Recession-Proof Drinking: Taste Testing Three Off-Brand Beers

Never in the dozen-plus years that I've been of legal drinking age have I seen beer as cheap as the $2.99 six-pack of Big Flats 1901 I espied at Walgreen's the other day. Not even the Schlitz, Natty Light or Beast we drank in college was that cheap.

There was no way it could be good, but for 50 cents a can, what did I have to lose? (I resisted the temptation to pay for it at the pharmacy counter along with my prescription cough syrup, which is covered with labels warning against combining it with alcohol as doing so could exacerbate one of the medicine's side effects: an "exaggerated sense of well-being." Heaven forbid.)

Normally I'm pretty choosy about beer, as regular readers of this column know. But while I prefer craft beers and quality imports of any style -- IPAs, stouts, abbey ales, doppelbocks, you name it -- I will drink anything. I hate to drink products from InBev and Molson-Miller-Coors, but that comes as much from how disgusting their business practices are as how disgusting their beers are.

Sometimes a shitty beer is all you feel like you deserve. It would feel kind of silly to drink an expensive craft beer when you've just kited the rent check, you're hiding the car from the repo man and you're eating a Totino's frozen pizza for dinner, but it would feel even sillier to not drink at all.

On the other side, Big Flats gets ranked on the Hophead Scoring System, along with two generic beers from Aldi, the packaging of which look suspiciously like Heineken and Corona, respectively: Holland Lager 1839 and Cerveza Monterrey.

Big Flats Lager Beer
Appearance: Very pale, watery appearance with a thin short-lived soapy head. The design on the can looks very dated and cheap, but it has so many odd slogans -- "Premium brew," "Brewed from only the choicest hops," "It's the water that makes it" -- that there's something almost endearing about it. This beer really wants you to like it. 4/10
Nose: Barroom floor. 2/10
Taste: For an American adjunct lager -- meaning a watery light beer made mostly from cheap ingredients such as corn or rice rather than barley -- it's not bad. Which is kind of like saying, "For a serial rapist, he's not a bad guy." It's watery with the expected light grainy sweetness and a bit more noticeable hop presence than most of its ilk. A bad beer, but better than Natty Light and no worse than Miller Lite or Budweiser. 8/40
Body: Watery with a lot of carbonation. 2/10
Finish: Not as gross as some of its kind, but there is an odd metallic tang along with the faint hops. 2/10
Style/Originality: As for the beer itself, this is designed to be unobtrusive, unoriginal and bland like the cheap macrobrews whose prices it's undercutting. But it earns points for being American-owned (unlike Bud, Coors or Miller), for the incredible price and for being a Walgreen's exclusive. 6/10
Party Factor (ABV divided by price per 12-ounce serving): With an ABV reported by Beer Advocate to be 4.5 and a price of $2.99 a six-pack, it gets a factor of 9.03, rounding to 9.
Total: 33

Holland Lager 1839
Appearance: Clear, light gold with a seafoam white head. The green bottle is clearly meant to remind you of Heineken, but the design just looks off somehow. 2/10
Nose: Slight earthy hop aroma, nothing offensive. 4/10
Taste: Boring, unobtrusive, with a faint whitebread character. Over all, tastes like a watery bland cheap Euro-lager but without the nasty aftertaste of cheap American beers. Not much worse than Heinie. 12/40
Body: Watery with medium carbonation. 2/10
Finish: Not quite crisp, no discernible hops, but at least it doesn't linger the way cheap American beers do. 3/10
Style/Originality: It tastes like scientists tried to chemically recreate some hybrid of Stella and Heineken in the lab. Not original, but it gets points for the price and for being a blatant generic rip-off. 3/10
Party Factor (ABV divided by price per 12-ounce serving): With an ABV reported by RateBeer to be 4.8 and a price of $5.99 a six-pack (of 11.2-ounce bottles), it gets a factor of 4.49, rounding to 4.
Total: 30

Cerveza Monterrey
Appearance: Very pale, almost clear yellow with thin head. The painted clear bottle is obviously inspired by Corona, though it's actually from a Guatamalan brewery.  2/10
Nose: Kind of has a pilsner funkiness to it, but more skunky than funky. 2/10
Taste: No worse than Corona. Would definitely be improved by disguising it with a lime wedge. 8/40
Body: Watery with a medium carbonation. 2/10
Finish: Has a gross off flavor at the finish. 2/10
Style/Originality: Nothing original about the beer. It's miles away from extraordinary, though the discount keeps it from being a zero. 2/10
Party Factor (ABV divided by price per 12-ounce serving): Haven't found the ABV from any reliable source and haven't heard back from customer service, but I'd guess it's around 4.5. At $5.99 (sometimes on sale for $4.99) that comes to 4.5, rounding to 5.
Total: 23

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