Jordan St. John: Hey Robin. You know when you’re standing there in the aisle at the store and you just want a beer?
Robin LeBlanc: Oh, you mean when you just want something good to quench the thirst?
J: Exactly. You’re standing there, and you don’t feel like caring about what variety of hops are in something. You don’t want to pay eight dollars for a Mexican Chocolate Imperial Stout with Cinnamon in it. It would be great if fruit purée wasn’t involved in the deliberation.
R: Just looking through the selection of beers available with a crisp $5 bill in your pocket hoping to find something that will Get The Job Done. In this case the job is something enjoyable to sip on after a long day at work. Maybe you’ll say “hoo-boy” after the first sip if it’s been a particularly rough day, but maybe you won’t.
J: And maybe, just maybe, you can exchange that crisp $5 bill for two cans of beer just in case the first one doesn’t quite do the job. What do you think the best beer at the LCBO is for less than $2.50?
R: Hmm… $2.50, eh?
That really does remove a lot of options, particularly in terms of craft offerings. For my money though, I’d probably go with Jever Pilsner at $2.35. It’s a classic German-style pilsner with some lovely floral, bread, honey, and citrus notes. It’s crisp, it’s clean, at 4.4% ABV I can drink two of them without needing a nap, and it’s honestly an enjoyable beer that is a cut above your usual mass-produced rice lagers.
J: It’s got a nicely assertive bitterness to it. You know that you’ve had a Pilsner when you’ve had a Jever.
One of the criteria here probably has to do with availability. Not only does it have to be cheap and cheerful, it probably has to be omnipresent. Hacker Pschorr Munchner Gold is a great shout at $2.40. For one thing, it’s all barley, and only uses Hallertauer hops, so there’s a pleasing sense of geography to it. One of the varieties of barley they use is called Catamaran, Robin. It’s the only barley that’s grown at sea! (ed note: No, it isn’t.)
R: Oh, aye, the sea! That wild, beautiful mistress that all of humankind wishes to tame.
This is all fascinating stuff, but let’s be honest here, the bottom line is that it’s a solid beer with good standing internationally and with its crisp mouthfeel and hints of dried fruits, roasted nuts, and a nice bit of dryness, it’s just lovely to have around. And I’m sure it being 5.5% ABV has a lot to do with your appreciation of it, you day drinking do-gooder.
J: I’ve been rumbled. I’m a proponent of delicious full strength lager.
R: Is it worth mentioning some of the lighter macro beers? I know in our field it’s easy to dismiss them, but in terms of consistency and matching quality you really have to give the folks at Budweiser some credit.
J: It’s fascinating to watch how traditional categories have inverted over time. Budweiser is what you’d call a “Premium” product. It’s actually surprisingly expensive at $2.90. To be fair to them, it’s about the most consistent macro product we taste in class at George Brown. It’s got a light banana ester to it and some gentle grain sweetness.
The fact that you have all these comparatively storied European brands coming in at a significantly lower price point is something that I’ve never properly understood. They have to cross the Atlantic. How are those breweries making any money at all?
R: The topic of wholesale alcohol purchasing is a mighty beast for sure, but honestly it’s one of the aspects that makes me grateful for being in Ontario. The LCBO is remarkably competitive with the pricing of their imports.
But it’s fascinating to learn that Budweiser isn’t even one of the cheapest options anymore. How the turntables have… wait.
J: You were going to say turned, weren’t you?
R: Yes, but I got turned around.
J: You’ll have that with some of these inexpensive beers.
What if you wanted to go REALLY cheap? I’m talking $2.00. As a professional type beer person is there anything in that range that you’d consider drinking? You know. Down in the bargain bin.
R: Ah, I think there’s definitely a wider selection than one might think, for sure. You’ve got Old Style Pilsner at $2, which is always a classic. Say what you will about PBR, but it’s the beer enjoyed by my late grandfather and Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. And if we want to get REALLY cheap I’d have to say that Stonewall Light from Cool Brewing has that nice cereal and honey note that makes for a decent light lager at $1.65.
J: Sorry I took so long to respond. I was playing the flash game on the Old Style Pilsner website. It turns out to be an all malt beer, so you could do worse.
I think maybe the thing that everyone lost sight of is that whether you’re paying six bucks for a Double IPA or two bucks for a value brand beer, everyone is just trying to get through their lives.
There’s a lot of unhelpful snobbery around beer where sometimes Craft Beer drinkers look down on the man in the street drinking his can of Laker.
We should be helpful snobs and get that guy the best possible two dollar beer.