I like beer. However, I don’t like spending tons of money on beer. I shared this sentiment with my friend, Mike Atwood. His blog, HoosierBeerGeek.com is one of the top beer blogs in the country. I asked him to address my conundrum. The conundrum: I want good beer, but I don’t want to pay top dollar for it.
When Pete asked me to put together something on good, affordable beer, my first thought was “there’s such thing as good, affordable beer?” The truth is that the variety of beer I enjoy – the category known as Craft – is definitely good. But affordability is rarely a goal for craft brewers, who tend to focus on quality first. Because craft brewers operate on such a small scale (just 15% of the overall beer market), they often encounter higher production costs than the big guys – costs that are passed along to the consumer.
Instead of focusing on affordability, perhaps what we should really focus on is value. We can determine value in craft beer by comparing beers based on not only price, but style and consumer scores. Sites such as RateBeer.com, BeerAdvocate.com, or more regional-based examples like my own HoosierBeerGeek.com are a valuable resource when comparing style and ratings. It’s important to note that these scores can be influence by any number of factors – scarcity and hype being among the biggest. Scarcity certainly drives up scores on beer rating sites, so those beers that are readily available and yet still high scoring are good indicators of value.
Another thing worth noting: When looking for value in craft beer, stay away from the 22oz. bomber bottle. We covered this in more depth on our site, but when comparing beer on an ounce-to-ounce level, the 22oz. bomber is almost always a worse deal. Even the seemingly affordable $7 bomber – when taken at a dollar per ounce price – equates to a $22.91 six pack.
With all these factors in mind, here are a few readily available, value-packed craft beer options available at your local liquor store.
Founders Breakfast Stout – The Imperial Stout category is overrun with limited release, hard to acquire beers that the average person might never get their hands on, but there are a few gems in the list that do tend to last a little longer on store shelves. Founders Breakfast Stout is brewed with two types of coffee and has all the chocolaty notes that Imperial Stout lovers fawn over.
Bell’s Hopslam – If you like big bitterness in your beer, Bell’s Hopslam is a gold standard in the Double IPA category. Despite that bitterness, the beer finds balance from a honey edition in the brewing process. Because Bell’s is one of the larger craft breweries in the country, they make enough Hopslam to make sure it lasts a little while on store shelves.
Stone Ruination – Perhaps best known for their Arrogant Bastard Ale, San Diego’s Stone Brewing has earned a nationwide reputation for beers packing big and bold flavors. Ruination is their Double IPA, featuring huge flavors of citrus and pine from Columbus and Centennial hops. This beer is available in both 22oz. bomber and 12oz. six pack – buy the six pack, it’s a better per ounce value.
Unibroue La Fin Du Monde – While American breweries have expanded the palate of what a beer can be, it was the Belgians that started the trend, incorporating a myriad of ingredients to create new styles. One of the more traditional of those styles is the Belgian Tripel. Montreal’s Unibroue produces a highly rated and highly available example in their La Fin Du Monde. Featuring honey, spice, and coriander notes, La Fin Du Monde is a showcase of the creativity behind Belgian-style beer.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – Perhaps the best known of the American craft beer pioneers is that of Chico, California’s Sierra Nevada. Despite Sierra’s Pale Ale being ubiquitous on grocery store shelves all over the country, it still maintains a place of respect with beer geeks. It’s hard to argue with an easy drinking, supremely balanced beer that set the standard for everything that came after.
Anchor Steam – A truly American style – and a personal favorite – steam beer or California common has roots in the 1890s, but it wasn’t until 1981 that San Francisco’s Anchor brewing perfected the style. By using the usually-refrigerated lager yeast at warmer ale temperatures, Anchor created an immensely flavorful beer with a gentle and balanced finish.
You may have noticed that the example above come from the some of the larger and more established craft breweries in the country – further proof of the advantages of size when producing product. While this list in certainly not comprehensive, it’s worth noting that you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad beer from any of the breweries listed. If you can’t find the particular style mentioned above, don’t be afraid to try another one of their other offerings.
If you’re looking for the absolute best value in craft beer. I encourage you to get to know your local brewery. Locals offer weekly specials, growler refills, and plenty of opportunity to save, but more importantly, your local brewery can offer a relationship or an experience – and that’s something that’s hard to put a price tag on.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.