We Tried the Most Popular Beer Brands and Here’s What We Thought
We tried 28 brews to find the best mass-market beer brand. Our favorites are the ones you'll want in your cooler, fridge and on game day.
Searching for the Best Beer Brands
When you need to stock your cooler full of affordable people-pleasing brews, what beer do you grab? (We know you’ve got a go-to brand.) But is that big-name beer really as satisfying as you think? Have you ever compared it to another brand or two? Have you ever compared it to 27 other cheap beers?
Well, we have! We just had to know what option was best, whether we’re grabbing a few 12-packs for the family reunion or just ordering a cold one on the cheap at our local watering hole. Check out what we thought the most common mass-market beers, and see which one we call the best beer brand.
What Kind of Beer Did We Choose?
For this test, we focused on domestic, light lagers. These are the pale beers we’re all familiar with—think Budweiser, Michelob and Miller Lite. They’re exactly the kinds of beers you expect to find in a cooler on game day, at the lake or at a picnic. These beers are widely available and affordable. Prices vary everywhere, but typically these beers run a dollar or less per 12-ounce can or bottle.
What We Were Looking For
In this taste test, we were simply looking for a beer that was enjoyable to drink. Ideally, the best beer should be balanced (not too hoppy, not too malty, etc.), refreshing and a crowd-favorite.
28. Rolling Rock
Brewer: Latrobe Brewing Company
Talk about a beer brand with history! Rolling Rock was first produced in Pennsylvania in 1939 following the repeal of Prohibition. (See what else your favorite brewers were up to during Prohibition). Since then, the company has been sold several times and the beer has been reformulated, most recently in 2016. So it’s not too surprising that many testers said that Rolling Rock just wasn’t as good as they remembered. We’re going to cross our fingers and hope that this light American lager gets another reboot and tastes as refreshing as it once did.
27. Natural Light
Natural Light was introduced in 1977 as an easy-drinking light beer. We agree: It’s definitely light. Testers found it too light in body and flavor. For those who prefer an ultra-light-tasting beer that’s readily available, this may be the brew for you. Why not crack open a cool one for our beer can chicken recipe?
26. Milwaukee’s Best Light
Made by MillerCoors, Milwaukee’s Best Light is often advertised as a value beer. This beer does provide value (you can typically find a 30-pack for under $15), but like Natural Light, it didn’t deliver as much on flavor. It’s a very light, light beer. Psst! These beer glasses are designed to make your brewski taste better.
25. Busch Light
Busch Light was a tough beer to judge. Taking a sip, it was a decent light beer. However, it had a unique smell that testers had a hard time rectifying with the average taste. Dream of being a brewer? Check out these beer making kits you can try at home.
24. Grain Belt
Brewer: August Schell Brewing Co.
We were looking forward to this Minnesotan beer, known as the “Friendly Beer,” but our group of testers didn’t think that Grain Belt really delivered. Grainy and too sweet, it didn’t quite hit the spot, though we know it has a passionate following. Haven’t heard of Grain Belt? Give this Midwestern beer brand a try.
23. Milwaukee’s Best Ice
We preferred Milwaukee’s Best Ice to the light version. It was refreshing served ice cold, but it did lack the flavor we’d expect from a light beer. It was a bit too mild. If you do choose to sip Ice, know that it packs a punch with 5.9 percent ABV. Heads up! These tips will change the way you order (and drink) beer.
22. Bud Light
This test was full of light beers (seven to be precise), and Bud Light ranked right in the middle. While light, Bud Light felt a bit more substantial and filling than its direct competitors, which works for people looking for a Light that doesn’t feel like less. Pair it with one of these down-home recipes for beer cheese.
21. Keystone Light
When it comes to light beers, you do expect more mild flavor. This holds true with Keystone Light. The flavor of this beer was very mild and it almost tasted airy to testers—though it wasn’t overly foamy. It’s a decent light beer for when you’re craving one or looking to make one of these flavorful cocktails that start with beer.
At its core, Busch is an inoffensive beer. It lacks a strong flavor, which makes it suitable for casual drinking, but not suitable for beer fanatics. Testers did enjoy the level of carbonation on this beer, though. Looking for a non-alcoholic alternative? Check out these healthy carbonated drinks.
Brewer: D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc.
Yuengling was the only amber lager in this test and samplers took notice, calling it a nice change of pace for mass-market beers. The beer itself was darker, fuller-bodied and tasted a bit of molasses. This isn’t the first beer we’d reach for in the summer months, but it would be comforting and very welcome on chillier days.
18. Red Dog
To be perfectly honest, we weren’t expecting much from Red Dog. Around these parts, it’s a beer prized by college students looking for quantity over quality. But after giving this beer a try, we were pleasantly surprised. It tasted mostly of corn and grain, like many inexpensive beers, but it was also smooth and pleasant. We won’t turn up our noses at this one next time we see it in the ol’ chill chest. Heading back to your alma mater for the big game? Don’t miss these tailgate recipes perfect for homecoming.
When you need to kick back with an uncomplicated beer, you can rely on Budweiser. The King of Beers was easy to drink, light and slightly biscuity. It’s a good beer for quenching your thirst after mowing the lawn. We think Bud’s flavor profile would do very well in beer bread. We recommend you give it a shot with this five-star recipe.
15. Lone Star
Brewer: Pabst Brewing Company
Coming from Texas, we were expecting Lone Star to be larger than life. This American lager was fairly subdued, though, with a grainy flavor with a hint of citrus. While it might not be our first pick, we’d crack open an ice-cold Lone Star to go with some barbecue or one of these Lone Star state recipes. Haven’t tried Lone Star yet? Order up a pack to judge for yourself.
14. Miller Genuine Draft
Miller Genuine Draft is an excellent middle-of-the-road beer. It’s smooth without any extremes—not overly hoppy, not too malty, not bitter or sweet. It’s a good people-pleasing beer that we could see served up at outdoor parties and tailgates. It’s precisely the beer to wash down these cheesy, spicy and salty game day snacks.
13. Leinenkugel’s Original
Brewer: Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company
Leinenkugel’s Original is a satisfying lager that tasted of wheat with some hoppy bitterness at the finish. For a less expensive mass-market beer, Leine’s is fairly complex. However, in testing, we just couldn’t see ourselves picking this beer first out of a cooler.
12. Michelob Ultra
We found Michelob Ultra to be a refreshing and thirst-quenching beer. It has a thin body which helps it go down easily. The flavor is incredibly mild with just some faint malty notes. If you’re searching for a low-carb beer, Michelob Ultra is a great pick with just 2.6 grams per 12-ounce bottle. However, it doesn’t pack huge flavor if you’re looking to savor a beer. Looking to go low-carb in other ways? Get our full 7-day meal plan.
11. Miller High Life
Miller High Life is known as the “Champagne of Beers.” We’re not sure we would go that far here, but in High Life, we found a satisfying malty brew with a touch of bitter hops. This beer is a bit more carbonated than most giving the champagne claim a bit of merit. Overall, High Life is satisfying but it’s not a good choice for people that prefer milder flavors. Prefer the real deal? Here are the best champagnes under $20.
Brewer: Pabst Brewing Company
While Blatz sounds like the kind of beer Grandpa would drink (and he may have—Blatz has been around since 1851!), don’t pass this one up. Blatz is malty and slightly sweet with a fuller body than most beers we tried, but it finished clean and left us wanting more. It might not be the first choice for infrequent beer drinkers, but it’s worth stocking in the fridge for game day watch parties.
9. Old Style
Brewer: Pabst Brewing Company
Old Style is a staple in the Midwest. It was first brewed in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1902 and later became a go-to for Cubs fans. After sipping this beer, we understand its prolonged success. Old Style is rich in flavor for an American-style lager but not heavy. The flavor isn’t hoppy or malty—just a nice mild bread-like taste that makes for a smooth sip (or two or three). Can’t find Old Style at your local pub? Order it online here.
8. Miller Light
As one tester put it, “This is a classic boat beer,” and it’s true. With its light body, slight hint of citrus and refreshing taste, Miller Lite is the perfect brew to pack in the cooler for a day on the water. Beers like this are also a good bet to have stashed in the fridge for last-minute company or to pack for a day outside.
7. Old Milwaukee
Brewer: Pabst Brewing Company
Like its sister beers Blatz and Old Style (all brewed by the same company), you might expect Old Milwaukee to be an old-fashioned brew. But Old Milwaukee is worth sipping today. It’s slightly malty and slightly creamy, making it a bit different than the very light corn-flavored beers on this list. Quite simply, as one tester remarked: “Smells good, tastes good, is good.”
Icehouse cracking into the top was pretty shocking for us beer aficionados. Who knew a budget beer could be so satisfying? (A massive 30-pack for us costs just $13!) Icehouse beer was crisp, delivering a cool, smooth taste. It wasn’t funky or watery like some cheap beer options. This was just one of those brews you could sip all day long at a picnic or would be happy to find at a cooler at a backyard bash. Look for this beer brand when you’re looking to serve a large crowd.
5. Coors Light
“It’s the perfect summer beer,” according to one tester, and we’d say that’s a fair assessment. Coors Light is crisp, refreshing and goes down easy. It’s an uncomplicated beer, sure, but the mild corn flavor and delicate sweetness are just right. It’s our top pick when it comes to a light beer. Check out more culinary delights that come from Colorado.
Looking for an unpretentious and satisfying beer? Opt for Hamm’s. “Born in the land of sky blue waters” as the jingle goes (that’s Minnesota), Hamm’s is clean tasting with mild sweetness and a bit of malt. Considering the great flavor, clean finish and the price (we found a 12-pack for about $6), it’s a wonder Hamm’s isn’t in everyone’s cooler.
Brewer: Pabst Brewing Company
Many of the beers in this test were lighter with a mild flavor (totally fine by us!), but Schlitz delivered something totally different. This American lager was bolder and more flavorful without being heavy. Schlitz gave us some citrusy notes and hints of green hops—definitely more complex than most mass-market beers! You’d do well to pair this beer with these lemon-forward recipes or just enjoy a cold one on a patio on a sunny afternoon.
2. Coors Banquet
Coors started brewing this beer back in 1873 in Golden, Colorado (where it’s still brewed today). Locals enjoyed this beer so much they started referring to it as “Banquet Beer.” In 1937, Coors officially named the beer Coors Banquet. Today, we’re officially calling it one of our favorite mass-market beers.
To us, Coors Banquet was exceptionally clean tasting and a gorgeous golden color. We didn’t get a trace of bitterness in this beer making it easy to sip, and the hints of fruit made it an interesting and more complex choice. It’s definitely worth serving up at your modern-day banquets—we think we’d call them barbecues.
1. Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR)
Brewer: Pabst Brewing Co.mpany
Back in 1893, Pabst was awarded the title of America’s finest beer. Today, we’re pleased to call it our favorite affordable beer, definitely deserving of a blue ribbon.
PBR just checked all of our boxes for this test. Yes, it was absolutely affordable—$9 for a 12-pack. Yes, it was absolutely people-pleasing and wonderfully drinkable. Testers found that PBR went down smooth and felt refreshing and clean. The flavor of Pabst isn’t overpowering; it’s balanced—grainy, biscuity, sweet and malty all offset by bitter hops. Overall, this is the beer we ended up using as a standard for all the rest. In the end, nothing could touch PBR on our score sheets.
Simply, as one tester remarked, “This is the king of cheap beer.”
The Bottom Line
In the end, we were happy to call PBR the best budget-friendly beer brand because it managed to be a readily available, flavorful, balanced and refreshing brew at a low price point. We could see this being a welcome addition to any party and an option enjoyed by the vast majority of guests. The same goes for our top ten beer picks in this test, too.
Of course, beer preferences are deeply personal, and there are plenty of other affordable regional options out there. We’ll say, though, that having some go-to names in mind is always a good idea.
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