There is a point in one’s life when it becomes completely unacceptable to ever consume Boone’s Farm again. Bright green wine is not OK. This line of demarcation, this point of inflection, comes at different times for different people. But if you consider yourself an adult, you are no longer allowed to drink anything called Blue Hawaii. If you still want to spend $2 on a bottle of wine, your only option is Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s.
There’s a beer equivalent of this scenario, of course. Natty Light is consumed out of youthful desperation. Again, as with Two Buck Chuck, Trader Joe’s has come up with an antidote. Turns out that Joe has a line of bottom-shelf brews that are going for a craft-beer-on-the-cheap vibe. They’re bottled under the name Boatswain by Rhinelander Brewing Co. in Wisconsin exclusively for Trader Joe’s and go for around $2 apiece for a bomber.
But $2.29 for a 22-ounce double IPA? I don’t know. Double IPAs require a lot of hops to achieve their signature, ultra-bitter bite. Hops don’t come cheap, especially with demand from the craft brew boom driving up prices. I’m not sure how much I trust the idea of a double IPA that costs less than a Share Size bag of Skittles. Time for a taste test.
Taste Test #1: Boatswain Twin Screw Steamer Double IPA
Well, it looks like an IPA. It pours a golden color with a quickly diminishing frothy head. A sniff gives you a typical double IPA nose: some citrus and a little pine. Now for the important part, the actual taste. Um…I guess…huh. This is not a good beer. It starts with a thin, generic pale ale taste and ends with a hoppy oil slick. It doesn’t have the depth of real bittering hops, just a blast of hop aroma. The ruling: The Twin Screw Steamer is better than what I was drinking in college, but only marginally.
But lest I leave you thrift monsters with a crushing sense of disappointment, there is (a bit) of hope from T.J.’s attempt at craft-like beer.
Taste Test #2: Boatswain Chocolate Stout
Like the double IPA, the Boatswain stout set me back $2.29. It pours thicker and richer in color than I expected. The nose is hot cocoa, Swiss Miss-style, which is not a knock. I love me some Swiss Miss. The taste is…pretty pleasant. Light chocolate right away with nice, toasty malts. There’s also a little hoppy bitterness to balance the chocolate sweetness. It has a 5.4 percent ABV and acts its age, so to speak. The chocolate isn’t super rich or complex, but it says right on the label that the beer is brewed with cocoa powder, not cocoa nibs. Powder won’t carry as much flavor as actual, corporeal chocolate.
So I’m not looking to stock my fridge with Boatswain Chocolate Stout, but this is a beer that could totally get me through monetarily thin times. Not bad at all.
The overall verdict: It looks like Trader Joe’s might be on their way to figuring out the cheap-yet-appealing beer category. Now if only they could figure out how to configure their parking lots so that they’re not dystopian nightmarescapes of doom. Ever tried to park in a triangular parking lot full of hipsters? The struggle is real. It’s enough to send you home with a cartful of beer.