Trader Joe's is perhaps my favorite grocery store. The prices are good (if you're careful) and they stock lots of fun house brands. You can get house brand everything at Trader Joe's: even beer.
About half of Trader Joe's beers are made by an entity called the Steinhaus Brewing Co. and most of these beers are about $5 a six-pack.
First up is Frugal Joe's Ordinary Beer. This beer not only ordinary, it is a rather poor example of a "macrobrew" with the sweet and prickly graininess of six-row malt and not enough hops. Frugal Joe isn't just "frugal", he's a cheap bastard. You might be paying four bucks a six-pack, but it's worth it to bump up a buck for some of the other brews.
Gila Monster is a simple amber beer with a smooth mouthfeel and a bit of adjunct flavor. It's not that bad, but not that good either. It looks good, with lace down the sides of the glass and a sustaining 1/8-inch head, but this beer is otherwise pretty malty on the palate and a bit too sweet for my tastes.
Next up we have the Jumping Cow Amber Ale. This beer has a fantastic appearance. It's a light amber ale with a rocky head that leaves lace behind. It doesn't have much of a nose (most cheap beer doesn't offer much in the aroma department), except for a hint of malt and adjunct. The Jumping Cow is very, very smooth with a very light caramel malt flavor, some fruitiness and a bit of a coarse bitter finish.
We move on to the Fat Weasel Ale. This beer pours ridiculously clear with tons of carbonation that forms a rather impressive rocky head that settles slowly into a fairly dense layer of foam. This is a real good lookin' beer, unfortunately it gets worse from here...
First, the aroma is kind of bubblegum-like and grainy. Next, the taste is sweet and grainy with an unpleasant bitterness in the finish. This Fat Weasel tastes more like a strong European lager than an ale, with a grainy and bitter fusel alcohol-laden finish. Forgot whatever anybody else says about this beer: it is nothing more than a bad malt liquor masquerading as an ale. I'd sooner drink Haffenreffer Private Stock instead of this crap.
Overall, the Fat Weasel is good for a fairly cheap buzz, but only if you like your beer grainy and bitter.
Fortunately, Trader Joe redeems himself with Black Toad Ale, a dark ale that poured into an Imperial pint glass, has a nice thick off-white head and grainy, cocoa-like aroma. The first sip is smooth, with some light roasted malt flavors balanced by a bit of chocolate and lightly bitter hops. The bottle may say dark ale, but this beer has me thinking black lager instead of porter, as it is very clean tasting. The finish is nicely balanced with a pleasant roasted character. Overall, a pretty drinkable dark beer and a good buy.
All of the above beers (brewed by Steinhaus) can be had for less than a dollar a bottle. Some of them (such as the Frugal Joe's Ordinary Beer and the Fat Weasel Ale) have their flaws, but offer a lot of flavor for the buck. Next time we'll sample some of the Trader Joe's Brewing Co. beers, most of which are replicas of German beer styles, such as lager and bock.