Updated: Mar 16, 2022
Trader Joe's (owned by German discount chain Aldi Nord) is America's snack-filled safe haven. From friendly workers to a wide array of cheeses to surprisingly good skincare products, there is something for just about anyone at the grocery chain. Oh, and it sells some of the most affordable products you'll ever buy for the quality. While Trader Joe's lines its shelves with buzzy kombuchas and bottled green juice, did you know that the company actually manufactures and bottle its very own wine and beers?
Now, we know that Trader Joe's makes its own private label food, but some of the products are incredible (go try the creamy cauliflower jalapeño dip now) and some of it is a bit of a bust (we're looking at you, turkey meatloaf muffins). Of course, same goes for Trader Joe's beers. Some rival that of popular brands like Corona, and others are just, well, not good. One of the many cool things about Trader Joe's is that the chain will allow you to build your own six pack, where you can pick and choose different beers to take home. Perfect for a fun tasting! Before you speed over to your local Trader Joe's, check out how we've ranked of 13 of its most popular beers.
13. Boatswain Chocolate Stout
From the get-go, this beer might sound tempting, especially for those who aren't major beer lovers (the word "chocolate" generally works well as an attention-grabber). Sadly, though, this stout is ill-received by most who try it. As per the beer's label, it is brewed with actual cocoa powder, but those who have tried it often cite a lack of chocolate flavor altogether.
At 5.4% ABV, it's not terribly strong, and it actually may be one of the cheapest beers on the market. YouTube channel The Midwest Brew Review stated they purchased a six pack for just US $3.99. After tasting the Boatswain Chocolate Stout, team concluded that this "no real beer flavor" or chocolate. YouTuber Recipes With Ben similarly compares the stout to water, stating "there's no chocolate whatsoever, there's no roastiness." The bottom line is that, though an entire six-pack of this stout can be purchased for less than US $5, it doesn't seem to be worth it.
12. Boatswain American IPA
Trader Joe's calls the Boatswain American IPA an "abundantly hoppy, respectably bitter ale." With a 6.4% ABV and lots of hops, it's safe to say that this is a slightly heavier beer. As an IPA, it is expected to taste citrusy and slightly bitter, but many reviews on BeerAdvocate are negative, calling the beer out for its overly-malty taste and all-around non-IPA flavor profile. One particularly sardonic review says of this beer's flavor: "Prominent hand sanitizer flavor with notes of old varnish & rancid malt." At best, customers use the word "decent" to talk about this beer's taste, although at such a cheap price, they wonder if we should expect more?
According to YouTube food reviewers Kristen and Jen, who host The Kitchen & Jorn Show, the Boatswain American IPA is like a "Kirkland brand IPA," which is to say that it earns a rating of "just okay."
11. Boatswain Double IPA
If a six-pack of beer is sold for just US $4.99, do you really even care how it tastes? Okay, you probably do, especially since almost all of Trader Joe's beers ring in around that price. According to the Trader Joe's website, the Boatswain Double IPA "includes just the right amount of malt to balance the hops' bitter profile." Its ABV is 8.4% which is fairly high, so this beer isn't ideal for those who prefer to sip on Bud Light or have to drive home.
The Midwest Brew Review says there's an aroma of "caramel" or "burnt sugar," while Recipes With Ben calls the smell "piney," and the taste "very sweet ... way too unbalanced" for an IPA. The Midwest Beer Review guys agree, calling it "smooth" but "weird."
10. Trader José Premium Lager
This Trader Joe's brew is similar to a Corona, though reviewers say it doesn't quite hit the mark. As indicated by the name, Trader José Premium Lager is a lager, which means that it should be a refreshing, lighter, and mild beer, with a "clean and crisp taste," according to BeverageFactory.
This lager has an ABV of 5% which is appropriately on the lighter side. While Trader José Premium Lager is slightly refreshing and mildly fruity, there's something about it that just doesn't taste quite right. On both BeerAdvocate and Untappd the beer receives mediocre reviews at best, with most users commenting on its slightly skunky smell and general mediocrity.
9. Trader José Dark Lager
The Trader José Dark Lager has an ABV of 5.3%, which may be unexpected for a dark beer, this is due to the fact that it's actually an American amber or red beer, according to BeerAdvocate. With an average rating of 3.3 out of five on the beer rating site, this brew is pretty well-received compared to other Trader Joe's beers we've covered so far. Upon tasting it, brewer Ethan Osborne tells Thrillist that it "finishes fairly clean," with a minimal taste of hops.
After their first sip, the hosts of YouTube channel KyBrewReview describe the beer as "not that bad," and pleasantly surprising. They call the lager "sweeter than I expected" and "roasty," but ultimately give the beer a rating of about five out of 10, neither loving nor hating it. Midwest Beer Review had a more positive experience with this dark lager, comparing it to New Belgium's Fat Tire. They say the smell is "malty" with a hint of "caramelization," and ultimately agree that it is a "pretty decent" beer.
8. Drive Thru Red Ale
With a quirky name and a cute, colorful VW-esque bus on the label, the Drive Thru Red Ale is the kind of beer you'd expect from Trader Joe's. According to Craft Beer Club, American red ales are characterized by a "sweeter, butterscotch or caramelized flavor," while remaining quite hopy. The Drive Thru Red is a dry-hopped red ale, on the heavier side with an ABV of 7.2%, giving it a slightly bitter, dry taste.
The Kitchen & Jorn Show hosts gush over the beer's richness, ultimately rating it as "really great." Likewise, The Midwest Brew Review calls it "pleasant" with a "sweet floral" aftertaste. Though Recipes With Ben reports detecting none of the suggested hops, they don't mind the ale's sweet and malty aroma. Overall, Trader Joe's Drive Thru Red Ale is a generally well-received beer, with a rating of 3.37 out of five on BeerAdvocate, where reviewers comment on its amber color and hint-of-caramel aroma.
7. Howling Gourds Pumpkin Ale
Woohoo, there's a pumpkin beer on this list! And it's actually a good one! While it isn't shocking that Trader Joe's has created a seasonal pumpkin-flavored beer (EatingWell shared the chain had over 30 of them in 2021) it doesn't have the greatest reputation for flavored beers, so people were skeptical about Howling Gourds Pumpkin Ale.
If you're a pumpkin fan, start your car and get to your local Trader Joe's (you know, if it's fall when you're reading this and you're over 21), because customers are pleasantly surprised by the seasonal brew. Got 'em? Crack open this pumpkin ale and inhale the cinnamon and spices that are characteristic of spooky season treats. Upon first smell, Youtuber Specops56 detected a strong whiff of pumpkin spice (which typically includes notes of allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove), and said the same of the taste, which the beer reviewer calls "and easy drinking beer" that is pretty decent. Likewise, The Kitchen & Jorn Show hosts comment on how the beer has a detectable pumpkin spice smell without being overly pumpkin flavored and its smooth creaminess. As far as pumpkin beers go, this one seems to hit the nail on the head. Well done, Trader Joe's, well done.
6. Stockyard Oatmeal Stout
The Stockyard Oatmeal Stout is one of the beers that has been on Trader Joe's shelves longest, having been sold in stores since the early 2000s. Though stouts tend to be less popular than other varieties with the general population, the Stockyard Oatmeal Stout is actually fairly highly rated by Trader Joe's customers. Although it is dark in color, it has a fairly modest ABV of 5.2%. PorchDrinking.com describes this beer as a "creamy stout that you'd be happy ordering a pint of at an Irish pub." Many of the reviews mention the notes of chocolate and coffee that make this stout distinct.
Recipes With Ben calls this stout roasty, mild, and not bad, but doesn't believe it's robust enough to be considered a true stout. Brewer and beer-enthusiast Ethan Osborne agrees, explaining to Thrillist, "there's not enough malty backbone to really back up the flavors in the beer. That's why you get that nice aroma, or that nice initial flavor, and then it kind of evaporates in your mouth." For true stout fans, this may be a skip, but for anyone on the fence or willing to drink something a little less intense, this might be the stout for you.
5. Josephsbrau PLZNR Czech-Style Lager
You may be wondering how a Czech-style lager differs from the Ameriacan or German versions. According to the experts at VinePair, Czech lagers generally have "slightly sweet, toasted biscuit and bready aromas and flavors, as well as moderate to low carbonation." Accordingly, the majority of reviewers on BeerAdvocate report a bready taste or smell for this yeasty lager. With a modest ABV of 5.4%, this lager isn't too heavy, as confirmed by Recipes With Ben, who calls it sweet and crisp, with a slight graininess that aligns with "what a Czech-style lager should taste like."
While beer connoisseurs share their approval for this lager, regular old beer drinkers may find it a bit ho-hum. Hosts Kristen and Jen of The Kitchen & Jorn Show have two words for this beer: boring and bitter. Even the positive reviews on BeerAdvocate include phrases like "nothing outstanding" or "perfectly serviceable ... without anything standing out." The general takeaway is that, for less than US $2 per beer on average, there isn't much to hate about it, but it's probably not going to become a regular inside your refrigerator.
4. Trader Joe's Vintage Spiced Ale
This ale ages like fine wine — that's to say that its flavors become more complex (and better) as it ages, according to BeerAdvocate. Each year, Trader Joe's unveils a new aged spiced ale, and the 2021 version was received well by nearly all who tried it. Let's point out that this ale had a robust 9% ABV (the highest of any beers on this list) which may mean that mainly beer enthusiasts and ale aficionados put this bottle to the test. Nonetheless, it's received high ratings on both BeerAdvocate and Untappd, the later of which features almost 990 ratings with an average of 3.8 out of five.
As stated by BeerAdvocate, the 2021 Vintage Spiced Ale is "a rich, dark, and full-bodied ale with a fine and generous coffee-colored, beige foam." It's brewed, of course, with spices, and several who have tried it note hints of plum, stating that it's got a slightly fruity, albeit bold, flavor.
3. Boatswain Hazy IPA
Let's note that the beers sold exclusively by Trader Joe's are all from various brewers and companies. (If that sounds confusing, it's because it kind of is.) The Boatswain brand is one of the more common and popular ones sold by the chain, and its beers are made by a brewery located in Wisconsin (via Trader Joe's). The Boatswain Hazy IPA gains approval from many beer-lovers, as hazy IPAs tend to. According to Trader Joe's, this beer boasts "complex notes of tropical fruit and citrus zest." Hops are added "late into the brewing process," which the company explains "helps preserve the maximum amount of hoppy flavor and helps create an almost creamy mouthfeel."
In their Louisiana Beer Reviews series, YouTuber Ronald Theriot says that the Boatswain Hazy IPA is medium bodied with a dry finish. The beer reviewer calls the golden-colored beer "appropriately sweet," with a three out five rating on their personal scale of sweetness. Like most Trader Joe's products, this beer is generally agreed upon as a bang for your buck option, racking in at around $6 or less for a six pack, depending on where you live. With a rating of four out of five on BeerAdvocate, it's safe to say that this is an all-around decent beer.
2. Simpler Times Lager
Trader Joe's Simpler Times Lager is like the chill, unproblematic, fun-to-be-around member of the beer family. Trader Joe's describes it as "crisp and easy to drink," while being "full-flavored and well-balanced." The grocery chain recommends you pair it "with seafood, spicy dishes, and summer's heat." Unsurprisingly, most who have tried this light lager agree! At 6.2% ABV, this lager is the perfect medium between heavy and light, without an overpowering taste or smell. Essentially, you won't really have to worry about becoming too full or food pairings, while still feeling like you're drinking a beer.
When the hosts of Midwest Brew Review sipped on Simpler Times, they gushed over how it's cheap (around US $6 for a six pack) yet "delightful" and "easy to drink," making it a cheaper, slightly stronger alternative to tossing back a few Bud Lights. They did detect a "slight metallic smell," while Youtuber Jerry the Beer Reviewer reported a "light, sweet, bready kind of aroma," and a slightly tart taste with hints of apple, but not in a sour apple kind of way. Overall, this seems like a well-rounded, no-frills beer that's refreshing but not weak, which is why it earns a spot in our top three.
1. Josephsbrau Bavarian Style Hefeweizen
Josephsbrau Bavarian Style Hefeweizen is a mouthful and a good one at that. With a sweet-spot 5.3% ABV, this is an unfiltered wheat beer, which, according to its label, includes notes of citrus, bubblegum, clove, and banana. When a beer is unfiltered, that doesn't signify that it's by any means unfinished. In fact, Beer Connoisseur states that when beers are filtered, it is often the case that a "complexity of both flavor and aroma are lost." As such, this beer packs a full-bodied, grainy flavor that crowns it number one on our list.
OffBrandGuy.com calls this hefeweizen wheat ale "simply a decent beer," after making a sound note that, when enjoying a brew from Trader Joe's, you aren't "spending your dollar on branding and marketing, you're spending it on quality beer," compared to a name-brand. And quality beer this is, judging from the high ratings it has earned on BeerAdvocate. In their reviews, Recipes With Ben was pleasantly surprised by the taste of this hazy brew and The Kitchen & Jorn Show easily rates it a respectable "really great."