I’m often asked by my beer-drinking buddies just why are IPAs so expensive compared to many other standard beer styles.
‘What is the best cheapest IPA?’, they ask. Even the Session IPAs rarely feature as discount pints in the local craft beer bars.
Now, I’m not a beer snob, but the generic beer craze of the late ’70s and early ’80s seemed to pass me by.
I’m somebody who has my firm favorites regarding which IPA I want to drink – give me a pint of Stone, a bottle of Deschutes, or, if I’m really feeling flash, a can of Heady Topper (when I can get my hands on it, of course).
Now we seem to be entering a time of economic recession again, I decided it was time to rethink my ideas towards “budget” craft beers at more affordable prices. It’s either that or move towards domestic regular beers as produced en masse by the large conglomerates.
I think I would rather stick with my expensive beers.
Many of the premium hop-bombs come in at well over $10 a 6-pack, but let’s take a look if there are any good IPAs at competitive prices out there.
Why Are IPAs So Damn Expensive?
Hops are the simple one-word answer to why IPAs can seem so much more expensive than other beers, especially the Imperial IPAs which often cost the same as a decent bottle of wine.
While hops were seen as a necessity for the original IPA of 18th Century England, helping to preserve the beers for the long sea journeys to Indian and other corners of the British Empire, the American craft beer movement jumped on the classic beer style of IPA as a chance to show off our innovative and bold hops.
English-style IPAs tend to be more malt-forward than the hop-centric IPA brews of the US, and they have more floral notes and earthiness from the hops than the citrus notes and often tropical aromas of an American IPA.
To get those pine notes and other bold flavors with the lip-smacking bitterness we have come to appreciate in this revolutionary beer, IPA producers often use eight or more varieties of hops, and in rich abundance too.
Sierra Nevada makes IPAs that use up to 10 pounds of hops in every barrel. Plus there are the processes of dry hopping, which add more hops.
Hops are perhaps the most expensive ingredient when brewing beer – ask anybody who has ever made an Imperial IPA at home.
Extra processes like dry hopping can often require more equipment, pushing up the cost again. And as the hop count goes up, often the yield of a brew will go down.
To produce 5 gallons of an average IPA at home will cost on average well over $50 compared to the $30 or less for your standard craft lager or a simple Pale Ale.
Imagine how much more it costs on a larger scale of production.
The higher ABV of an average IPA will mean it also has a significantly higher grain bill than a basic ale. As more grain is used it will cost more to make with a cascading effect of more water, more heat, etc. being required too.
And finally, most of the highest-rated American IPAs are produced by smaller microbreweries that tend to use higher-quality ingredients and a more hands-on approach to brewing, and this is actually one of the main reasons for the popularity of craft beers.
What is The Least Expensive Beer in the US?
Although prices can always fluctuate, and occasionally you can find decent IPAs at just over a dollar a can, the cheapest beers in the US will always be the domestic adjunct lagers made by the larger brewers.
At the time of going to press, you could find beers such as Pabst Blue Ribbon or Natural Ice at bargain prices. For example – $15 for a case of 30 16oz cans of Natural Ice (that’s just 50c a can!), or Pabst Blue Ribbon at $6.98 for a six-pack (Walmart, February 2022).
Even big names such as Budweiser have brilliant prices such as the party pack of 36 cans for $20.98.
When talking about craft beer sales, even in major discounted chains like Walmart, it’s very rare (nearly impossible, in fact!) to find a hop-forward beer like an IPA for less than one dollar a can.
What is a Good Cheap IPA?
Are you hooked on the more hoppy brews? Have you fallen in love with the blast of hops you get from a West Coast IPA, or do you prefer the hazy IPAs of New England and the East Coast?
It would be great if you could sip on a Heady Topper or Pliny the Elder every time you reach for a beer, but many well-known IPAs cost well over $15 for a six-pack if you can even find them.
Fortunately, the popularity of craft beer has seen many of the larger retail chains now discounting IPA to reasonable prices under $8 a six-pack, and some of the discount retail outlets like Trader Joe’s even produce their own range of branded beers, brewed under license by local craft breweries.
Trader Joe’s even produces a Double American IPA for less than $2.50 a bottle, certainly making it one of the cheapest pints of Imperial IPA you are ever likely to find.
Let’s take a look at some of the best “cheap” IPAs you can easily find in a nearby store.
The 6 Best Cheap IPAs that Taste Great
Goose Island IPA by Goose Island Beer Company, Chicago, IL
- ABV 5.9% IBU 75
An award-winning brew, (six medals at the GABF) Goose IPA is definitely one of the best cheap IPAs. It’s a Chicago Brewed beer that was bought out by Anheuser Busch in 2011.
Of course, there is the whole ‘Is it really a craft beer?’ debate when a nationwide major has bought the brewery, but it makes it one of the easiest IPAs to find and has certainly lowered the cost of production.
Using a combination of Cascade, Centennial, Pilgrim, and Styrian Celeia hops, this straw-gold colored IPA has a fruity aroma and is a bright, crisp IPA that is highly drinkable at just 5.9% ABV, especially when it can often be found for $7.99 or less for a six-pack.
Ananda IPA by Wiseacre Brewing Company, Memphis, TN
- ABV 6.2 IBU 75
A golden gem of a beer, Ananda uses Bravo hops for bittering and then dry hops with Cascade for an assertive bitterness and fragrant aromas with a hint of citrus and floral notes.
Using malted and flaked wheat creates a full-bodied mouthfeel to this lighter yellow-gold beer before mango and citrus notes explode on your tongue.
The word “Ananda” actually comes from the Sanskrit for “bliss”, which you will be in when you can find this beer often as low-priced as $6.99 per six-pack.
Session IPA by Full Sail Brewery, Hood River, OR
- ABV 7% IBU 55
Oregon-based Full Sail Brewery produces a range of “session” beers including the now-retired EZ IPA which has won many awards despite its low prices.
Not too hoppy, not too malty, Full Sail claims to have got this beer just right. A clean, refreshing IPA, it is golden colored and has a medium malty body with tropical hop notes and a crisp, clean hoppy finish.
It goes down smoothly and easily, but at 7% ABV, I’m not sure just how long that “session” is going to last.
Saga IPA by Summit Brewing Co, St Paul, MN
- ABV 6.3 % IBU 65
You may need to live in the Midwest region to pick up this remarkable brew for less than $8/six-pack, but it was awarded an outstanding rating of 89 by the acclaimed beer review site Beer Advocate and is definitely worth seeking out.
If you like citrusy IPAs with notes of tropical aromas, Summit Saga should be one of your go-to cheap IPAs.
Brewed using a blend of Centennial, Amarillo, Citra, and New Zealand Rakau hops, it’s amazing they can sell this beer so cheap. Summit Saga IPA boasts a pronounced hop flavor, followed by aromas of kiwi, passion fruit, and stone fruit like apricot.
Balanced malts lead to a clean, assertive finish with a distinctive bitterness.
Redhook Long Hammer IPA by Red Hook Brewery, Seattle, WA
- ABV 6.2% IBU 44
Long Hammer has been a mainstay in the beer fridges of 7/11s and craft beer bars for many years.
A Washington State mainstay, Long Hammer IPA is a single-hop IPA (Cascade) brewed to deliver a piney and citrusy hop aroma. It’s a classic West Coast-style India Pale Ale and one of America’s most drinkable IPAs.
It pours with a clear amber color with hints of pine and citrus on the nose. Flavors of pine and citrus hops balance with a smooth malt body and a crisp finish with a hoppy bitterness.
Often found for $7.99 or less, Long Hammer is a classic IPA that’s worth every penny.
Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, Chico, CA
- ABV 7.2% IBU 65
When talking about “cheap” IPAs, I bet you weren’t expecting anything from an iconic brewery like Sierra Nevada. But when you can find a beer industry modern classic like this for $7.99 a six-pack, who are we to complain?
What makes this such a highly rated IPA (92 from Beer Advocate) is the revolutionary hop torpedo innovation of Sierra Nevada, where the beer flows out of the fermenter into a hop “torpedo” for dry hopping before flowing back into the tank to produce a supercharged IPA with that distinctive bitterness that only Sierra’s brews tend to have in abundance.
Torpedo pours a clear copper color with grapefruit notes and tropical fruits in the aromas. With Magnum, Crystal, and Citra hops, it has flavorful notes of citrus and grapefruit-like citrus too.
Founders All Day Haze IPA by Founders Brewing Co, Grand Rapids, MI
- ABV 4.9% IBU 50
If you’re looking for a Hazy IPA under $8 then Founders make one of the best in their “All Day” series of beers.
It’s not just the West Coast IPAs that you can find cheap, but you will often see a 15-pack of this juicy IPA for just $19 or less. A six-pack comes in at $9, just above our $8 limit, but it is available across all 50 of the mainland states.
A reimagining of Founders’ incredibly popular All Day IPA session ale, All Day Haze adds a substantial amount of wheat and oats for an almost whimsical fogginess.
Citra, Simcoe and Amarillo hops create an explosion of aromas and flavors in this sweet lemongrass-like beer balanced with juicy citrus hops. At just 4.9%, it’s very easy to drink with a light, almost fluffy mouthfeel.
Mission Street IPA by Steinhaus Brewing Co, CA (exclusively brewed for Trader Joe’s)
- ABV 6.1% IBU Unknown
Finally, we have one of those cheap IPAs brewed under license for Trader Joe’s that we mentioned earlier.
Steinhaus Brewing Co is actually another name for Firestone Walker Brewing Company. It’s just the name they brew under contract with for Trader Joe’s
Coming in a rather normal brown bottle, the label screams simplicity, which seems to be the ethos of trader Joe’s own-label goods – simple and affordable integrity.
At just $5.99 for a six-pack, don’t expect anything too innovative or sophisticated. As an IPA, Mission Street IPA fits the bill, not too hoppy or too malty.
Pouring a reddish solid brown color, this IPA definitely smells of American hops with aromas of pine, some floral notes, and a hint of citrus.
The darker color also hints at it being well malted for an IPA, with a sweet, toasty presence on the nose too. A little less carbonated than many other IPAs, it tastes just as it smells.
It’s definitely a cheaper IPA, but an IPA all the same, and one which is very drinkable considering the ultra-low price.
When you are looking for a good IPA for those summer months in the beer gardens, don’t feel you have to fork out over $10 to satisfy your hop fix.
There are plenty of refreshing beers out there with that taste of bitterness you only tend to get from an IPA which fall below the $8 for a six-pack price point.
This list is by no means comprehensive, I’ve just tried to select a few cheap IPAs which are easily available nationwide.
Check out your local brewery offerings and support your local, small, independent microbreweries next time you want to grab a six-pack on the cheap rather than putting some more money into Mr Budweiser’s, already bulging, pockets.