — Taste 3 — GUESSED RIGHT!
Average Price: $7 for a six-pack
It’s called Coors Banquet beer and it’s the kind of beer we want to drink at a special banquet or all-you-can-eat buffet. Or just in our backyards after mowing the lawn. Brewed with specialty malts as well as Chinook, Hallertau, Herkules, and Taurus hops, it’s known for its crisp, well-balanced flavor profile.
When it comes to well-rounded cheap domestic beers, it’s really difficult to beat the complexity of Coors Banquet beer. It’s crushable but still has a nice mix of malts and hops. I’m proud of myself for correctly guessing this beer without a label.
3) Yuengling Traditional Lager — Taste 10 — GUESSED WRONG!
Average Price: $7 for a six-pack
Years ago, at a dive bar near Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, the cheapest beer on tap was Yuengling so we gave it a try. We didn’t regret our choice. This historic beer is known for its balance of flavor from being brewed with Cluster and Cascade hops as well as caramel malts.
How did I mess this up so bad? Proving that it’s never a good idea to blindly guess what beers you’re drinking, I flipped Yuengling and Samuel Adams. Even being wrong, this is still a flavorful, yet crushable beer.
2) Narragansett Lager — Taste 7 — GUESSED RIGHT!
Average Price: $6.50 for a six-pack of 16-ounce cans
The beer featured in ‘Jaws’ is way more than simply good product placement. Brewed since 1890, this award-winning lager is known for its crisp, crushable (hence the ‘crush it like Quint’ tagline) with more flavor than many of the other domestic adjunct lagers on the market. The best part? It’s still one of the cheapest.
When it comes to price to value ratio as well as the complexity of flavor, there’s no beating Narragansett. I was fairly sure this sip was this classic Rhode Island staple and it was.
1) Samuel Adams Boston Lager — Taste 9– GUESSED WRONG!
Average Price: $9 for a six-pack
Brewed since 1984, Samuel Adams Boston Lager is a complex flavorful lager brewed with Two-Row Pale malt blend and Caramel 60, as well as Hallertau Mittelfrüh and Tettnang Tettnanger Noble hops. There’s a reason it’s one of the most popular domestic lagers.
I’m a little mad at myself for not going with my gut and picking Samuel Adams here, but I did what I did. I thought, incorrectly, that this was Yuengling and I will sit here in shame because of it. I should have known that the Noble hops were all Sam Adams.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
If you’re keeping score, I got 5/10 correct. That’s honestly a lot better than I expected and I’m fairly proud of myself for being able to correctly guess 50 percent of these classic, cheap grocery store beers. It definitely helped that many are at least slightly different. An all-light beer blind taste would be much tougher.