When it comes to canned brews, Minnesota's beer drinkers aren't beholden to a 12-ounce limit. Ours is the Land of 10,000 Tallboys, with aluminum pints as far as the eye can see. Which makes choosing a single state representative difficult.
See also: The 10 Best Minnesota IPAs
The archetypal pounder is piss-colored, skunky, and enjoyed purely for nostalgia. Craft offerings by Surly, Indeed, and Lift Bridge come by the pint as well, but the true spirit of the tallboy is the budget lager.
Every region has its trademark tall can. Illinois has Old Style, New England has Narragansett, New York has Genesee Cream Ale -- but what is Minnesota's Lone Star? What is our Ranier? Which local cut-rate pounder earns the dignity of being named the official tallboy of Minnesota?
The Hot Dish investigates.
Pabst Blue Ribbon ABV: 4.7%, Beer Advocate Score: 68
We begin with the original -- PBR. The flagpole up which all other bargain beers must be run in order to make a fair assessment. The pounder renaissance can more or less be traced back to the resurgent popularity of this Milwaukee stalwart. Objectively, though, it's not a very good beer. Serviceable, sure, but PBR hasn't been remarkable since the lager won its namesake award one hundred and fucking twenty two years ago.
The head fizzles away before the beer even leaves the can, pouring like liquid saran wrap. There is a skunky leading taste with slight urine undertones, and the beer has the scent of a dive bar mop bucket. From the smell alone, you can tell that, if you step in spilled PBR, your shoe will stick to the floor for the rest of the night. But the finish is all right, good enough to curry favor with countless Brooklynites unconcerned with impressing fellow drinkers, so then it's probably suitable for denizens of this state.
Hamm's ABV: 4.7%, Beer Advocate Score: 63
William Hamm Jr., founder of the eponymous St. Paul-gone-Milwaukee brewhouse Hamm's Brewing, was famously kidnapped in the '30s, but it wasn't because his beer recipe was worth a ransom. From the Land of Sky Blue Waters, from the land of pines' lofty balsams, comes this bubbly, champagne-yellow swill that's recaptured the hearts of the North Star State for its barely there belly feel and utility as a Bloody Mary beer back. Hamm's has a pungent, recycling-bin scent and tastes sweet, almost like cider, but it's the relentless carbonation that makes it the most unpleasant. Each sip yields a thousand tiny farts of grain and formaldehyde that coat the tongue and epiglottis before dissipating directly into the colon.
Still, the beer was good enough for Jeff Spicoli, that dude from High Fidelity, and Bill Paxton, so it's certainly got its share of cosigners. Despite its shortcomings, it got the Land of 10,000 Lakes through WWII, becoming nearly synonymous with the word "beer" in Minnesota. And it contends strongly on that basis alone.
Grain Belt Nordeast ABV: 4.7, Beer Advocate Score: 79
This amber lager is the newest in the line over at the August Schell Brewing Company. Brewed to honor the blue-collar workers who neighbor the brewery, Nordeast is primarily enjoyed 16 ounces at a time. The beer is certainly the maltiest of the bunch, pouring an obscurant brown with a maroonish head that smells like cherry licorice, but what the fuck is this beer doing in a tallboy?
Like Yuengling, this particular Grain Belt concoction occupies an unsavory middle ground between factory runoff light beers like Miller and Coors and pseudo-craft ventures like Blue Moon and Shock Top. Sure, it's the only beer on this list that doesn't taste exactly like the inside of the can, but that doesn't make it a worthy icon. Also, the beer is dressed in Packers colors, which bodes poorly.
Schlitz ABV: 4.6, Beer Advocate Score: 68
Schlitz was once the largest beer producer in the US of A en route to becoming "the beer that made Milwaukee famous." However, that wasn't enough to keep the American adjunct ale afloat, and it fell out of favor before being reinvigorated in 2008. Now, the beer, which proudly prints "Tall Boy" on many of its 16-ounce cans, has resurged, even being named Best Cheap Beer by Deadspin last year (though, as we'll see later, they're not the most reliable judge).
Lore aside, the beer itself is pretty good. There's a tinge of bitterness -- a luxury in the pounder game -- though it still finishes like pool water. It would be a total twist of the scrotum to drink this beer warm, but cold, it's a shotgunnable template beer Clint Eastwood would be proud to crush, made to be paired with salted nuts and consumed in bulk. However, the natal tie to Wisconsin probably keeps it from being Minnesota's best ambassador.
Schell's 89.3 the Current ABV: 4.7, Beer Advocate Score: 82
Hard to believe that this 2014 debutante is the only tallboy available from Schell's branch of the New Ulm brewery. The original Schell's Pils would be a strong contender if it came by the pound, but this kolsch brewed in collaboration with Minnesota public radio darlings 89.3 the Current makes a case for being the flagship tallboy based on the extracurriculars. Also, it comes with a Har Mar Superstar-penned theme song, which is not to be discarded.
Like Wisconsin's Leinenkugel, the Schell's brand tries to style itself as a craft brewery, which makes for a lot of misfires. And 89.3 the Current, despite being the highest-rated brewski considered, isn't anything special. It's certainly the cloudiest of the bunch, pouring a honey-colored body. It finished with a fine German dryness, though the taste isn't anything you wouldn't expect out of a bargain beer. However, no one knows how long this hometown collab will last or if it will be canned again following the original run. Plus, there are only a handful of places in the Twin Cities that stock the grog, which makes it just as hard to get in-state as in the other 49.
Grain Belt Premium ABV: 4.6, Beer Advocate Score: 79
Ah, and we arrive at the most recognizable tallboy diplomat. Iconic, refreshing-ish, and brewed with generations of Minnesota history, Grain Belt's signature brew was given top honors in Deadspin's ranking of the 36 best cheap beers in America before that title was rescinded and given to Schlitz. Even then, being a good budget option doesn't make a beer worthy of the tallboy crown.
"Premium" is typically a signifier that whatever beer you're about to imbibe is utter shit, but Grain Belt is the exception. The beer leaves a delicate lace on the glass and goes down with no fight at all. The bland nose makes it very easy to approach, and it finishes smooth, though not watery. It's a nearly perfect beer for penny pinchers, nostalgia junkies, and beer nerds alike, and it feels perfect coming out of a 16-ounce can.
Michelob Golden Light ABV: 4.1, Beer Advocate Rating: 57
Somehow, for some sanity-defying reason, this Anheuser-Busch afterthought has become a cult phenomenon in the Gopher State. Introduced to compete with Miller Genuine Draft in the Midwest, this cold-brewed nothing lager's sole redeeming quality is that it's refreshing. As we've seen with Coors Light, that's an attribute that can sustain an empire, but MGL is goddamn beer soda. When there's such a bevy of other low-cost tallboys on the market, why settle for this watered-down St. Louis macro?
But love is irrational, and Minnesotans love Mich Golden Light. And we're literally the only people who do, so that's grounds for consideration. Plus, if you're desperately squeezed for cash, you're not liable to find a cheaper option below the 49th parallel. There are enough coins buried in your couch to buy a 30-pack of this piss, and affordable shitfaceability is weighted heavily in this appraisal.
Off the bat, we can throw out Pabst Blue Ribbon -- its status as a national icon makes PBR a poor mascot for Minnesota. Plus, fuck Wisconsin. Following that logic, we'd have to rule out Schlitz for its role in popularizing the Milwaukee factory brewing complex. Schlitz is certainly a fine beer, but it's for the other side of the river.
Grain Belt Nordeast, for its refusal to accept its role in the grander scheme of tallboy culture, also gets discarded. Schell's 89.3 the Current gets cut because of its poor availability -- exclusivity was never part of the tallboy ethos -- and lack of pedigree. Both are pretenders to the throne.
That leaves Hamm's, Grain Belt Premium, and the oddity, Michelob Golden Light. A triumvirate of bottom-shelf jewels that are honored Winona to Lancaster. All three hold sizeable shares of the collective Minnesotan heart and liver, and all three have the virtue of being true originals to the region. But there can be only one champion.
The deciding factor is ultimately quality, and Hamm's and MGL are just so awful -- so reprehensibly bad -- that even colloquial charm can't fully endear them to the drinker. Let the tourists suck them down. When you're staring down the loosie cooler at your local liquor store, reach for Grain Belt Premium.
It's your birthright as a Minnesotan.
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