In Ingolstadt, Germany Just over 500 years ago, in the year 1516, the Duke of Bavaria, Duke Wilhelm IV issued a decree known as the Reinheitsgebot, often referred to as the Purity Law. The new rule applied to the production of beer, establishing strict rules as to what could be used in the brewing process, the intent being to stop the use of all manner of cheap, inferior ingredients that were leading to terrible beer.
Under the Reinheitsgebot, beer could be made using just three ingredients: water, barley, and hops. Later, as a better understanding of the fermentation process developed, yeast was also added to the list, and for centuries many brewers cleaved closely to this Renaissance-era rule and brewed beer using only those four ingredients.
Flash forward to our day, and you'll find the Reinheitsgebot being broken all over the place. Now, on the one hand, we have examples of "trespasses" that are so much for the good, such as the wild beers made by Dogfish Head Brewery that include ingredients ranging from cocoa to mangos to honey to salt. We also have plenty of breweries cranking out cheap beer that would have had Duke Wilhelm IV crying foul, if not sending out pike-wielding Landsknechts to dispatch the offenders.
Here are eight popular beers that use the lowest quality ingredients. Plus, check out These Are the 25 Worst Beers in the World.
Budweiser and Bud Light
Yes, technically we should be saying "Anheuser-Busch InBev" or just AB InBev, but we're zeroing in on the heavies of the American market here: Budweiser and Bud Light. These two brews are mass-produced on an epic scale thanks in large part to the cheap ingredients used to brew them. Along with the four ingredients OK'd by the Reinheitsgebot, the beers are also brewed with copious amounts of rice, per USA Today. And in the past, the company likely used experimental GMO rice, according to The New York Times.
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Miller Lite may have been the first mainstream American "light" beer (it was called Lite Beer by Miller when it hit the market), and it may indeed have a decent though mild pilsner taste, but it's a beer best avoided in high volume if you like to avoid high fructose corn syrup, according to CNBC. And not just any HFCS, but corn syrup made from genetically modified corn.
Pabst Brewing Company
Like many lower-cost beers (AKA cheap beers), Pabst Blue Ribbon is brewed with corn syrup on the bill of ingredients. But it's not a high fructose corn syrup, says Draft Mag, it's actually a lower fructose content syrup than is found in many beers. But it is a corn syrup made from GMO corn. Also, they may use a non-disclosed "artificial flavoring" in PBR as well.
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Alright, again we could just say AB InBev here, but the beer primarily at issue here had been brewed by Cerveceria Modelo for many years before its maker was acquired by the massive conglomerate, so let's keep them separated. The brand's most famous beer, Corona Extra, as well as Corona Light and other brews in the family, are made using propylene glycol, which is added as a stabilizing agent, according to The Institute of Beer. While concerns over the fact that this ingredient is also found in some types of antifreeze may be overblown and misleading, the WHO still recommends limiting its consumption.
Coors Light may be one of the most popular beers in America, thanks to its easy-drinking smoothness, but let's be honest: that legendary smoothness is a thing largely because this beer has almost no flavor. That taste you will get comes from a smidgeon of hops, some barley, a proprietary yeast strain, and—you guessed it—corn syrup. The brewery states that it's "not high-fructose corn syrup" but also takes pains to state that, due to fermentation, "None of it ends up in the final product but it's used to lighten the overall body and deliver a more refreshing beer."
Though today produced by Pabst, the ingredients used to make the OG beverage of the National Brewing Company seem to have remained unchanged. Said beverage is Colt 45 Lager (AKA malt liquor) and according to Barnivore, the ingredients include "a blend of malted barley and special corn syrup… hops, filtered water, and cultured yeast. [The] syrup is made of carbohydrates and some simple sugars like dextrose and maltose."
The signature beer of the Latrobe brewery is Rolling Rock, a brew that has a soft spot in many people's hearts for being low cost and not abjectly terrible, but the fact is this not terrible taste belies very cheap ingredients. It is made with water, hops, yeast, and some barley, but most of its fermentable starches come not from rice or corn but from rice and corn, via Hensley Beverage Company.
While this brewery, America's oldest in continual operation, may offer a decent beer at a great price, the price of its flagship brew, Yuengling Lager, comes thanks to an ingredient that also disqualifies the company from being called a craft brewery, Yuengling Lager is made using corn grits as part of the grain bill.
A previous version of this article was originally published on June 3, 2022.