Good Taste In Bad Beer 

Six brewers sample six bottom-shelf brews

When Boise Weekly started the Coldest Beer contest in 2002, Boise's beer landscape was vastly different. In watering holes around town, our readers chugged frosty domestic light lagers to keep the summer heat at bay. So, year after year, we sent our trusty army of thermometer-wielding suds soldiers to test the temperature of those icy macro-brews--some years it was Bud Light, other years Coors Light. Cold was king. And watery beer flowed like water.

But Boise's tastes have evolved. Now, there are at least 12 microbreweries cranking out craft beers around the Treasure Valley, with more on the way. According to the Idaho Barley Commission, craft beer sales in the United States have nearly doubled over the past five years to more than $12 billion, and are projected to increase to $18 billion annually over the next five years. Craft beer consumption levels are as high as 50 percent among millennials (25- to 34-year-olds), according to the Brewers Association.

And this rapidly growing craft beer market doesn't like their brews served at subarctic temps; in fact, industry experts recommend serving craft beers between 40-55 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the style and alcohol content. By comparison, last year's Coldest Beer winner--the all-time coldest temperature we ever recorded--was an icy 26.5 degrees at Buster's on State Street.

So we decided to switch things up this year. We packed up our thermometers and called up some of our craft brewer friends around town. We thought what better way to wave goodbye to our 13-year tradition than to once-and-for-all settle the question that has caused innumerable bar brawls over the years: Which domestic macro-brew tastes the best?

To test this question, we asked six local, professional brewers to blind taste test six random domestic brews we bought at the corner store. We cloaked each 16-ounce can in a high-tech white paper jacket to conceal its identity and then messily poured samples of each beer into industry-standard clear plastic cups crudely labeled with a Sharpie.

On the following page, you'll find the results of our highly technical experiment, including the winner of BW's first (and probably last) Domestic Beer Blind Taste Test. You'll also find a map featuring data we gathered from local distributors on which bars around the Treasure Valley serve the largest quantity of different domestic beers.

Read on to find out what happens when you give six local brewers access to a fridge full of free beer. For a slideshow of the tasting and aftermath, click here.

Coldest Beer, we bid you a warm farewell.


Aaron Haws

Crooked Fence

Assistant Brewer

Crooked Fence Barrelhouse hired Aaron as a server before opening the restaurant a year ago. His passion for homebrewing and craft beer was immediately apparent. Aaron moved to bartending and into the brewery as soon as there was an opening.

Cory Walz

Sockeye Brewing


Cory is originally from Eugene, Ore., and has been with Sockeye since 2005. Although part of the brewing team, he still bartends our Cole Road pub most Saturday nights. Otherwise, you'll most likely find him enjoying the day taking friends rafting down an Idaho river.

Kerry Caldwell

Edge Brewing Co.

Head Brewer & Investor

Kerry grew up in a small town in Northern California and cut her teeth at Belmont Brewing Co. in Long Beach, Calif. She's excited to be a part of Boise's emerging beer scene.

Lance Chavez

Boise Brewing

Head Brewer

Brewer, father, musician, visionary, lover, fighter, traveler, Mountain Homie, reigning break dance champion since 1987.

Paul Thomas

Sockeye Brewing


Paul was born in Philly and grew up in Boise. He began brewing at Colorado's Breckenridge Brewery in 1990, with an impressive list of involvement with other award-winning breweries until he made it back to our Boise crew. Paul leads our Quality Analysis and Safety program, as well as training. He enjoys snowboarding at Bogus Basin and spending time in the outdoors with his family.

Rob Landerman

Woodland Empire Ale Craft

President & Sauce Boss

A Certified Cicerone, Rob has been in the craft beer business for more than 10 years. He brewed professionally in Texas before moving to Boise to open Woodland Empire Ale Craft.


  • Kelsey Hawes


Rob: Apple, honey, Cheerios, high-school sluff days. They hop this thing three times--they use three entire cones.

Aaron: Smells like college. Sweet, corny nose; gross cardboard mouth. Fucking bad.

Cory: Smells like piss; kind of tastes like it, too. Sweet-smelling and tasting. Too sweet for my palate.

Paul: Sweet, grainy aroma. Sweet flavor, no hops whatsoever. Too sweet for me to drink regularly, or at all.

Lance: Like sex in a boat ["fucking close to water"], Corn Flakes, no hops. What do GMO's smell like? Tastes like some sort of Corn Flake sauce, but not in a good way.

Kerry: Sweet. It's not apple-y sweet, it's not corn sweet, it's just sweet. It's the one with the least flavor.


Rob: Grain husk, crisp, dry finish. Fishing with Dad. Very, veeeerrry light hop presence on the finish. It's the most familiar one I've tasted yet ... of the two we've tasted.

Aaron: Also smells like college. Less nose, more of a mouth than No. 1. A little bitterness. Fucking bad.

Cory: Not much aroma, which might be masked by [Lance] Chavez's smell [Editor's Note: Burn!] Smooth, a little dry with not a lot of flavor. Slight bitter finish.

Paul: Grainy, malty aroma. Dry, crisp, slight bitterness in finish. I'd drink this one on a hot day--lots of this one.

Lance: Dry, crisp, more mouth-feel; a little hops. I almost can smell a little bit of hops in there, but you gotta really try hard. ... I would say it has more flavor than the first one.

Kerry: Hoppier aroma, fizzy. Like if you left your apple juice in the car in the heat and tried to take a drink. A little too fizzy for me.

Coors Light:

Rob: Green apple dominates, light body, finishes too sweet. Jolly Rancher, that's almost all I get. Tastes like getting fired from a job, just before college.

Aaron: Skunked as fuck. No nose. Crisp and dry with no bitterness. Fucking bad.

Cory: Skunky flavor and aroma. Green apple.

Paul: Aroma: Green apples. It's really dry. Thin, dry finish with some apple flavor.

Lance: Skunky, like sex in a boat. It's hard to get past the green apple.

Kerry: Coors light?

Miller High Life:

Rob: Minerally nose that diminishes into a bouquet of wet cardboard. Flavor is stale applesauce, mineral water and a failed date. Definitely the least appetizing I've had yet.

Aaron: Sweet, adjuncty nose. Smells like wet cardboard. Fuck. Gross oxidized mouth. Fucking bad.

Cory: A little cardboard with slight sweetness.

Paul: Somewhat malty aroma--not objectionable. Cardboard notes in flavor--oxidation [stale]. Not a fan.

Lance: Cardboard, flat, papery. No damn flavor.

Kerry: Kind of smells hoppy, comparatively speaking. Champagne of Beers?

Keystone Light:

Rob: Green apple cider nose; watered down green apple cider flavor. Good, cheap alternative to bottled water. Notes of Aquafina. It's smooth like Keith Stone. Good luck to you finding anything in this one.

Aaron: Green apple smell. Dry finish. Doesn't even taste like fucking beer. Real fucking bad.

Cory: Not much aroma at all. Very sweet water. I think it's the sweetest one. This beer could kill it as a bottled water.

Paul: Tastes like water--very low malt character. Not very beer-like anywhere in this one. "No bitter beer face."

Lance: Sweet, watery. I'd have been better at this when I was 18 or 19 when I used to drink these all the time.

Kerry: Smells like apple cider; lightest color.


Rob: At this point, I'm not sure how much it matters. Grassy, grainy, apple sweetness. Stale applesauce.

Aaron: I give up. Sweet, gross nose. Mouth isn't bad. No bitterness. Fuck macro, drink local. Fuck.

Cory: Grain with some skunk. Tastes stale. Corn flavor.

Paul: Somewhat skunky aroma--grassy like lawn clippings. Big corn flavor; no hops.

Lance: Tastes like the rest of them; super light.

Kerry: Corn sweetness. Creamed corn in a cup.


  • Kelsey Hawes

Though it should come as no surprise that a room full of microbrewers picked Pabst Blue Ribbon as their favorite domestic in a blind taste test... it kind of did. We figured the PBR hype was mostly clever marketing. Even Brian Golden, director of education and on-premise development for Hayden Beverage Company, said PBR has built its reputation on being an "alternative beverage."

"I think that a lot of the strength in PBR is it's outside of the traditional Bud, Miller, Coors family and a lot of that is culture-driven," said Golden. "It's had a good identity as sort of a slightly alternative beverage for a variety of genres of people."

But branding aside, PBR was crowned the crowd favorite in our blind tasting. Four out of six brewers named PBR their No. 1 choice before the cans were unveiled. (One brewer preferred the "Champagne of Beers," Miller High Life, while another irreverently ranked every beer 7th place and Keystone 8th.)

Coincidentally, PBR was also recently given a silver medal in the "American-Style Standard or Premium Lager" category at the 2014 North American Brewer's Association Awards in Idaho Falls. Idaho beer judges apparently like their PBR.

"Pabst, Rainier and Olympia are all part of the Pabst family," explained Golden. "Between those three beers, we really enjoy selling them because they are still that traditional domestic beer, but they've got a lot of curiosity and a lot of fun behind them and it seems to shine through in the people that drink it."


While there were plenty of grimaces and expletives uttered during Boise Weekly's blind beer tasting, there were also some delightfully absurd exchanges.

Here are some highlights:

Rob: "It's like hobo pee."

Lance: "I haven't drank a lot of hobo pee."

Rob: "Well, buddy, you haven't lived."

Rob: "You've got to wash the taste of regret out of your mouth."

Kerry: "I don't have that yet today. But the day is still young and it is my day off."

click to enlarge Paul Thomas, of Sockeye Brewing, drains a Rainier in the BWHQ parking lot. - KELSEY HAWES
  • Kelsey Hawes
  • Paul Thomas, of Sockeye Brewing, drains a Rainier in the BWHQ parking lot.

Rob: [Gloating over correctly guessing PBR.]

Kerry: "You have good taste in bad beer. Congratulations."

BW: "Did you guys learn anything today?"

Rob: "Pooping on poop is like pooping on poop."

Everyone: "WTF?"

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