10 Summer Beers That Won't Break Your Budget

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Craft beer geeks and mainstream beer drinkers usually don't mix, but summer has a way of getting everybody to the same bar.

By necessity, beer drinkers tend to shift to lighter, more refreshing brews as temperatures rise. They also tend to drink a lot more of it than at any other time of the year. The Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau's statistics show that brewers produced roughly 17 million barrels last may and 18 million barrels a month from June through August. That's well up from the 14 million to 15 million a month they generally crank out during the rest of the year.

Considering that uptick in volume, is there any way to buy beer during the summer without breaking the bank or sipping swill? With help from folks at multistate wine and beer sellers Total Wine and reviewers at RateBeer and Beer Advocate, we priced out 10 of the summer's best beer offerings that won't break your budget. Price may vary by location, but these widely available brews won't:

Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat
Price per six-pack: $6.99
BeerAdvocate rating: 3.38 out of 5
Rate Beer rating: 2.91 out of 5

That cloudy haze in your glass, coriander scent before and citrus flavor with each sip are all trademarks of witbier, a Belgian style that Americans have come to know as wheat beer. There's going to be a lot more of it on this list, but Leinenkugel's deserves special attention for its bittersweet flavor and sweet price. Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing has been owned by Miller since 1988, and that size and distribution range comes with certain advantages.

Samuel Adams Summer Ale
Price per six-pack: $6.99
BeerAdvocate rating: 3.39 out of 5
Rate Beer rating: 2.95 out of 5

Citrus tends to be the one element that binds summer beers, and Sam Summer is full of it. Boston Beer will blather on about the "Grains of Paradise" that spice up this brew, but it's the lemon zest that really comes through and gives the Summer Ale its distinct flavor. But how does a craft brewer push out a beer for the same price as a macro? Boston Beer's no average craft brewer: It has three breweries and poured out nearly 2.5 million barrels last year. The next closest craft brewer, Sierra Nevada, didn't top 1 million.

Blue Moon Belgian White
Price per six-pack: $6.99
BeerAdvocate rating: 3.42 out of 5
Rate Beer rating: 2.99 out of 5

MolsonCoors doesn't go out of its way to tell folks Blue Moon is a Coors product, but craft beer fans don't go out of their way to dis it once they find out. Born in a brewpub at Coors Field in Denver, Blue Moon is a creamy, citrusy dream of a witbier that became the everyman's Belgian beer shortly after it was introduced in 1995. It's relatively inexpensive, it's refreshing and it's a great gateway to other, more complex brews. It's just too bad Coors doesn't offer many more beyond its Blue Moon line.

Shock Top Belgian White
Price per six-pack: $6.49
BeerAdvocate rating: 3.05 out of 5
Rate Beer rating: 2.59 out of 5

The geeks are a bit less kind to Shock Top's witbier, but the fact that it's Budweiser's unofficial witbier may have something to do with that. Shock Top is an Anheuser-Busch InBev product and is oft treated as such by those in the know. Those who hadn't reached that realization, however, should know that A-B InBev isn't exactly a bumbling stooge when it comes to making witbier. The company's stable of beers also includes Hoegaarden, the beer Pierre Celis used to shake the witbier style out of centuries of slumber in 1965. It's slightly more expensive, which gives Shock Top the upper hand when fighting its way onto porch parties and into beer coolers this summer.

Widmer Brothers Citra Blonde Summer Brew
Price per six-pack: $7.99
BeerAdvocate rating: 3.68 out of 5
Rate Beer rating: 3.26 out of 5

Once a beer gets above $8 a six-pack, it's tough to call it inexpensive. Widmer toes that line, but gives drinkers a whole lot of value for that extra buck. The "Citra" in the name comes from citra hops, which imbue beer with a citrusy flavor that has a lot more bite than the standard witbier. Beer fans who fear the IPA shouldn't worry, as this blonde is far less bitter than its distant, hopheaded cousin. At 4.3% alchohol by volume, it's also a lot more drinkable on a warm day. P.S. Thank Anheuser-Busch Inbev for keeping the price even that low, as its 36% ownership of Widmer's Craft Brewers Alliance and distribution deal with that group makes this beer available readily in most markets.

Negra Modelo
Price per six-pack: $6.99
BeerAdvocate rating: 3.38 out of 5
Rate Beer rating: 2.71 out of 5

Every summer, there's a drinker out there who decides that this is the year to tackle a Mexican beer. Every summer, someone walks away disappointed from a bottle with a beer-soaked lime in it. There's no need for it. Negro Modelo is in the same Constellation Brands family as Corona and Pacifico, but packs a lot more punch at 6% ABV an a whole lot more flavor into its brown, Vienna-style lager. Its not as light as some of its Mexican cohorts, but it is similarly priced and has a slight caramel flavor that doesn't need a sad little piece of fruit to carry it.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Price per six-pack: $6.99
BeerAdvocate rating: 4.07 out of 5
Rate Beer rating: 3.62 out of 5

It should be noted that Sierra Nevada has a summer seasonal - Summerfest lager - but it is nowhere near as refreshing as its original-recipe flagship brew and is about a buck more expensive. This hazy pale ale is distinctly hoppy, but not overly heavy at 5.6% ABV. It's fragrant, it's spicy and, best of all, it's also available in cans for summer sipping.

Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale
Price per six-pack: $7.99
BeerAdvocate rating: 3.96 out of 5
Rate Beer rating: 3.72 out of 5

Speaking of cans, Colorado's Oskar Blues has been putting its beer exclusively in cans since 2002 and isn't afraid to put a big brew into its small packages. Dale's Pale Ale is a nice balance of malt and hops, but the hop flavor is a bit more bold than the average pale ale. That could have something to do with its 6.5% ABV, which will come as quite a surprise to someone reaching into the cooler for something that looks like it originated from a 30-pack. Enjoy with caution.

Newcastle Summer Ale
Price per six-pack: $7.99
BeerAdvocate rating: 3.01 out of 5
Rate Beer rating: 2.71 out of 5

Newcastle's patent company, Scottish & Newcastle, was taken over by Heineken about four years ago. While that takes away some of Newcastle's street cred, it also means that Newcastle and its seasonal brand is available just about anywhere. This mild mix of hops and malt has just a hint of lemon and goes down just as smooth as Newcastle's flaghship brown ale. At 4.4% ABV, it's also mild enough to enjoy a few of them during a summer vacation.

Redhook Wit
Price per six-pack: $6.99
BeerAdvocate rating: 3.54 out of 5
Rate Beer rating: 2.85 out of 5

Yet another cost-efficient wit that is better than its price indicates. It's a bit sweeter than other wits and finishes with a bit more spice thanks to a healthy helping of ginger, but it's fairly mild and loaded with lemon and orange flavor. Like Widmer Brothers, Redhook is distributed and partially owned by A-B InBev. Also like Widmer, that relationship helps keep the costs down and the beer easy to find. Their snub-nosed bottles also make great conversation pieces when they share a cooler with a shiny 30 pack or generic brown-bottle brews.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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