I realize you're going to spend Independence Day happily drinking whatever cold beer you're served, because you're polite and you're an alcoholic. And I trust you'll have a fine old time no matter what you drink. But that doesn't mean America's shitbrews are all the same. The list below breaks down 36 of them, from worst to least-worst.
36. Keystone. This is the worst beer currently sold on American soil. It sits behind chilled glass in a convenience-store fridge like a dumb rebuke to the explosion of American beer variety all around it. In 1978 there were 89 breweries in the U.S.; today there are more than 2,400, and most of the new ones are better than most of the old ones. In 2013 craft beer is no longer the exclusive domain of West Coast weirdos and psychotic woodsmen. These fine days you can score Samuel Adams or Sierra Nevada at the least ambitious of convenience stores and Dogfish Head 90 Minute on the least reliable of trains. And then there is Keystone, which first appeared to the world in 1989, in Chico, Calif., home of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Keystone separates itself from the rest of the crap pack by augmenting the typical stale/sour flavor profile with notes of brown bananas and green armpits. Keystone is worse than Heineken and murder.
35. Bud Light Lime. When Anheuser-Busch spit this one out a few years ago it seemed like a pretty good idea, as terrible ideas go. The world never needs more flavors of Bud Light, but the popularity of the otherwise worthless Corona proves that folks love to limen up their beers. Barroom fruit is repulsive—ever think about where your lime's been before it lands in your drink? Nowhere nice—so if Bud Light Lime were any good at all, it would be a little leap forward. But alas, the alleged lime flavoring in no way resembles people food. Bud Light Lime tastes like green Froot Loops soaked in thigh sweat.
34. Genesee Cream Ale. Man, do I want to like Genny Cream. Man, do I not like Genny Cream. I'm a sucker for old-timey regional budget brew, but this is awfully rough stuff. It doesn't even have the dignity to go down swinging with a signature blend of gross flavors, a la Keystone. Genny Cream is just the archetypal stale cardboard crud-juice.
33. Rolling Rock. Smells like three fat guys in a two-man tent.
32. Beer 30. Bonus points for the purple can. No points for anything else.
31. Miller High Life. This is what the bartenders and cool people in my neighborhood drink, and god bless them, I wish I could too. The bottle! The name! The "Champagne of Beers" tagline! But it's just too accidentally sour.
30. Schlitz. I loved Schlitz until a few years ago, when they made a big fuss about reintroducing the "Classic 60s Formula," which tastes yeasty and sweet, like an infected donut.
29. National Bohemian. As one of the few Americans who's never seen The Wire or flashed my tits at the Preakness, I'm largely shut out of the Baltimore conversation, but I HAVE had a Natty Bo, which qualifies me to say, Sure, I get it, hometown pride is nice sometimes. But you do know there are other beers, right?
28. Game Day Ice Ale. Not as bad as 7-Eleven's private label ice beer could be, but still: Do Juggalos have their own special beer? Because if not, I nominate this to be the special Juggalo beer.
27. Miller Genuine Draft. Tastes like the brown ends of corn silk, plus lemon.
26. Bud Light. Tastes like printer paper and often gives the impression of unfreshness, which is alarming given the high turnover. There's a very good chance you and Bud Light will join forces at some point over the holiday weekend, and that's all well and good, but please don't take it into the bathroom with you. I used to clean bar bathrooms, and an overwhelming majority of the bottles left in the john at the end of the night were Bud Light. Bud Light dudes are afraid of leaving their beer unattended, as if they have reason to worry about the fate of unattended beers. I suppose there's something apt about these beers ending the night on top of a urinal. It's like a little story about the nitrogen cycle.
25. Yuengling. Why are people so into Yuengling? It's quite popular among the Pennsylvania ex-pat community, which is odd given that the beer sucks and Pennsylvanians don't strike me as an excessively prideful or self-important lot.
24. Busch Light. This is for the sort of person who buys tube socks at the bus stop. Like on the one hand, all right, good job holding it together enough to get some brand-new socks on your feet. But then on the other hand, I can't help but point out that if you'd been a little more rigorous in planning your day, you wouldn't be buying socks at the bus stop.
23. Natural Ice. The soggy cardboard sensation fades after the first several cans, turning Natty Ice into a serviceable alternative to sobriety.
22. Stroh's. The royal blue Stroh's can is truly majestic, but the beer itself is disconcertingly greasy. It doesn't taste like much one way or the other, but it's marred by a rubbery slickness that leaves your tongue feeling like third-day deli ham.
21. Natural Light. I drank a lot of this in high school. Do high school kids still drink cheap beer, or is it all the lemonade alcopop bullshit for the lightweights and Four Loko (and the myriad Loko-alikes) for the bad kids? Or worse yet, is it all reefer and pills? I sucked at being a teenager, but I feel like I had the "drinking cheap beer by a fire in the woods" part down cold. If they've changed that step of the program I'll have nothing useful to offer my hypothetical future teens.
20. Milwaukee's Best. It's easy to mock the Beast, but it's all I drank in college and I turned out.
19. Busch. Aw, come on, Busch isn't so bad. Let's say you're a stepdad, probably named Ron, and you're a Bud man. Good living—until your Jet Ski needs a new fuel pump and you're fresh out of Jet Ski fuel-pump cash. You think you're fucked, but then you realize you can just step it down to Busch for a few weeks and bang, back in the lake. Now who's too cool for Busch?
18. Keystone Light. Well I'll be damned if this isn't a marked improvement over regular Keystone. The rotting fruit and flesh are stripped away to leave a regular, boring light beer that's a viable option if you're looking to drink your way into Speedo shape one beer at a time.
17. Old Milwaukee. This was the first beer I ever hated, but that was back in my stupid youth, when I expected more out of life. Turns out Old Milwaukee is plenty good enough for the likes of me.
16. Iron City. Weird that Mr. Rogers and Mr. Roethlisberger represent the same city.
15. Simpler Times. This is Trader Joe's house lager. It's all right.
14. Name Tag. This is also Trader Joe's house lager.
12. Coors Light. Is Ice Cube broke? Seems unlikely, but it's the only acceptable excuse for those shameful ads wherein the baddest rapper of my childhood loses an argument to a fucking beer bottle. I had a Coors Light last week, though, and it's better than I remembered. If you base your beer choices on the CEO's politics—and I suppose you might as well—then you probably have an opinion on Head Pete in Charge's staunch conservatism, as well as the company's scummy labor history. Okie doke.
11. Medalla Light. Puerto Rican beer is American beer, buster. I drank a hundred million of these on my honeymoon and I suggest you do the same.
10. Schaefer. When I was a very young buck, the Patriots played in Schaefer Stadium. Now the stadium's better and so is the team, but I experience a rare wave of nostalgia when I think of the bygone era when the stadium was named for America's oldest lager and the tight ends didn't kill people.
9. Olympia. This one smells a little bit like the produce section of a carpeted grocery store, but it goes down pretty smooth otherwise.
8. Lone Star. Shit, I wish I had a big, brash opinion about this one, but it's the most middle-of-the-road thing ever to come out of Oklahoma's southern sister. It's good in certain applications, such as when it's a thousand degrees out or you're trying to avoid Corona and margarita slushies at a license-plates-on-the-wall restaurant.
7. Rainier. This is on the sweet side of mediocre, but it's a bright, clean kind of sugar that tells soothing lies about freshness and purity.
6. Miller Lite. My dad drank most of the world's stock of Miller Lite before his untimely passing, but you can still get your grubby mitts on a can or two if you know the right people and wait in the right lines. A lot of suckers say it tastes like nothing, but I say it tastes like Barney Miller and Little League.
5. Pabst Blue Ribbon. It took me a few years to come around on PBR, probably because I was the sort of dipshit who worried about what message my beer was sending. Now that I'm liberated from such petty concerns, I can tell the world, "Hey, look at me spend $14 to get all-day drunk on clean, nondescript beer that tastes like Budweiser is supposed to."
4. Utica Club. This has a fair bit going on, flavor-wise, which is risky business. Less is usually much more in this price category, but UC is the rare cheapie that pulls off its dangerous ambition. This Central New Yorker's unique vegetal maltiness is much better than the phrase "unique vegetal maltiness" suggests. I'll never write their marketing copy, but I'll always drink their beer.
3. Coors. You don't see much yellow-canned original Coors Banquet Beer in Boston, which is a small shame, since it's a half-step better than its direct competitors. See above regarding Nazis and unions and what not.
2. Narragansett. This resurrected New England legend was prominently featured in Jaws, then went away for a couple decades, and is now prominently featured in my refrigerator.
1. Grain Belt Premium. I always think of Minnesota as a secretly sexy place, and not just because of Kent Hrbek and Al Franken. Maybe it's all the trout and music and Lutherans. Toss in a smooth, creamy, and dreamy local budget brew like Grain Belt and it's a wonder Minnesota hasn't seceded to form its own naked blond utopia. Grain Belt Premium is America's finest cheap beer.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states if you don't count Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.
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