Ask Alex: Craft Beer On A Budget

“Thinking about drinking, with your wallet AND your stomach.”


“I need some beer recommendations. I’m also poor. Do you have an beers you would recommend for a poor guy like me?” — Anonymous

I’d like to think I deal with this question a lot, since I’m in your same shoes, buddy. There are lots of options for the destitute craft beer connoisseur, it just depends on what kind of beer you like…and how frequently you like to drink.

The quality of beer is not wholly and intrinsically connected to the price or rarity of the beer. Yes, you can find correlations. But it’s perfectly possible for a brewery to create a great beer and sell it at a great price.

http://www.beerfm.com/2012/03/the-alchemist-heady-topper-review/

Let’s take world famous beer Heady Topper, considered by some to be the world’s greatest beer, can be bought for $3 a can…if you can happen to get your hands on it. While that might seem like a lot, it’s not when you put it into perspective. Even though it has incredible acclaim and popularity, it is not the world’s most expensive beer. That honor goes to Samuel Adam’s Utopia, which sells for $150 (or more). Now, let’s compare that to wine. The world’s most expensive wine is the Chateau Margaux, which sells for £122,380 ( $202,820.37 ).

My point is that it’s possible to find good craft beer at an affordable price, especially compared to wine. By the way, The Alchemist Brewery, maker of Heady Topper, has never tried to raise the price on the beer since it was first released. Three dollars a can, suddenly seems very reasonable.

So what are your options? Well, your options will vary by state. There’s microbreweries everywhere and more are popping up by the day. Make friends with your local nanobrewer, microbrewer, or even homebrewer! Figure out when happy hour is at your favorite bar! The important thing to figure out is what type of beer you like. What tastes do you like? Do you like your beer dark and smooth? Dark and strong? Hoppy as hell? Or hoppy and drinkable? Do you like fruit beer? Belgian yeast, wheat beers, new zealand hops, american hops, noble hops? The list can go on. The most important thing to do is to try more beers. If you’ve never had a particular beer before, it’s a good beer, because you get to have a new experience and that is a good thing. Let’s review:

  1. Become friends with local brewers and breweries: nanobrewers, microbrewers, homebrewers.
  2. Drink, sample, try as many beers as you can. Get together with your friends to share. People, in general, love to share beer. Maybe, if they know you well enough, they will know of a beer that you might like.
  3. Happy hour!
  4. In contrast to tip #3, the best way to save money is usually not by eating or drinking out. Ask the guys at your local craft beer store if they have any affordable but great tasting beer in particular!

Local and microbrewed beers are often very affordable. In upstate New York you can find affordable beers from Brown’s, He’Brew, Saranac, Davidson’s and more. It just depends where you are.

Some of these have descriptions, some don’t. Find some beers by each company and try them out if you can afford them. Or look for specific beers mentioned below. It’s up to you!


Stretch Beers

A stretch beer is something to get you by. Picture these scenarios. You’re all out of your favorite beers, but it’s been a long day at work and you want to still have a drink. Maybe you’re having a bunch of buddies over but you don’t have enough bottles in your craft beer stash for everyone. What do you turn to? Stretch beers.

Yuengling — Classic lager, refreshing, consistent.

Magic Hat — Though Magic Hat is not technically a craft brewery anymore, there’s nothing wrong with throwing back a couple on a hot day or when sitting around a campfire.

Blue Moon — For many people this was the first “craft” type brew they had ever tried, though it’s technically not “craft beer” according to the Brewers Association. This could be an inexpensive “stretch” beer to have in the summer, between six packs of craftier, tastier good stuff.

PBR — I know of many brewers who still drink PBR at home, buy this with no shame.

Mainstays

These beers may not be outstanding, they may not break the mold and boldly throw flavors in your face, but they are good and they don’t cost $13 a bottle. These are your mainstays.

Peak Organic — IPA, Summer Session Ale, Hop Noir, Simcoe Spring Ale. My favorite is their Oak Aged Mocha Stout.

Lagunitas — These guys are great if you love IPAs. Lagunitas Sucks also happens to be one of the best DIPAs out there.

Widmer — Look for their Pitch Black IPA, Alchemy Ale, Columbia Common and Milk Stout (though I prefer Left Hand’s Milk Stout).

New Belgium — A lot of their beer is very affordable, but soothes the taste buds. Try Fat Tire Amber Ale.

Captain Lawrence — Look for Liquid Gold, Saison, IPA, Captain’s Kolsch. I think all of these are especially appropriate for warmer weather.

Sierra Nevada — Who can turn down Sierra Nevada Pale Ale?

Trader Joe’s — I believe they contract their brewing out to Shipyard and some other breweries, they might have some good stuff if you poke around.

Dogfish Head — One of the most iconic and creative craft breweries also has some affordable beer too! Try their 60 Minute IPA.

Flying Dog — They make good beer, pick a style, if you can afford it, get it.

Harpoon — People like Harpoon, I’m not crazy about them, but maybe you will appreciate them.

He’Brew— Genesis is a sessionable beer and not too expensive. Hop Manna is a great piney, citrusy IPA that won’t break the bank. Check out their other beers if you can.

Schlafly — They make the best oatmeal stout I’ve ever had. I may be biased.

Left Hand — Milk Stout (and Milk Stout Nitro) this is the Guinness of milk stouts. Everyone has had it, everyone likes it (if they like dark beers). If you’ve never had a milk stout, think of it like a sweeter Guinness. \

Breckenridge Brewery — I think these guys are most known for their Vanilla Porter. Not the best vanilla porter, but it is good.

Uinta — Their Baba Organic Black Lager is surprisingly good and their pumpkin beer Punk’n is incredible.

Monotony Breakers

You’ve been buying the same beer over and over. You don’t want to break the bank, but you’re okay with spending just a little bit more. These are the beers and brands you want. Go ahead and find something new and bold. Be an explorer! You don’t get to do this every day. But maybe you can do this every once in a while.

Dogfish Head — If you find their 120 Minute IPA, no matter how much money you have, buy that. One of my personal favorites from them is their Noble Rot, it’s a saison with a big grape/wine taste.

Founders — Most likely you can find their Breakfast Stout at a craft beer store. It’s not the most expensive of beers. But it’s always roasty, dark and delicious. If you see Founders KBS, buy that, even if you have to drink pony piss for the rest of the month.

The Alchemist — Heady Topper, if you can find it, is only $3 a can.

Mikkeller — They’re always making something weird and interesting, pick up a bottle and try one. Their Beer Geek beers are especially good, though often expensive.

He’Brew — Grab any of their more expensive bottles and enjoy what is most likely a strong beer or a new experience.

Stone — Grab the Enjoy By ____ IPA whenever you see it.

Atwater Brewery — Their Vanilla Java Porter is awesome. It’s sweet with a mild roasty flavor, sweet vanilla and a little java on the back.

Samuel Smith — I love dark and sweet beer, without any diversity of flavors besides dark and sweet, so I love Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout. It’s like chocolate milk in beer form. Try mixing it with their Organic Raspberry Fruit Beer. They are also famous for their Oatmeal Stout, which is quite good.

Goose Island — At my local store in upstate NY they sell Sofie and Matilda in large bottles for under $9 each.

Maine Beer Company — Mean Old Tom is smooth, velvety, roasty with a big vanilla aroma and taste. Also look for their Peeper APA and Lunch IPA. I’m also sure every other beer they make is just as good.

Jack’s Abby — Hoponius Union is an awesome Pale Lager.

Treat Yourself

Let’s say you’ve spent all month holding back on good beer to pay your bills or for some extra necessary expense- all in the name of wisdom and self-control. But now something amazing is coming up, the anniversay of something or your favorite holiday or maybe you’ve just been working so hard non-stop for days and weeks. You owe it to yourself. You’ve only got money to spend on one big, beautiful, satisfying beer. It’s time to treat yourself (and maybe a few lucky others).

For dark beer lovers:

Goose Island Bourbon County

Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout

Old Rasputin

Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break

Great Divide’s Yeti beers (I love the Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti)

For hop lovers:

Anything by Stone (Ruination IPA is worth a shot if you love almost-too-hoppy beers)

Pliny the Elder

Heady Topper (yes I know, it’s in two categories and now I’m a fanboy)

Zombie Dust

Jai Alai

Firestone Walker Wookey Jack — this is a black IPA so it has a little bit of both, so far as hops and malt. It may not be a straight hop bomb, but it is an incredible beer and it definitely not shy with its hops.

Summary

There’s good beer available out there. If it’s a priority to drink good beer, just like anything good in life, you won’t mind shelling out a couple more dollars. If your number one goal is to get drunk cheaper, craft beer isn’t really for you in general. Though I’m sure there’s some high percentage alcohol craft beers for you at a lower price, you’re better off sticking to liquor and cheap twenty-four packs.

It’s impossible for me to cover almost every beer. I haven’t drank them all, and different parts of the country have different beers. If you think there’s a beer that deserves to be on this list, leave me a note/comment!


Update: Suggestions from some of our readers on Reddit. Thanks guys!