In search of the best mass-produced American lager

It's the beer at the ballpark and the cold one cracked after an afternoon of yard work. It's the sixer picked up at the convenience store and the frosty bottle excavated from an ice-filled cooler.

It's the mass-produced American lager. It's ubiquitous.

The big-batch brews - Miller, Bud and their ilk - account for more than 90 percent of the American beer market. Although their microbrew brethren receive the plaudits and press, these industry giants, if not derided, are largely ignored.

Numbers don't lie, though. People drink them. Consumers' fondness for these golden brews is no secret, and everyone who has ever popped a top will claim a favorite.

Which is actually the best, though?

The Augusta Chronicle recently assembled a panel of beer "experts" for a blind taste test of a cross-section of mass-produced American beers.

Not surprisingly, the majority of the judges were musicians. "Crack a beer and a musician appears" isn't an adage, but it should be. Our panel of volunteers comprised singer-songwriter Allison Foster, promoter/musician Joe Stevenson, producer/musician Pat Blanchard and Brenda Durant, the executive director of the Greater Augusta Arts Council. Ms. Durant is the wild card.

Each beer was judged on a scale from 1 to 10 on taste, appearance and overall impression. Each judge's score was averaged for a total score in category, and then each category score was averaged for a final rating. Here's how they added up.

8 - PABST BLUE RIBBON

TASTE: 3

APPEARANCE: 4.75

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 3.25

TOTAL: 3.666

COMMENTS: The judges, particularly the musicians, were surprised by how little they liked this beer, considering that PBR is the dollar draft of choice at more than one local bar.

7 - MILLER HIGH LIFE

TASTE: 5.25

APPEARANCE: 4.25

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 5.25

TOTAL: 4.9

COMMENTS: The judges found it difficult to find anything either outstanding or awful about the self-proclaimed Champagne of Beers. In the end, it seems that this brew's middle-of-road qualities counted more against than for.

6 - MICHELOB LIGHT

TASTE: 5

APPEARANCE: 5.25

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 5

TOTAL: 5.08

COMMENTS: Judges seemed critical of the finish on this one. One reported a particular aftertaste and another claimed it led to a case of "bitter beer face."

5 - MICHELOB ULTRA

TASTE: 5

APPEARANCE: 5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 5.5

TOTAL: 5.2

COMMENTS: Comments were made about the relative smoothness of this beer. Some said they could tell it was bottled rather than canned. Some felt, however, that it was too mellow, declaring it "kind of bland."

4 - OLD MILWAUKEE (TIE)

TASTE: 5.25

APPEARANCE: 5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 5.5

TOTAL: 5.25

COMMENTS: Judges commented on the sharp aftertaste and correctly predicted that it came from a can. They were, however, surprised to learn that the beer was perpetual punch line Old Milwaukee, particularly after Mr. Blanchard correctly called it.

4 - COORS LIGHT (TIE)

TASTE: 5.75

APPEARANCE: 4.75

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 5.25

TOTAL: 5.25

COMMENTS: The judges said that its smoothness was a strength, but the lack of a strong beer flavor and unusually pale color might have cost it some points. One judge said the Silver Bullet might be a little too easy to drink.

3 - MILLER LITE

TASTE: 5.74

APPEARANCE: 5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 5.5

TOTAL: 5.4

COMMENTS: This was one of only three beers that brew savant Mr. Blanchard could not identify by taste. One judge pronounced it "fizzy and bland" and another, who gave it middle-of-the-road fives straight across, wrote that more of this brew was needed to be effective.

2 - BUDWEISER

TASTE: 6

APPEARANCE: 5.75

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 5.5

TOTAL: 5.75

COMMENTS: Though nobody correctly identified the King of Beers, judges seemed to respond to this popular brew's familiarity, ranking high in taste and appearance. None of the judges seemed particularly surprised when the familiar red-and-white can was revealed.

1 - BUD LIGHT

TASTE: 7.5

APPEARANCE: 8.25

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 7.5

TOTAL: 7.75

COMMENTS: According to Information Resources Inc., a leading tracker of consumer trends, Bud Light is the most popular beer in the United States. Our judges seemed to confirm that ranking, making it the runaway winner of our taste test.

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