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Lifestyle

December 30, 2012

Slate: The best cheap beer

NEW YORK — By popular demand, our topic today is beer, cheap beer. Some of you may be wondering whether the subject under discussion might be better off beneath discussion. Such concerns are not to be pooh-poohed; most conversations about cheap beer employ the word "rank" strictly as an adjective. And yet the theme of cheap beer abounds with richness and flavor.

What, exactly, are you getting when you pay less? Sometimes, it is the local pride of a traditional favorite — Olympia in the state of Washington, Lone Star in the republic of Texas, resurgent Narragansett in New England. Sometimes, it is a can of relatively palatable foreign swill marked down for complex cultural reasons; I eagerly await an economic explanation of why Mexico's crisp Tecate is 20 cents cheaper than Bud at one New York deli and 20 cents more expensive just a few blocks away. And sometimes you are getting an economy-priced headache. Let's knock back a mixed six-pack of notable brands.

Natural Light is the best-selling beer in the subpremium segment, the fifth-best-seller overall, and — at this writing, in the view of RateBeer.com — the second-worst beer in the world. (It trails Olde English 800, a malt liquor favored in the 1980s by Eazy-E and more recently by college students.) Natural Light is among the cheap beers sold by the 30-pack, which, based on my own experience as an undergraduate, constitutes a single serving. But for the sake of this story, I tried to enjoy a Natural Light responsibly and derived no enjoyment from sitting down and sipping one at a leisurely pace. My first mistake was the sitting. Beers of this type are not supposed to be drunk while sitting, unless perhaps the seat in question is mounted on a riding mower. Rather, you douse your central nervous system with them while standing, ideally over a rousing match of beer pong or robopound. Idling over a light beer, with its low alcohol content (4 percent or so) and its high amount of brewing adjuncts (cloying corn, rancid rice), you catch only a gnat of a buzz — or else advance straight from clear-headedness to a faint fogginess resembling a piddling hangover. If you're having only one beer, Natty Light is one to avoid.

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