Top 10 Affordable Craft Beers

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Scott Olson / Getty Images

Scott Olson / Getty Images

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Let’s suppose, for a moment, that you’re the kind of lady or gentleman who likes an ice cold beer before a football game. The only problem is, if you’re anything like me, you’ve discovered that drinking beer can be a horribly expensive habit, especially if you’re a fan of craft breweries (heck, I’d drink Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA all day, if it weren’t $15 for a 4-pack. Or like 500 calories per bottle. Or if it didn’t threaten to kill me before 40).

And, as many of you know, tailgating can — and usually does — take place over several hours, sometimes two days at a time, depending on your college and pro team. The question is: how the hell are you supposed to afford that much craft beer? Unless you get a second mortgage on your house or something. And if that’s crossed your mind as a legitimate possibility, you might want to talk to someone — your spouse, for instance — before pulling the trigger.

So, how can you explore some unique beer styles, while still staying budget-savvy? Enter Tailgate Fan. Today we’ll walk you through the perfect center of this particular Venn diagram. We’re also aiming to give you a list of nationally available beers, so you can stock up on any tailgating road trips, too. Just remember not to curse us during your hangover.

Guiness bottle

Photo Credit: Guiness

10. Guinness

Is it “craft”? Hard to say. But it is a unique style, so I’ll allow it for now. But this is still a tricky one, for a few reasons. Personally speaking, I’ve always preferred Guinness to come straight from the tap. The little nitrogen widget they put into cans of Guinness do a noble job trying to recreate the bar experience, but sometimes it feels like microwaving your own frozen White Castle burgers. There’s just something missing. That said, I’m still a fan of the stuff. I wrote a whole defense of Guinness snobbery last Saint Patrick’s Day. And besides, it’s always good to have on hand in case someone sneaks in a little Jameson and Bailey’s Irish Cream. Car bombs ahoy!

9. Sam Adams

What can one say about Sam Adams that hasn’t already been said? It’s on almost every tap handle in the United States. It’s available in just about every convenience store, grocery store and restaurant. It’s reasonably priced. And it’s pretty tasty. Are you always in the mood for Sam Adams? Probably not. But if someone offers you one, rare is the person who will say “no thanks.” Read more about this theory in my forthcoming book: Sam Adams: the Pearl Jam of Beer.

Sierra Nevada

Photo Credit: Sierra Nevada

8. Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada is a longtime personal favorite. I think many of the styles they produce are true textbook examples of what a beer should be (my liver is unhappy with just how much I’ve been enjoying their Torpedo Extra IPA lately). However, if you’re in a store with limited selection, you’re likely to at least find their regular Pale Ale. This brew has been a staple of beer fans everywhere, and it still holds up in quality, flavor and drinkability to this day. An excellent and affordable selection for any tailgate.

7. Blue Moon

For many of you, Blue Moon was the introduction to Belgian Whites (or “wits” depending on how your brewery of choice prefers to call it). For those who have never had the pleasure, it’s a wheat beer flavored with curacao orange peels and coriander. They’re delightfully refreshing. These days I take mine without the orange slice (there’s an urban legend that wheat beers only ever had citrus garnishes because, before German purity laws passed in the 16th century, a squeeze of lemon or orange was the only thing making beers palatable. Obviously we’ve long since gotten past those days) but hey, whatever floats your boat. You should be able to find Blue Moon in most markets.

6. Hoegaarden

First, for anyone giggling, remember that it’s pronounced “HU-garden.” Secondly, this is another fine Belgian wit for your coolers Why two Belgian wits on the list? Because in early September, temperatures are still hot enough to demand a more refreshing beer, instead of a heavier selection. (But we might have to revisit this list in December.) In my mind, I find Hoegaarden to have flavors that are a little more muted than Blue Moon. I also think it tastes a little more tart. Which is better? Here’s an easy answer: buy them both and gutcheck your personal preference.

5. Saranac

Not only is Saranac a pretty nifty brewery, but I think they’re also a great introduction to different varieties of beer. Now, many breweries put out a sampler pack of 12 or 24 bottles, but Saranac offers a sampler six-pack (including the rare schwarzbier!) In the New York market, this usually runs for about $9, meaning that you get to try five or six different varieties at a pretty reasonable price point. If that’s not enough for you, know that the brewery has been open since 1888, so these guys have a few years of experience knowing what makes an interesting beer.

4. Blue Moon (Seasonal)

Yep, we’re putting Blue Moon on here twice. But there’s good reason for this. Recently, Blue Moon has been making bigger strides into offering beers beyond their flagship white. Some of their recent selections include an Agave Nectar Ale, a Mountain Abbey Ale, and the current Harvest Pumpkin Ale, all of which are pretty interesting, and all of which should be available in most markets (depending on seasonal availability, of course).

3. Sam Adams (Seasonal)

What the hell? As long as we’re adding other seasonals, let’s toss Sam Adams in here. Sam Adams has been tinkering with and exploring their seasonal lineup for years now, sometimes with decent results (in my opinion, the Summer Ale is… fine. Not perfect, but fine), and sometimes with pretty terrific beers (I remain a fan of their Noble Pils, which doesn’t seem to make too many appearances anymore). These days their Pumpkin Ale is probably in full swing, which will be perfect for tailgating straight through until November.

Goose Island IPA

Photo Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

2. Goose Island IPA

Funny story about Goose Island. About a year back, my girlfriend said to me, “Man, you sure do love your Goose Island, huh?” I didn’t know what she meant. Turns out, I had been ordering Goose Island IPA at every bar we had gone to for several months straight. If anyone from Goose Island is reading this, by the by, I’m up for endorsement deals, by the by.

My favorite part about this beer isn’t just its taste — it is a fine IPA — but recently their availability is through the roof. Hey, if it means good beer is being spread even further, I’m a-ok with it.

1. Dale’s Pale Ale

Hailing from Lyons, Colorado, Dale’s Pale Ale offers something that not every craft beer can. And that’s, erm, craft beer cans. Yes, most craft beers come in bottles, but recently, there’s been more of a shift towards cans (for a number of reasons, including the fact that cans keep out light) and the Oskar Blues Brewing Company was one of the early adopters. (Within the craft beer world, of course, there are plenty of other beers out there that have been doing cans for a long time.) More benefits of a canned craft beer? You can’t break it while packing for your tailgate. And you can shotgun it, if this is how you roll. Although to be fair, you’d be rushing through — and wasting —a pretty terrific beer.

So there it is, beer lovers. A guide to budget-friendly craft beers for your tailgate. Did we miss one of your favorites? Hit us up in the comments section.

- Brian Cullen. Tailgate Fan

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