Craft Beer on a Budget: The Broke College Student’s Guide to Good Beer

by Niko Ivanovic

This article marks the first of a series of pieces I’m writing about the emerging craft beer scene in Madison. To put my questionable obsession with the almighty ale in perspective, I’ll give you a little background about my love affair with beer. If you ask any beer geek, he’ll probably tell you that it usually begins with one beer; there is always the unique, full-flavored brew that destroyed the notion ingrained in our minds that beer is and always will be nothing but fizzy corn-water. For me, that first beer was Guinness. For you, it may have been Blue Moon, Spotted Cow or Hopalicious. Regardless, all it took for me was one brew to realize the simple fact that beer could be so much more than I ever knew.

Two years, one blog and a couple of writing gigs later, I have tasted more beers than I ever knew existed: IPAs, Stouts, Barleywines, Strong Ales, Sour Ales, Red Ales, Amber Lagers, Wheat Beers, Bocks, Belgian Ales…the list goes on and on. I know it can be intimidating at first, but my ultimate goal with this column is to convert as many readers into craft beer fans as possible, if for no other reason than because, as Badgers, I think we deserve much better than Keystone Light. Now I know what you’re thinking, and I’ve been there: Keystone is cheap. And as broke college kids, portioning Ramen meals to afford a fourteen dollar thirty pack is not a preference; it’s a necessity. However, I’m here to tell you that you can drink a lot better for only a few dollars more a week—that is, if you know what to buy.

Let’s say your average cheap case costs fifteen bucks a pack, or 50 cents per beer. While that is incredibly cheap for thirty beers, keep in mind that each brew clocks in at a weak 4% alcohol by volume. And let’s be honest, no one is drinking Coors Light for the great taste. For the same amount of alcohol, let’s see how some great microbrews compare in terms of price.

Victory Golden Monkey – $11.99 for a 6-Pack at University Liquor

This beer might sound pretty expensive until you realize that it will knock you out with its 9.5% alcohol. When you do the math, it comes to $0.84 for the same amount of alcohol as a Keystone. Golden Monkey is a fantastic Belgian Triple with spicy notes of clove and yeast, followed by light tropical fruits. Once again, Keystone tastes like corn and diluted urine on a good day. Worth the extra thirty cents? I think so.

Bell’s Two Hearted Ale – $9.50 for a 6-Pack at University Liquor

Two Hearted is one of the best single IPAs in the country, and the favorite gateway beer for many. The aroma and flavors are incredibly balanced and refreshing with rose, pine, grapefruit and a sweet biscuit malt finish. At 7% ABV, you end up paying an affordable $0.95 per drink.

Dale’s Pale Ale – $17.99 for a 12-pack at Riley’s Wines of the World

Other than maybe Sierra Nevada, this is the quintessential American Pale Ale. Not as bitter as an IPA, but with just as much citrus and a stronger toasty malt backbone, the beer delivers a lot of flavor for $0.90 per amount alcohol.

Sierra Nevada Hoptimum – $10.99 per 4-Pack at Riley’s Wines of the World

A new release from one of America’s oldest and most popular craft breweries, Hoptimum clocks in at 10.5% ABV and is considered by beer geeks to be one of the best double IPAs around. Although we break the dollar mark here, it’s easily worth the price: $1.08 per drink.

Founders Breakfast Stout – $10.99 per 4-pack at Riley’s Wines of the World

Breakfast Stout is the most expensive of the beers I’ve mentioned, but with a perfect ratebeer score of 100, and incredible critical acclaim, it’s simply a must try for fans of dark beer. I would argue it’s easily one of the top 20 stouts in the world, featuring tons of roasted coffee, dark chocolate, and a dry oat finish – definitely worth the $1.32 for a beer’s worth of booze.

Sadly, not all craft beer is this cheap, but hopefully throughout the semester I’ll be able to guide you in the right direction. I firmly believe that there is a beer out there for everyone, and more so, that you can find one that won’t bust your wallet. There is a time and a place for Bud Light, and it’s called being blacked out at the KK. Until then, it’s time that us Badgers take a bit more pride in our beer.

MODA Magazine and the WUD Publications Committee do not endorse underage or irresponsible drinking. This article is intended for informative culinary purposes, and these beverages should be consumed in moderation by those of the legal drinking age.

Photo credits: brewkettletimes.com

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