It’s a familiar summer predicament: You’re thirsty, it’s hot, and the beer selection at your in-laws’ barbecue is absolute shit. But not all bad beers are created equal. Some are clean and crisp while others are skunky, fetid, and downright unpalatable.
Not sure which to choose? Here’s a guide to help you navigate these craptastic waters.
A few general guidelines to get started: First, unless you’re restricting your calorie intake for medical reasons or are constitutionally adverse to flavor, choose regular instead of light beers.
Second, go for cans rather than bottles. Cans keep light and oxygen away from beer better than glass bottles—which means canned beers will generally taste fresher than their bottled brethren.
And third, choose the coldest beer you can find—the one from the very bottom of the cooler or the way-back of the fridge—because the colder the beer gets, the more dulled the bitter flavors become (a good thing here!). Plus, colder beer is just more refreshing.
Now, go out there and drink some crappy beer!
Not Bad (Recommended With Minimal Reservation)
Miller High Life (4.6%)
With a prickly effervescence worthy of its “Champagne of Beers” title, this is perhaps the easiest-drinking and most refreshing beer in the world. Aromas of cornhusk, hay, and grain lead to a supremely dry finish that keeps you going back swig after swig. At times it verges on too much corniness or sweetness, but overall the beer is balanced, bright, and refreshing. Seek out cans if you can find them—High Life’s clear glass bottles make it particularly prone to becoming light-struck (i.e., skunked), a reaction between UV rays and hop-derived compounds that leads to off flavors and aromas.
Narragansett Lager (5%)
It’s got a retro-cool vibe and ironic all-American wholesomeness, but flavor-wise Narragansett is even better than that classic. Relatively robust and medium-bodied, it has a mild grassiness and a caramely, cereal-sweet finish. It’s no wonder Robert Shaw’s Quint crushed can after crisp can while aboard the Orca.
Modelo Especial (4.5%)
This beer is a staple of Mexican-American restaurants everywhere, but it goes just as well with hot dogs, ribs, and burgers. Clean and crisp with some actual hop aromas, it’s got a serious dry finish that’s nothing to sneeze at. Its parent company, Grupo Modelo, also makes Corona and Pacifico—but this beer’s assertive flavor makes it head and shoulders above either of those. Of course, it’s also great with a squeeze of lime and a dash of chili powder on the rim.
Not Horrible (Recommended in a Pinch)
This beer is the American standard for a reason—it’s moderately structured and lightly aromatic with a quaffable, inoffensive beer flavor. If nothing else, Bud is remarkable for its sheer consistency, dependability, and ubiquity.
Pabst Blue Ribbon (5%)
A favorite of both the beer pong and hipster crowds alike, PBR is the quintessential crappy American canned beer. There’s not a whole lot going on here but that’s kind of the point—a chuggable, simple beer that quenches and satisfies.
This is a perfectly acceptable adjunct lager that’s clean and crisp without much flavor to get in the way of refreshment. It tastes like the sum of its parts—hops, barley malt, corn, yeast, and water—nothing more, nothing less. Note that Coors Light is one of the few light beers that tastes almost as good as the original, with the flavors dialed back just a notch.
Stroh’s was one of the original family breweries of Detroit, which acquired notable brands like Schlitz and Schaefer. Fizzy, yellow, and thin, this beer has decent aromas of toasted corn and herbs but a watery mouthfeel and a flabby finish. Not horrible but definitely not great.
Bud Light (4.2%)
More like a mere suggestion of beer than the actual stuff, Bud Light is totally innocuous but also insipid, with a thin, watery body and a flat finish. It’s what happens when Budweiser is bleached of flavor.
You can actually taste the cheapness of this beer. The aroma is reminiscent of canned corn cooking in a musty basement. The flavor is shallow and lifeless, like a cracked sidewalk scattered with dead weeds. It doesn’t get more wretched than this.
Miller Lite (4.17%)
It might be the “original” light beer but it’s also one of the worst. Nearly devoid of taste, it has an astringent, sharp bitterness thing on the finish that makes it even more off-putting than other beers of its ilk. Like a headache in a can. Avoid at all costs.