Drinking Cheap at Trader Joe’s: A Guide

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The best beer is the one that suits your mood at the moment. I enjoy a lot of those moments; it’s no secret that I love good beer. My wallet doesn’t always agree with my appetite, however, and one of my greatest fears is being caught with my refrigerator looking like a desert. In Trader Joe’s, I have found an oasis that suits both my pocket and my palate (I know I’m cheesy, but hey-they can pair my puns with the beer aisle).

Setting out to test 25 or more varieties of beer sounds fun, but it can be daunting to actually rate them. At first, I developed a semi-scientific formula that wasn’t simple at all. Don’t judge me for being a nerd. I called it, “The Absolute Value of Beer” and first calculated the ounces of alcohol which I dub ‘alcoz.’ To get alcoz I plugged total ounces purchased into a percentage formula using ABV divided by 100, like this:

alcoz/total oz = abv%/100

Then I divided the price of the package (six pack, four pack, whatever) by that number, giving us the price per ounce of pure alcohol, in which lower is better to create optimal value. Then I subtracted my personal 1-10 rating of the taste of the beer, so the biggest negative should be the best. And finally I took the absolute value of that number as the score, with higher being better.

$/alcoz – taste factor = |absolute value of beer|

Having tested the equation on several of these beers, I decided it’s a mediocre system at best, and proceeded to write about whichever beers I damn well please. Here, therefore, is my shamelessly unscientific, taste-prejudiced attempt to bring you the best beer for your buck at our favorite niche market. For this exercise, I tested varieties that are exclusive to Trader Joe’s. I’m an IPA guy who dabbles in lagers, porters and stouts, so I largely shied away from Belgians and anything brewed with wheat, no matter what they call it.


Best IPA at Trader Joe’s
In the single IPA category Mission St. IPA gets my vote. For a six-pack it’s now up to $6.99 and still worth every penny. It’s a translucent pale chestnut color with pine and grape scents and 5.8% ABV. The taste is a cool, clear citrus evergreen with a clean finish. It’s an easy drinking IPA that fulfills my desire for hoppy beer at a reasonable price.

Best Pale
Exploring IPA’s less adventurous cousin, the Pale Ale, I found a treat in Ol’ Burro’s Gold Brick Pale. It’s a 5.5% ABV that comes as a four-pack of pint cans for $5.49. While the absolute value is therefore a little low, I absolutely love having a full pint of beer in my back pocket while heading out to the lake, beach, or somewhere that bottles are unacceptable. This brew is hoppy but refreshing underneath, full and aggressive in the mouth with a honey malt finish.

Best Lager
If you want a pure, uncomplicated lager, the Simpler Times label is unbeatable. Minhas craft brewery in Wisconsin turns out two varieties: the lager is smooth and candy-coated with a solid ABV at 6%, while the pilsner is only 5.5% but a bit more piquant, spicy, and pleasing to my taste. At $3.49 for a sixer of cans, you can’t go wrong. These puppies taste good and go anywhere. Close on their heels in the category is the pint-can six-pack appeal of Petersbrand German-brewed Dutch-style Pilsner. It is crisp, light, and satisfying, getting a “plus one” for packaging—we love full pints!

Best Euro-Trash
For the lover of European style beers, I’m awarding a brewery section prize to Joseph’s Brau. Most of their diverse offerings are impeccably true to the old-world styles, smooth and delectable. With numerous varieties to choose from, I suggest starting with the Summer brew- a kölsch- which is a lager style ale, the Czech Pilsner, or the Heller Bock (the bock weighs in at 7%, which feels like a lot, but the smooth flavors disguise it nicely). This entire lineup will not disappoint.

Best Stout
Next, let’s talk big brown beers. The best stout I tried was Stockyard (incidentally still made by the Josephs Brau under a unique label.) It’s the color of dark chocolate with a tan head and smells like caramel and licorice. With a smooth start, it’s softly robust with an almost chewy character. Stout lovers, get some. Has anyone ever heard of a pre-packaged black and tan? The Mississippi Mud is just that, a walnut colored, nutty and full-flavored brew. It’s smooth, unique, surprisingly light on the stomach, and fun. At the store, you’ll pay $2.99 for a quart jug with a rustic label. Come on, who doesn’t want a quart of beer?

Best Beer That Doesn’t Fit a Category
Defying categorization, next comes Fat Weasel Ale. It’s $5.99 for a six-pack and weighs in at 7.1% ABV. Brewed by River Trent in Ukiah, CA this is a unique golden colored ale that has the mild smell of biscuits. It’s well-balanced and drinkable, with no hint of the elevated alcohol content. Not hoppy enough to be a Pale Ale, it’s also not quite high enough in alcohol to be a strong ale. All around, it’s just good value for a satisfying brew.

Honorable Mentions
Lastly, I’ll shout out a couple of honorable mentions. Trader Jose’s Dark is a great replacement for your Mexican beer needs and blows away Negra Modelo with the $5.99 price point. You’ll find a rich amber beer with nutty, smooth toasted caramel flavors packing 5.3% ABV. Just for fun, it comes in six 330ml bottles. While I don’t advocate drinking wheat beers, the Joseph’s Brau Hefeweizen is tasty for its category. The brew is orange gold, smells fruity, and goes down mild and smooth, if you’re into that kind of thing.