Buying Beer, Part 8: Best Bang-for-the-Buck Beers

Buying Beer: The Series
Here we are, at last, at the end of our beer series. If you still don’t have at least a small collection of beers that you love by now — well, the only possible explanation is that you're not old enough to drink. Please accept our congratulations on your upcoming 21st birthday and go read something else now.  

Way back in Part 1, we covered beers for everyday drinking. This list of beers is a close relative, but evaluated on the price-to-quality relationship. 

Since this article discusses retail prices, it was only fitting to partner with Joey Williams, beer manager of Spec’s downtown, one last time. We also had input from Lisa Villarreal, the person Williams calls Spec’s “beer angel." 

“Bang for the buck” depends most on what kind of beer the drinker enjoys. An IPA wouldn’t be a good deal at any price for someone who only loves chocolaty malt bombs. (That said, keep trying other beer styles. You just never know, and palates do change over time.)

Here are a few general guidelines for finding good values:
  • Craft beer in four-, six- or 12-packs is likely a good deal (and easy to share)
  • Local beer is less expensive than beer that incurs higher transportation costs 
  • Beer in cans is usually cheaper than beer in bottles
  • The higher the ABV, the more expensive the beer
  • Beers that are trendy or from big-name craft brewers are going to be more expensive thanks to simple supply and demand 

Below are cans, multipacks and bottles that are excellent for the price point. There are a variety of styles listed, too — sours, IPAs, stouts and more. Prices are valid as of this writing at the Spec’s downtown location. 

Hopadillo, Karbach Brewing Co., 6.3 percent ABV, $6.96 for a six-pack (cans)

At around 65 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), this dry-hopped IPA satisfies those seeking a bitter backbone to their beer, while malty balance helps not drive away people who don't want their mouths to pucker. It’s refreshing for summer days and is balanced enough to be food-friendly. Karbach recommends pairing Hopadillo with Thai cuisine, red curry, gorgonzola or bleu cheese, or grilled steak. The hops will accentuate hot peppers, so beware of foods that are exceptionally spicy. This is not the time for those ghost pepper hot wings. 

Hop Stoopid, Lagunitas, 8 percent ABV, $3.99 for a bomber

A favorite among hopheads thanks to 102 IBUs, this quality brew is a ridiculously good deal. Williams calls it the best deal on an everyday IPA and at a mere $3.99 per bomber, everyone in the group can have his or her own. Hop Stoopid sports an interesting pine aroma as well as lemon and grapefruit notes on the palate.

Old Rasputin, North Coast Brewing Company, 9 percent ABV, $8.99 for a four-pack (bottles)

Williams says back when he was still a Guinness drinker, Old Rasputin was his gateway to craft beer. This Imperial Russian Stout is a comforting brew during the cooler months. Tasting notes include roasted malt, chocolate, oats and coffee. When it's in-season, also try Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout for the same price.

Stateside Saison, Stillwater Artisanal Ales, 6.8 percent ABV, $9.59 for a four-pack (bottles)

This farmhouse saison will serve drinkers remarkably well during the spring and summer. This bottle-conditioned farmhouse ale goes down easy, but interesting grassy and citrus notes will cause imbibers to slow down and really contemplate the nuances of this brew. Stillwater Cellar Door, an herbal and citrusy brew that finishes with a touch of white sage, is also well worth a try

Session Black, Full Sail, 5.4 percent ABV, $11.99 for a 12-pack (bottles)

At about a buck a bottle, this is an affordable box of beer to grab on the way to a party. Williams pointed out, “It’s almost as cheap as a domestic premium 12-pack!” Session Black is a Schwarzbier (German-style black beer) but brewed in Oregon. There are enough roasted chocolate notes to keep things interesting, but this isn’t thick like a Russian Imperial Stout. It’s a dark beer light enough to drink on a summer night and approachable enough for friends who don’t really get the craft beer thing.

Rocket Fuel, 8th Wonder Brewery, 4.6 percent ABV, $7.40 for a four-pack (cans)

It doesn’t get much more local than this coffee porter. Brewed in Houston, Rocket Fuel incorporates cold-brew coffee from local coffee roaster Greenway Coffee. At a mere 18 IBUs and a low ABV, this beer is to be enjoyed by those who enjoy malt and coffee and value flavor over something that will get them snockered quickly. As the 8th Wonder rep on site at Spec’s said, “It’s a good deal because it’s like getting a beer and a cup of coffee at the same time.” Also, grab seasonal option Real Ale Brewers' Cut Project 18 while you can, a cafe de olla porter strongly recommended by Villarreal. 

Oro de Calabaza, Jolly Pumpkin, 8 percent ABV, $9.99 for a bomber

This bière de garde was mentioned last week as one of chef Chris Shepherd’s favorites for unwinding after a long day in the kitchen. It’s a slightly funky beer with both lemony and stone fruit notes. It’s also a good introduction to sours for those just starting to explore the style. Considering the quality, complexity and intrigue to be found, $9.99 is not a bad deal at all. Williams said, “It’s not only a great everyday or introductory sour — it’s also the best deal on a sour.”

Flanders Red Wild Sour, DESTIHL Brewing, 6.1 percent ABV, $8.80 for a four-pack (cans)

Sour ale in cans? Yes, it’s possible. This Flanders red in colorful, pop-art cans is for beer drinkers who never quite got over their Warheads candy addiction. It’s chock-full of tart cherries and berries but light enough to be refreshing.

Barista Chocolate Quad, Kasteel, 11 percent ABV, $9.99 for a bomber

Like Jolly Pumpkin’s Oro de Calabaza above, $9.99 is a small price to pay for the complexity within the bottle. Williams says the Barista Chocolate Quad is “a shocking steal for a special import — Belgian strong dark ale aged on coffee and Belgian chocolate. It’s ballin’ on a budget.”

Sorachi Ace, Brooklyn Brewery, 7.2 percent ABV, $8.99 for a four-pack (bottles)

This made an appearance on our “Beers For Everyday Drinking” list, but it’s worth talking about again from a value and intrigue standpoint. Having a four-pack of Sorachi Ace at home is like having bottles of happiness on standby. Lemongrass and pine notes come from the sorachi hops. This beer wouldn’t be here if a family in Washington State had not decided to cultivate those hops domestically and if Brooklyn hadn’t tried to make a saison out of it. Drink with Thai food, every day if possible.

This concludes our Buying Beer series. We hope you found some new favorites or rediscovered old ones.

Huge thanks go to Kevin Floyd of The Hay Merchant, Joey Williams and Lisa Villarreal of Spec’s, Justin Vann and Sean Jensen of Public Services Wine & Whisky, chef Chris Shepherd of Underbelly, Joshua Justice of Flying Saucer Draft Emporium, a bevy of Houston chefs on Facebook, the members of the Houston Let’s Talk Craft Beer Facebook group and Chuck Cook for his typically gorgeous professional photography. This series would not have been possible without them.

It’s been fun, y’all. 
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook