Life Is Far Too Short To Drink Cheap Beer – 10 Ways To Maximize Your Beer Value

By Al at Hop Talk

Editors Note: I wrote a piece on how to save money on beer awhile back and Al chasized me for only considering how to save money and not about how to get true value. In response, he has put together this list of how to get the best value out of the beer you buy.

First, stop thinking of beer as a commodity. It’s not toilet paper, or screws, or an all-you-can-eat buffet. Stop thinking of beer in terms of the bland, yellow, fizzy beverages foisted on the American public by huge brewing conglomerates. Not just the big American brewers, who have spent countless marketing dollars convincing most of us that beer is supposed to be bland, yellow, and fizzy, but also their overseas counterparts who offer essentially the same product but use the additional marketing message that theirs is better because it’s imported. In spite of being upwards of 80%+ of the American domestic beer market, American light lagers are by no means the entire universe of beer. In the U.S. alone, the Brewers Association recognizes well over 100 distinct styles of beer, and even within those styles are the brewer’s own variations.

Beer is a food. It is made from grain (almost always barley), hops, yeast, and water. Except for the hops, and if the grain was milled into flour instead of malted for brewing, you’d have a basic bread recipe. When is bread best? As fresh as possible. It is just as true for beer. To stretch the beer as bread analogy a little further, industrial-brewed American light lagers are the beer equivalent of Wonder Bread. Don’t you want a nice, hearty loaf?

So, if you are ready slough off the misconceptions of maximizing quantity of your beer and instead get the most value, i.e., enjoyment, out of your beer, here are some simple tips.

1. Shun the sun: Beer’s number one enemy is light. Riboflavin acts as a photosensitizer, which causes the production of singlet oxygen from ultraviolet and visible light. The oxygen then reacts with substances called Isohumulones, which comes from the hops, to create a substance called MBT (3-methylbut-2-ene-1-thiol). It is, essentially, the same chemical that skunks use to defend themselves. “Skunked” beer just what it sounds like. As such, brown bottles are best, and green bottles aren’t much better than clear ones. Cans, obviously, will also work, but there aren’t many craft brewers who use cans.

2. Keep it cool: While heat won’t affect your beer the same as light, it can cause it’s own issues. For one thing, greater chance of oxidation. Oxidized beer tastes like cardboard. It can cause other off-flavors as well. You should store your beer in a cool, dark place.

3. Stay fresh: Beer, like bread, which is a very similar recipe, is better when it is fresher. (There are a couple of styles which can be cellared, but that’s outside the scope of this discussion.) Depending on the style, beer has, at best, a shelf-life of about six months to a year. A better target is three or four months. Beyond that you risk getting off-flavors or, at the very least, a beer that doesn’t taste its best. Look for a “brewed on” or “best before” date. Unfortunately, not all brewers do this, and far too many retailers leave stock on the shelves until it sells. Here’s a clue: if the bottles are dusty, don’t buy it.

4. Buy local: Not to get all “green” on you, but try to buy from brewers who are within, say, 150 miles of you. Less transportation means less pollution, of course. But it also means lower transportation costs, meaning more money can be put toward the ingredients of the beer. A shorter travel distance also means the beer is more likely to be fresh. And, of course, has had fewer opportunities to encounter light and/or warm storage.

5. Serve it properly: In a glass: A large part of our sense of taste comes from our sense of smell. If you can’t smell the beer while you’re drinking it, like drinking it from the bottle, you’re missing most of the flavor. Some beer purists will tell you that each beer style should be served in its own special glassware. I don’t disagree, but let’s not get crazy here. At the very least, use a glass (not plastic) that allows you to smell the beer while you’re actually drinking it. Also, there’s “clean” and there’s “beer clean”. Beer glasses should be hand-washed with a minimum of soap. Actually, baking soda would be a better option. Your beer glasses also shouldn’t be used to drink anything else. Besides, how else are you going to see the pretty color?

6. Serve it properly: Not ice cold: When too cold the aromas of the beer are not present or very weak. You want to maximize the aroma to have the best flavor. The proper temperature varies by style, of course (pilsners I would serve around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, stout a bit above 50 degrees) but there’s no need to start dipping a thermostat into your beer. When you take a bottle out of the refrigerator, open it, and let it sit on the counter for five, ten or fifteen minutes. It will be much more flavorful than if you drink it right after taking it out of the fridge. In general, lighter styles should be colder than darker styles, but that’s not hard and fast. This is a good one to experiment with.

7. Pour strong! Again with the aromas. When pouring, don’t carefully dribble the beer down the side of the glass. Pour it down the middle. You want to “break the carbonation” and release the aromas. Aim for (again, depending on style) about two fingers’ width of head. The bubbles in the head should be small and the head itself should be creamy or fluffy.

8. Find your style: With over 100 different styles, you are bound to find something, or several somethings, that you like. Maybe you like the spicy hop bitterness of a pale ale, the mild sweetness of a brown ale, the roasted goodness of a porter, the fruity spiciness of a hefeweizen, or the clean crispness of a pilsner. You’ll never know unless you try. If you’re having more than one style in a single sitting, start with the lightest and finish with the heaviest. This will keep your tastebuds from being overwhelmed.

9. Pair it up: There is a school of thought that says that beer pairs better with cheese than wine. That’s not all, of course. Many people have heard that oysters make an excellent companion to an Irish stout. Me, I love having an IPA with anything spicy, like chili or Buffalo wings. The right beer can be paired with just about anything. Look for “beer dinners” at restaurants near you. The Brewer’s Alley in Frederick, Maryland sponsors one about every three months. There are usually about five courses, each paired with a different beer, including dessert.

10. Invite your friends: Beer should be shared. Beer is social. Ancient peoples would sit around a communal pot and drink their beer through reeds. (Probably because of all the grains floating in it.) When I get together for a beer with my friends, very often we’re talking about the beer we’re drinking. But, then, most of my friends are beer geeks like me. It doesn’t matter what the occasion is. Beer with friends is the best beer in the world.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to learn more about beer, I highly encourage you to drop by Hop Talk and to consider adding their rss feed to your reader.

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45 Responses to Life Is Far Too Short To Drink Cheap Beer – 10 Ways To Maximize Your Beer Value

  1. Adam says:

    There’s a good introduction to beer via a comparison to wine by the late Michael Jackson (the beer guy not the singer).

  2. Fern says:

    I must agree that most mass-marketed domestic beers taste like water to me.

    I drink Beck’s, or none at all, altho i’m always up for a micro-brewed ale.

  3. Chris H says:

    How can a site on saving money talk about beer and not mention homebrew? Homebrewed beer can easily cost half the price of a store equivalent. Not to mention the price you’d pay at the bar!

    My advice for saving money on beer? Boil it, bottle it, and wait a few weeks.

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  5. Eddie Glick says:

    Can’t overstate the “buy local” mantra. Not only do you get great beer, but you’re investing in your community.

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  7. Mike D. says:

    “Homebrewed beer can easily cost half the price of a store equivalent”

    I’d like to see that calculation. It cost me $35-$45 (Materials) to make a 5 gallon batch of quality beer (basically nets 2 cases of beer, a few bottles over). Most microbrews are $20-$25 a case. So where do you save money? You also need to account for your time which is at least a few hours, especially if you bottle it! I only brew beer because I enjoy doing not at all to save money.

  8. Chris H says:

    The “half the price of a store equivalent” was an approximation, but I think it’s doable.

    I usually combine a hopped extract ($15) with an unhopped extract ($10). For bottling I use priming sugar (

  9. Chris H says:

    The “half the price of a store equivalent” was an approximation, but I think it’s doable.

    I usually combine a hopped extract ($15) with an unhopped extract ($10). For bottling I use priming sugar (less than $1) and bottle caps ($1).

    The result is two cases for $27, which is half of $55.

    Some ways you can lower the price even more are (1) using dextrose instead of some portion of the malt, (2) measuring dextrose from bulk for the priming sugar, and (3) buying bottle caps in bulk.
    My previous comment got cut off because of html-ish text…

    You’re right that I don’t account for my time (I consider it a hobby too). However, there are some ways to can save time as well. You can save time bottling by getting larger bottles and a better bottling wand. I have a bottling wand that has an chamber that prevents beer/foam from leaving the bottle (so you can fill faster). Another way to save time is to start with a hopped extract. With a hopped extract you don’t have to actually boil the wort.

    You can probably save time/money by making larger batches, but that could require extra equipment most homebrewers don’t have.

  10. Adam says:

    Check out Northern Brewer for pricing. That is who I tend to order from.

    They sell basic ingredient kits from $22.50 – $29.00. That is $11.50 to $15.00 a case. Sounds like 1/2 the cost to me depending on what you typically drink.

    If you don’t consider the equipment in the cost, then you can save money. Its kinda like cooking at home vs. eating out all the time. You can save money by eating at home. You wouldn’t include the cost of your pots and pans in the cost of the food you prepare.

    $67.60 for a basic equipment kit.

  11. Joseph says:

    If you buy local, how would you have the possibility to test Belgian beers ? A small country of 10 million people but around 800 different kinds of beers (and sometimes the cheese that goes with it). There are only 6 authentic trappist beers in the world and 5 of them are Belgian. IMHO, nobody can proclaim himself a “beer geek” and ignore Belgian beers, especially Trappists. Cheers !

  12. Sammy A says:

    This sounds like a Samuel Adams commercial if you ask me (but not like anything is wrong with that). They also just made this crazy beer glass that works to open up the flavor when you pour it. Works with other beers as well. Down with the sub par American crap beer!

  13. Benny Midhurst says:

    The best way to get a lot of bang for your beer buck is to brew it yourself.

    Myself, I prefer the taste of beer in a stainless steel draught mug to glass.

  14. cantsay says:

    I disagree w/ part of this. I prefer to drink my stout beer ice cold. I know they drink Guinness at room temperature in Ireland or whatever, but I think it’s best when cold as possible.

  15. Dana says:

    On pairing beer with food – some beers pair incredibly well with dessert. Beer and chocolate desserts are a vastly unexplored combination. Dark beers work the best. Try an oatmeal stout with a dark chocolate. Awesome.

  16. fred lewis says:

    No. 9. Perhaps beer goes better with cheese than with wine, but beer paired with wine should be a choice for a special occasion–like a trip down alcohol lane.

  17. Uhclem says:

    Up here in Canada there’s a traditional joke:

    Q: Why is making love in a canoe like drinking American beer?

    A: Cause they’re both fucking near water.

    (Mind you, these days the same applies to the major Canadian beers too…..)

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  19. Josh says:

    Great post, inspired me to take more care in enjoying my beer. Cheers!

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  22. Buford says:

    I am an all-grain homebrewer, and you can indeed make good beer for cheap. Malt extracts are expensive, so you won’t save a ton of money using that, but malted grain is dirt cheap. Of course you have equipment costs, but those for the most part aren’t recurring. As far as ingredients go, I have made 5 gallon batches that cost about $12, although most of my batches run around $18-$22 depending on the amount and types of hops and grain used and if I use dry yeast (cheap), liquid yeast (expensive) or yeast cultured from a prior batch (effectively free). I also keg my batches, so I do have to account for CO2 expenses… but I can get a 5lb tank filled for $12.60 and it lasts through several kegs.

    If you buy in bulk, which I don’t, you can push your costs even lower. My pints only cost around 30 cents a glass as it is, so I don’t even bother.

  23. Joe says:

    This is perhaps the most important work ever written in the English language. Kudos to you!

  24. Mike says:

    11. Brew your own

  25. Allen Garvin says:

    Number 7: You probably don’t want to try that with a bottle of Duvel, unless you’re prepared to wait a couple hours for the foam to settle.

  26. loner says:

    if only i had friends to drink my beer with

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  28. danny says:

    Glad to see someone praise our national pride (Yes I’m Belgian)
    However, don’t think it’s all sunshine here. We too suffer from megacorporations (like inbev) who try to dominate the market. luckily for us, we have a beer cult that goes way back and lots of small breweries. The pilsener may be sold the most, but others do well too. The trappist you mentioned is protected as is gueuze-beer.
    BTW : I once drank a Westmalle trappist that lay in a cellar for 13 years. pure heaven.

    As for food : our national dish is mussels with french fries (never got that, it really should be belgian fries)and a “pintje” (pilsener)
    second is beef stew (with a dark beer in it) with fries and mayonaise and a “pintje”

    Also, don’t forget : for every wine accompanying a meal, there’s a beer that will fit equally well (if not better).


  29. Chris A says:

    Brew your own!

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  31. charlie p. says:

    what the fark?! \”fresh\” beer???

    A sin. a sin. if you are drinking beer that doesn\’t get BETTER with age, you are not drinking beer worth drinking. drinking. gulp gulp

    home brew for the win!!!!

  32. danny says:

    Hear, hear.
    beers like pilsener are “dead” once they get bottled and don’t keep for long.
    Living beers however, can be stored for a (very) long time. they just get better because there’s a second fermentation in the bottle.

  33. ksbrainard says:

    High end beers are a great value! I love this article!

    On the homebrew front, I figure it normally costs me about a buck a bottle for a 5-gallon batch. This is a tremendous value when you make something like a Duvel clone, or any other less common style where it’s normally $2 or more a bottle at the liquor store.

    But even fancy corked 750ml beers are very price competitive with wine. You can get an awesome 750 of something like Ommegang Three Philosophers for less than $15, and it is a great beer. It is also almost 10% alcohol, so it’s just about as powerful as wine, except it is great beer for the price of a questionable wine. Spend $10 on 750ml of wine and take your chances. Spend $10 on 750ml of beer and it’s hard to go wrong.

  34. Tyler says:

    This all sounds great but what if you want to get hammered? O drink domestic light beer but I drink in quantity not quality.

  35. Hal says:

    11: Host beer tastings. Go out and buy 10 or 11 bottles of different beers you’ve been meaning to try. Gather a group of 4 or 5 friends and serve these beers blind in little cups. Ask your friend to rank them 1 through 11. Talk about what you liked and why. Everyone will come away knowing something that they didn’t know before.

    PS. Yesterday I bought the ingredients to make 5 gal of pale ale. My bill was $27.18. If you work at it you can bring your costs down. If you have a homebrew club that goes in together to buy a pallet of malted barley you can cut your costs nearly in half.

  36. jim says:

    i must respectfully disagree with point 7.

    I was trained to pour pints in Scotland, at a pub that hosted Real Ale (CAMRA) sponsored events. We had extensive training on how to pour each of our 30+ beers.

    Although each beer varied according to the pump style , the rule of thumb was to begin the pour with the beer flowing at 45 degree angle to the glass. When the ale got to approximately 3/4 full in the glass, finish the pour with the liquid flowing into the middle, so as to create a head that was about 1 finger wide. This method was usually prescribed for bottles, but depended on brand (and we served little from the bottle)

    Pouring by the method you describe usually results in a lot of waste by creating an excessive head

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  41. Al says:

    Thanks all for your kind comments. I see lots of other good suggestions too.

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  43. Uncle B says:

    I home-brew the finest talor made to my tastes German style beer and will drink no other! After years of carefully recording and refining my technique, I am able to produce, to my tastes, the finest beer ever, and for less than ten cents a glass! Most my friends agree, it is much superior to any that can be bought, locally or otherwise, and well worth the investment of time money and space in my home! I an (GRD) great republican depression-proof, and when the factories resort to cheaper adjuncts, my beer remains, faithfully delicious and wholesome!

  44. howie13 says:

    I’m a homebrewer and don’t really enjoy American light lagers, but if thats what you like, drink it. If you like your beer with ice crystals in it, drink it that way. If you like it out of a paper dixie cup, drink it that way. My point is, drink for your own enjoyment and tell everyone else to kindly stfu.

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