The Best Discount [Cheap] Beers in Canada

In honour of the release of our fast-selling book for Canadian students More Money For Beer and Textbooks last week, I thought we’d take a fun look at some personal finance principles applied to students’ beverage choices today.  My favorite quote from the book is one that I blatantly stole from one of my heroes, UFC fighter Forest Griffin.  When Forrest one day asked his dad why he drank a relatively poor-tasting discount beer his father replied:

“It’s only 3.1 cents per ounce. Beer is an acquired taste, so you might as well acquire a taste for cheap beer.”

Truer words have never been spoken.  If there was even an easy-to-apply tip to save a student’s budget, it’s to drink cheaper booze (I suppose the most responsible act would simply be not to spend money on a poison such as alcohol at all – but who the hell wants to listen to that sort of stuff?).  We’ll leave the hard booze discussion for another day, and focus on how to stretch your budget when it comes to that gift from the gods in the form of hops and barley – aka BEER!

Playing the Big Shot On Campus

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Once you’ve spent half a decade on a post-secondary campus you start to pick up on some certain seasonal patterns and cycles that tend to repeat year after year.  Inevitably when September rolls around and students are “flush” with cash from their summer jobs and student loan applications, they feel the need to flaunt a little bit of status by buying fancy import beers, or relatively expensive domestic brands.  Now I understand the logic in buying a great-tasting beer if you are truly going to sip it over the course of an hour, or along with a superb meal.  Heck, now that I’m pretty much an old man, I take pride in the wide-range of beers I’ve sampled and come to enjoy.  On the other hand, when I was 18 I did not “casually enjoy” many beers, and definitely had no idea what a good beer actually tasted like.  If you’re drinking beer for the sake of getting alcohol into your system and all the loveliness that comes with that state of being, then discount beer is exactly what you’re looking for and don’t let any preppy graduate students tell you different.  Besides, watch what beer they’re drinking come April – it’ll be the same “value-based” choices you should be making my thirsty friend.

The Dirty Dozen Discount Beers in Canada

Now I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some fairly extensive experience in researching this topic, but I wasn’t going to merely rely on my personal taste buds when beer reputations are at stake.  So, I actually did some extensive research (re: looked at a few websites and forums) to see what Canadian brands give the best bang for your buck based primarily on their status as a discount beer, and then on their taste and alcoholic content per dollar.  Some of the options are only available in certain parts of Canada, and for a few of the choices there was some debate as to whether the selection was truly discount priced.  Without further ado, here is your 12-pack of Canadian greats for students across the Great White North:

1) Carling (heavily influenced by my personal preference)

2) James Ready

3) Lucky

4) Keystone

5) Brava

6) Brewhouse

7) Rainier

8) Pabst Blue Ribbon (apparently hipsters haven’t totally killed this beer’s appeal)

9) Molson Dry

10) Black Label

11) Cariboo

12) Busch

The dishonourable mention list includes: Lakeport (for my money, the worse option on the list), OV, and Club.

Stretching Your Beer Budget

Now if you want to be a real cool customer, I believe the superior choice is to brew your own beer.  At one point we had a fairly extensive operation going on our floor in residence (we paid off the angel-like cleaning ladies in flowers and hugs, while administration was never the wiser).  We’d simply save our first few hundred empties from the first week of the year, and wash them out thoroughly before using them to bottle our new brew.  As long as no one pays for anything you’re not breaking any criminal laws.  In what became our mantra for drinking homebrew and discount beers we’d recite, “After the first few they all taste the same anyway.”  By the end, the product we were able to produce was easily as good as some of the options on the list above.  This might be an idea for a whole post of its own in the future!

Finally, if you’re more of the travelling type as opposed to being a brew-master, you’ve no doubt noticed that in the USA every beer is a discount beer for some reason.  This is because the USA believes that sins should not be taxed as much as we do in Canada, and so the most expensive beers they offer in most stores would be roughly equivalent to our discount prices.  If you’re visiting the Land of the Free for more than 48 hours, you can bring back a 24 of beer (or 1.5L of wine, or a 40 of hard liquor) duty-free, so make sure and take advantage of that.

Let the Debate Begin!

I’m sure the list will generate some serious debate amongst you beer aficionados out there.  If it’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that while most students can’t be bothered to talk about politics or vote for who leads their country, they are deeply emotionally invested in the what their choice of beer says about them.

“More Beers More Cheers, That’s It That’s All!” – Fubar

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11 years ago

I haven’t really had many of the beers on the list although I do drink Brava mainly for the price and I don’t mind the mild taste and it goes down easy ( I have an allowance you know) lol. Coming from the UK I’ve had my fair share of beer, bitters, ale, stout in the pubs especially when I was in University. I’m used to a heavier stronger taste which Brava is neither because it is a lager but we also didn’t pay the high prices that we have in Canada.

11 years ago

To a Brit, our beer must take like water! I have to admit to being a bit of a “wussy” when it comes to drinking stouts and other “heavy” brews. I just get too full because I’m so used to our ales and lagers.

11 years ago

I know that it may not be the cheapest of all beers, but I am a huge fan of Sleeman Original Draught and normally swear by it when I go to the Beer Store (that awful place in Ontario that controls our beer purchases). It’s relatively inexpensive coming in at just over $30 for a 24 pack and it actually tastes decent. Plus I go to school at the University of Guelph so I need to show some support to a Guelph brewery anyways.

11 years ago

We have the same beer control issue in Manitoba Lauren. I like the whole slate of Sleeman’s offerings to be honest, but they don’t belong on the same list as these! Sleeman’s is definitely more pricey than that here. If it were that price I wouldn’t have drank much else in uni!

11 years ago

Ugh, Carling, really man?

I like James Ready and Brava for the discount stuff.

I’m very surprised Maclay’s isn’t on the list! My fav. discount beer here in Ottawa.

You don’t have it where you are?

Black Label reminds me of university for sure, but so does Molson XXX. I’m dating myself… :)


11 years ago
Reply to  My Own Advisor

Haha, I should admit I don’t drink much discount beer these days – I’m turning into a snob! I’ve never heard of Maclay’s before! I will have to check it out (think I could claim it as research costs for a tax write off?). Molson XXX eh? I still have a hard time getting Black Label down – even after several.

It appears that you’ve mistakenly included bottled horse urine (#1) in your list of beers.

11 years ago

Hey now! Actually horse urine with an alcohol level of 6% would be better than some of the beers mentioned… Feel free to throw your own list forward!

Reply to  Teacher Man

Well, I don’t drink enough these days to have an opinion on beer. But as the father of someone who’s university aged, perhaps I can pass along a further money saving tip. Come home and drink Dad’s beer. You never know what brand you’ll get, but at least it’s free!

11 years ago

I love that tip!

11 years ago

In the words of a late great friend of mine “there’s no bad beer, it’s just some are better than others”

Have to laugh at all those high falutin brands, I always say to people, “if you have to put a lime or lemon in it, it must taste pretty bad to start with”

11 years ago
Reply to  Speeder

Now that’s a motto I can get behind! The only lime/lemon I like is adding my own lime to a Corona, but I like it without the lime too, so it’s all good.

10 years ago

Okanagan Spring porter is the best deal in Canada by far. It’s $12 to $13 for a six pack and it’s 8.5%. It’s also a great dark beer. Better than any of the beers above.

10 years ago
Reply to  Rob

Good to know Rob, definitely never tried it before, do they have a national presence?

8 years ago

Oly my favorite I like PBR and that company makes Olympia now and brew house is also good and they have the rights to brew it from PBR to the great western brewery which produces brew house another tasty cheap beer but all in all best of both worlds from PBR to brew house gotta be Oly #1????????

Brendan P
3 years ago

Laker Lager is probably the best discount beer we have.
Brewed in Ontario by Waterloo Brewing (used to be Brick Brewing)
It’s a “multiple award winning” beer brewed with Canadian ingredients and unfluorinated for $2.00 a tall boy (473ml)
I’ve noticed other “discount” beers are now up to $2.25 here in Ontario
Maker a Laker

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