Just as mustaches, cassette tapes and Polaroid-style cameras have made small but significant comebacks, some cheap American “adjunct” lagers have enjoyed a resurgence. We’re talking Schlitz and Stroh’s, Narragansett and Hamm’s—blue-collar, regional light beers our dads and granddads would drink on weekends while mowing their lawns or working on their GTOs.
If the show The Wonder Years were transmogrified into a beer, it would be one of these. But if you’re like us, all these brews seem to blend together. Are they just twee alternatives to easy drinking macro-brews like Bud and Miller, or are they worth a serious beer-drinker’s time? The answer is… it depends. None of these is in the same galaxy as a Two Hearted or Pliny the Elder, but for a hot summer day, some are surprisingly solid.
We tasted nine of these old brews and ranked them from “pass” to “damn good.” Our winner might surprise you. Cheers!
If this is “the national beer of Texas,” as its slogan proclaims, the state may want to reconsider its secession plans. An almost non-existent nose leads to a sweet, unbalanced taste. If you grew up in Fort Worth or Lubbock back in the 1980s, maybe nostalgia could fool your brain into enjoying this. But it’s not good beer.
The distinctive gold-and-white can and no-nonsense “It’s the water” slogan made us want to like this brew. But almost everything about it—from its grainy nose to its flat, watery flavor—is one-note and forgettable. If you’re thirsty, it’ll get the job done. But if you have any other options, take them.
FINE IN A PINCH
PABST BLUE RIBBON
The archetypal old-school beer may be experiencing some post-hipster backlash. And while it tastes a little corn-y, it has some decent barley and hops on the nose that complements its sweet, touch-of-bitter taste.
FINE ANY TIME
”From the land of sky blue waters … comes the water best for brewing.” That’s the start of an old radio jingle for this Midwestern brew, originally made in St. Paul, Minnesota. This creamy, frothy beer packs is super carbonated, and has just a touch of bitterness and malt to elevate it above some of its competition. But while there are some nice elements here, they don’t add up to much.
MILLER HIGH LIFE
We couldn’t do a list like this without including “the Champagne of beers.” There’s some, but not much, bread on the nose and a pleasant, lightly bitter hit of flavor. It’s comfortingly inoffensive. This is the beer you order at the end of a long night when you’ve had too much to drink and don’t want to throw up.
Long made in Detroit—and, recently, Stroh’s has released a “Bohemian” version that’s once again brewed in the Motor City—we’re rating the widely available navy-blue-can version. Compared to most of the beers on this list, Stroh’s has a little more malt and a little more body. It also has some pleasant grassy and herbal characteristics that make it an enjoyable, if unmemorable, easy drinker.
Originally made in 1900 and called “Old Times Lager,” this La Crosse, Wisconsin-born brew was renamed Old Style in 1902. It has some tasty floral and grassy notes with a good balance of malt and hop bitterness. It has less of a sweet hit than most of the brews on this list, which is a good thing.
Rhode Island-based “Gansett” is the only New England brew on our list, but it’s a good one. Frothy and grassy and with hints of flowers, citrus and spice, this beer is easy to like. You could knock it a bit because its alcohol touches 5.0%, which almost feels like breaking the rules among lawnmower beers. But this is a good brew any unpretentious drinker would be hard-pressed to hate.
Yet another brew founded in Wisconsin—it’s known as “the beer that made Milwaukee famous”—Schlitz has bounced among owners but isn’t any the worse for wear. After some surprising cracker and citrus on the nose, the flavor is a delightful combination of bread and grass. This is our winner, and it’s not that close. Schlitz could go toe to toe with many praised—and pricey—craft lagers.