Before I became an international playboy, celebrity interviewer and media mogul, I was in the same boat as many of you: broke and scrounging under the sofa cushions for change to buy cheap beer. Even though I now pop bottles with models and eat large steaks on large estates, I can't forget where it is that I came from. So I did a massive taste testing and review of the beer that the retailers don't want you to buy, the rotgut cheap beer that will, if you're lucky, only make you sick and not land you in the ER for alcohol poisoning.
These are the beers found at the end of the rack, far, far away from the Heinekins and Becks of the world. These are the beers that only the most adventurous and poverty-stricken among us drink, because anyone with a few bucks more is going to upgrade their choice.
But the savvy shopper can find some treasures amidst the unwanted multitudes of cheap beer out there. Here's a few of them.
Beer: Natural Ice
Brewer: Aneheuser-Busch, St. Louis
Found in: White-trash neighborhoods
Price: $5.99/12 pack
Goes with: Ramen, Banquet Frozen Dinners
A beer is a beer, but Natural Ice is a beer with a little something extra, namely an extra kick of alcohol. While most beers are content with a 5 percent alcohol content, Natural Ice delivers an astonishing 5.9 percent alcohol content. And you can taste it, too: It packs a punch of bitterness on the first swig that lasts all case long. It's more of a lifestyle statement than a beer, and that statement is, "I'm poor and I want to get wasted as quickly as I can." People I know have reported going through a 30-can cube ($10.99) and not remembering anything for days afterward. It's the number one choice of homeless people and college students everywhere.
Brewer: Huber Brewery, Milwaukee
Found in: Only at Aldi
Price: $4.99/12 pack
Goes with: Happy Harvest canned peas
You know you're down on your luck, or at least your cash, when you go shopping at Aldi, the German-owned chain that caters to the most thrifty and/or poorest among us. Nestled in between crates of graham crackers and a pallet of pork rinds, you'll find Northstar. The label promises it to be a "craft" beer, whatever that means. Surprisingly, for a beer that's so inexpensive, it's actually not bad. People I've forced it upon say it reminds them of Blue Moon. When I've presented it as such, complete with an orange wedge, it's fooled a few people. But after a few of them, you'll find yourself strangely wishing for Germanic world domination. If you're at Aldi, and you really, REALLY need beer, this is your choice. (They also offer Monterrey, a Corona knockoff brewed in Guatemala, but since it's $3.99 for a six-pack, it doesn't qualify as a cheap beer.)
Brewery: Pabst, Milwaukee
Found in: Drugstores, scary neighborhoods, NASCAR fan coolers
Price: $10.99/30 pack
Goes with: Bratwurst, liver
Once brewed in Detroit, Stroh's was a king of beers back in the day. It was sold at Cincinnati Reds games (along with the defunct but mourned Hudepohl) and priced the same as other domestics. The brand was sold to Pabst a while back and the quality has definitely suffered. It combines a putrid aroma with an aftertaste that lasts for weeks. Still, it beats drinking contaminated water, but only barely. Only for the adventurous.
Beer: Pabst Blue Ribbon
Brewery: Pabst, Milwaukee
Found in: Counties which voted for Bush, punk rock bars
Price: $5.99/12 bottles, $11.99/30 cans
Goes with: Potato chips, chili
This is the best beer for everyday drinking, meaning that if you drink every day, this is your beer. Once consumed only by retirees and hard core alcoholics, it's become something of a cult beer among punk rockers and other anti-establishment types. While it's most popular in can form, I find that the bottled Pabst is far superior. The canned version is a little tinny, while the bottled version is full-bodied and flavorful, kind of like a poor man's Heinekin or Molson. If you want to dabble in the world of cheap beer, there's nowhere better to start. Tip: It tastes better if you chill it almost to the freezing point.
Brewery: Pabst, Milwaukee
Found in: Retiree homes, trailer parks
Price: $9.99/24 pack
Goes with: Hypertension medicine, grilled cheese sandwiches
Another once-popular brand fallen on hard times, Schlitz exclusively is for the discriminating drinker. And by "discriminating," I mean, "too drunk to care." Bitterness is its primary quality, but after four or five, it ceases to matter.
Beer: Milwaukee's Best
Found in: College towns, blue-collar neighborhoods
Price: $11.99/30 pack
Goes with: Beer Pong, home-detention ankle bracelets
By far the most popular beer among broke college kids, Milwaukee's Best is perhaps the nastiest beer brewed in America, eclipsing even the dreaded Mickey's Malt Liquor and the notorious Hamm's, the beer Whose Name Dare Not Be Spoken. It combines the flavor of aluminum and vinegar, the fizziness of store-brand ginger ale and an aftertaste that makes you want to gnaw off your left shoulder in advance. The stories are legendary of what has been done under the influence of this concoction. Unless you're a masochist or a sadist, depending on whether you're drinking or buying, stay far, far away from this beer. In keg form, however, it crosses the threshold of "good enough." And sometimes that's all you need in a beer.
Testing these beers is a harsh duty, but someone must do it. And so I shall continue my taste-testing duties in the future.