Blind Taste Test: Costco Generic Beer About As Good As Brand Name

Our friends at Consumer Reports were curious about Costco’s generic (sorry, “Kirkland Signature”) beer sampler, which includes German Style Lager, Pale Ale, Amber Ale, and Hefeweizen. In the name of science, they got a bunch of people and some comparable brand name beers… then duct-taped the bottles so nobody could tell what they were drinking.

It turns out that on average, regular, untrained people enjoy Costco generic beer about as much as they like brand name beers such as Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Samuel Adams Boston Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Paulaner Hefe-Weizen. Some preferred the brand name, some preferred the Kirkland, etc.

Trained beer experts said “although the brand-name beers were more flavorful, clean-tasting, and complex, the Costco beers were quite quaffable and, to use the consultants’ technical term, “party-worthy,” according to CR.

Sounds good to us, the only drawback seems to be that you have to buy the sampler and can’t get cases of just the style you like. Boo.

Bargain beer from Costco [Consumer Reports]

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  1. partofme says:

    No IPA? No thanks.

  2. b612markt says:

    I’ve bought this case several times and my guests always comment on how good the beer is.

    • Woofer says:

      It’s good for increasing your beer volume, but there’s no stepping around having some quality brews around.

    • Dhornet7 says:

      What is the Hef similar to?

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        A senile boat captain in a bathrobe?

      • reesebw says:

        Blue Moon is probably the most common Hefeweizen you’ll find. Hoegarden is an imported Hef. It’s a beer made from wheat. Usually can be served with a slice of fruit in it and has some citrus and spice flavor to it. Good summer drinking.

        • jjp36 says:

          Actually, neither blue moon or hoegaarden are hefe’s, they are wit(white) beers. They are also brewed with wheat, but they are almost always spiced with coriander/orange peel. Hefes on the other hand are generally just wheat and barley and the yeast adds the spicy notes (banana/clove). Some good examples would be Franziskaner, Paulaner, or Ayinger Brau Weisse (my personal favorite)

        • RxDude says:

          Blue Moon is a Belgian white, which while unfiltered and made with wheat, doesn’t represent the flavor of a standard hefeweisen. A Belgian white has additional citrus/spice flavors, while a hefe is pretty much beer flavored with some fruity notes from the yeast used.

        • Miz_Ivy says:

          Neither Blue Moon nor Hoegarden is a Hefeweizen. They are both Witbiers. Though both Wits and Hefs are wheat beers and can have citrus notes, there are distinct difference. Wits are a Belgian style, they are usually brewed with coriander and tend to be a bit on the sweet side. Hefeweizen is a German style, the estery/phenolic components tend to be banana and clove.

          Some of the most commonly imported German Hefs are Paulaner and Fransikaner. Many micorbrews here in the US also make Hefs as well, like Pyramid, Widmer, and Gordon Biersch. American-made Hefs do have a different flavor (tend more towards citrus than banana flavor) the Germans, and I’d anticipate the Costco brands would be similar to these.

          And if you’re into fruit in your beer (which is an American thing), Wits would be served with a slice of orange, and Hefs would be served with a slice of lemon.

          Apologies, I am currently preparing for the Beer Judge Certification Exam, and I cannot allow misinformation about beer to stand. :)

          And both styles are delicious. Think I need to “study” by “tasting” more of both.

    • bluevideo says:

      Who brews the Costco beer in your neck of the woods? Depending on where you’re at, you’ve got either a Gordon Biersch product (if it’s out of San Jose), or a Saranac product (out of Utica, NY).

      I only discovered this tidbit after moving recently from west coast to east coast, and wondering why the Costco beer here tasted noticeably worse. If you’ve got access to the San Jose-brewed product, it’s an awesome bargain… the Utica stuff, not so much.

  3. epb says:

    Not enough beer articles today.

  4. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    Well, it’s obvious what happened. The awesomeness of the duct tape soaked through the bottle and made the beer equally as awesome.

    I don’t like the sampler packs. For some reason, I like beer. I like Bud, Coors, Rolling Rock, IC, Beast, etc… But when it comes to ales and the microbrewed stuff, it’s not my cup of tea.

    • craptastico says:

      agreed. i never outgrew my college beer tastes. give me a high life bottle over that other crap any day.

  5. danmac says:

    I don’t really agree with this, but it’s a matter of taste…the Kirkland beers are fairly mellow in their flavors (although there’s a “soapy” taste to the Pale Ale that bothers me), and nothing is awful about any of them, but I wouldn’t go so far as to favorably compare them to a good brand name or microbrew.

    The nice part about them is that in Washington, a case (24 beers) costs $17.99, whereas a case of Sam Adams is something like $22.99 at Costco. So if you want to save 5 bucks, have a little variety, and don’t mind slightly inferior beer, by all means.

    • mac-phisto says:

      wow. here in CT the average 12-PACK (which everyone calls a case b/c they don’t know that a case actually holds twice as much beer) costs about $14 & i can’t even buy beer at costco.

      am i living in the wrong state to be a beer drinker or what?

      • Sumtron5000 says:

        CT, where you can’t buy alcohol, anywhere, anytime! I’ve make many Sunday trips to MA back in the day…

  6. mythago says:

    Seriously, it’s beer. How good is it going to be?

    • AI says:

      You have a vagina don’t you?

      • Venus Blue says:

        I laughed so hard I almost cried.

        Some people with vaginas still like beer, tyvm! :)

      • LinearRegression says:

        *snort* Good one! I like beer (I’m female) so much that I’ve started brewing my own. But yes, it’s probably not a chick thing. Still, I’m going to try these just for the comparison.

        • mythago says:

          Maybe he drinks beer through his man bits, in which case I can see why he would be under the impression that Vagina-Americans don’t like beer.

          (Seriously, I must be missing a beer gene or something. Everybody of drinking age I know who drinks likes beer. It all tastes like stale Grape Nuts to me.)

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      I’m a little sad that you’ve never had a quality beer before. Good beer is a complex, nuanced, delicious thing.

      • mythago says:

        Okay, you’re that guy at the potluck who insists that everybody try the beet-and-chicken-liver casserole even if they assure you they hate beets (or chicken livers) and have all their lives, because they clearly haven’t had beets and chicken livers cooked the right way.

        I’ve had plenty of what beer lovers assure me are fabulous beers (I used to live in the PNW). I just don’t like the stuff. I wish I did, because wine is fattening and I don’t always feel like harder stuff.

        • partofme says:

          The beautiful thing about beer is that there are LOTS of different styles. There are also lots of different interpretations of different styles (Michael Jackson, the Beer Hunter, gives that there are at least “50 different styles, manifested in about 30,000 products from about 5,000 breweries”). I’ve never met someone who I couldn’t eventually find a beer for. There are really bitter, hoppy beers (my favorite, one of which has very noticeable grapefruit flavor). There are dark, creamy stouts (with varying intensities of chocolate or coffee). There are light, fruity beers. There are spicy beers. The list goes on and on. I would encourage you to keep trying different types (and ALWAYS check for expiration dates. It seems many people don’t know that beer goes bad.) Hopefully, you can find something that suits your palate.

          • mythago says:

            I don’t mean to beat this to death, but really, I’ve tried. I just don’t like beer. Which means that you can have MY beer, so it’s all good, really.

            • partofme says:

              Consider me humbled and impressed.

            • jefeloco says:

              Until you added this last part I thought you were just demented.

              My wife hated all beers until I brought home a couple of six packs of pear cider, now I’m doomed unless I bring one home with my regular case of Fat Tire.

            • RvLeshrac says:

              You’ve hardly tried every style of beer, nor likely even a small sampling of the varieties of beer.

              The “chicken liver and beet casserole” comparison isn’t quite right. A more appropriate one would be “meat and vegetable casserole,” with you saying that you don’t like any casserole.

        • moofie says:

          By the same token, you’d be considered very rude if you went into that potluck and said “Casseroles taste like week-old roadkill.”

          You don’t like beer. Fine. Do you want a cookie or something?

        • Geekybiker says:

          Nothing to be ashamed of. My wife isn’t a beer fan either. Its really an acquired taste. I hated beer for a long time until I tried guiness on a trip to the UK. Then I don’t drank creamy stouts for a long time and slowly branched out. On the other hand I’ve never really developed a taste for wine.

    • lukesdad says:

      It’s a shame there are people who have not discovered the greatness that is beer.

  7. LaziestManOnMars says:

    I’ve never bought the Kirkland brand beer at costco, but they do have the sampler-packs from microbreweries at a great price. It doesn’t surprise me that their beer brand is good, the Kirkland products from costco are always fantastic quality, plus there’s the guarantee.

    • ludwigk says:

      A lot of kirkland label products are great quality, and made by respectable vendors. They tend to optimize for value over absolutely the highest quality. There are a number of kirkland products that I like, the only one I can think of atm being their peanutbutter cups.

      • mac-phisto says:

        try their salsa sometime (if you like salsa) – it’s actually quite good.

        overall, i’d have to agree with this assessment. i’ve been pleasantly surprised with most of their products. much better than most grocery store brands.

  8. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    Historically I have been quite the beer connoisseur – knowing what beers to get with whatever kind of food, always having a big selection of “good” beer in the house, etc.

    Then my own personal economy tanked. And I realized that I really should’t be spending $15 (or more) per 12-pack of beer.

    So, I started (gasp) drinking beer out of a can. And not even “good” canned beer. I mean pretty much whatever is on sale for $10 a case.

    And you know what? For the most part, it’s fine. If anything, cheap beers often just have little flavor at all…so it’s not like one’s going to be offensive. Some have an appreciable taste though.

    So…cheap beer, along with cheap margaritas, and my summer experience on the deck is the same as it always was. I’m sure I’ll go back to buying better beer when my finances get better…I do miss some of my favorites…but I had to admit that there’s not really any good reason to be a huge beer snob.

    • denros says:

      Personally I just started drinking less beer. It ends up being cheaper that way. I’m going for quantity over quality, then straight liquor is far more efficient anyway. Tequila + squeeze of lime, cracked ice. done.

      • mac-phisto says:

        that’s my favorite.

        we also mix a concoction that i guess could pass for a margarita which tastes awesome (stretched the tequila out a bit longer) & contains the following:
        1) tequila (don julio blanco is my personal favorite)
        2) simply limeade
        3) newman’s own lemonade
        4) fresh limes
        5) fresh lemons
        6) ice

        i use the 3/2/1 split (3 parts tequila, 2 parts limeade, 1 part lemonade) & squeeze the lime & lemon wedges over the top. 2 of those & i’m in the “tequila daze”.

    • reesebw says:

      Justify it by ABV. A 12 pack of Coors which is like 4.2% versus getting a 12 pack of IPA at 6.2% looks much better when you think of it as volume of alcohol/dollars.

      • ARP says:

        That’s how I justify it. A six-pack of IPA runs around $9, a sixer of bud, runs about $6. But I get better taste and more booze for my money with an IPA.

        • YouDidWhatNow? says:

          If you just want to get drunk, buy Hurricane malt liquor. Dirt cheap, high alcohol content, and no taste.

          I’m not necissarly wanting to get drunk. I want to have a beer. $10 for a case is pretty compelling…

        • craptastico says:

          you’re overpaying for your bud. usually you can get a 12 pack for around 8 bucks or so. for only $3 difference you might as well get what you like

  9. Angus99 says:

    I would have to admit that my ability to distinguish between beers declines in direct proportion to the number of them I’ve had.

    • Darury says:

      My buddies and I used to use that as a cost-saving measure. We’d buy a 6-back of “good” beer, then a case of the cheap stuff. After a few good beers, we didn’t really care what we were drinking.

  10. Ladybird says:

    I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference either. I just really started drinking beer in the last 6 months. At the bar I’ll usually go for Blue Moon or Stella. If I’m just trying to beat the heat, I’ll have a Woodchuck.

    Budweiser, however, is VILE!

    • Echo5Joker says:

      I’ll be the snob here and tell you that Woodchuck is a cider, not a beer. But you seem to be developing good taste anyway. As an experienced beer drinker and brewer, I’d point you away from those brands toward whatever is local and fresher. But, I’ll part with my fellow beer snobs and say that you really should just drink what you enjoy. Some of my fellow snobbies turn their noses up when I tell them one of the best beers I’ve ever had was at the Coor’s plant in Golden, CO. What you get in bars or off the shelf kind of looks and smells like pee, but at the plant it is super fresh and real good. So is the Blue Moon, which they make there.

    • jefeloco says:

      Plain Bud is crap, Bud Select is actually appreciably good, and cheap…

  11. kpsonic says:

    These are contract brewed for Costco by the Gordon Biersch Brewing Company under the brewer name Hopfen Und Malz (for the west coast market) and since mid 2009 by Matt Brewing as “New Yorker Brewing Co.” (for the east coast market).

    • Doncosmic says:

      They also do several of Trader Joe’s beers which are quite good

    • Anonymously says:

      I’ve recently discovered that old milwaukee is surprising drinkable for the price.

    • katknits says:

      Good to know – I’ve been curious about the Kirkland brand, but now that I know that it’s brewed by Gordon, I won’t be getting it. I do not care for their beer. Blech.

  12. frank64 says:

    I don’t like sample packs either. There is usually one or two types in there I don’t like. They should sell each type individually, then I would try it. Yeah, what about an IPA?

    I also read where Costco sells liquor, the Kirkland 18 year old scotch is really Macallan, and of course is much cheaper.

    • mythago says:

      On the other hand, you can use the beer you don’t like to drink for cooking. (Which in my opinion is the only proper use of beer, but YMMV.)

      • Mobius says:

        == Troll Detected ==

        We are aware you don’t like beer. Please stop posting in a beer thread.

        • frank64 says:

          BUT, it was also a direct reply, and a worthy suggestion that I could buy the sample pack and cook with the beer I don’t like. The not liking beer part was in parenthesis, this conveyed the proper tone, and I deem it untroll like.

          I applaud you for your troll alerts because I recognize they are needed, however I think you jumped the gun on this one!

          • mythago says:

            To thank you for your support, I will even recommend a specific use for the unwanted portion of your sampler pack: pot roast. You can even buy the beef for this at Costco along with your beer! I put in a bottle or two of beer, a small can of diced tomatoes, a bunch of dried shiitake mushrooms (not the yuppie kind – the ones you get at an Asian grocery store, where they’re cheaper), garlic, salt and pepper and a little Worcestershire. Cook it in an oven at 250 for several hours or simmer very very gently over low heat ditto. When the beef is falling apart, you take it out, put it on a plate to keep warm, strain the cooking liquid and boil it down till it’s a little thick. You can make a roux gravy out of it if you’re feeling energetic.

    • pantheonoutcast says:

      Costco has its own brand of scotch? That’s almost heretical.

      • partofme says:

        As far as I know, their scotch is just extra Macallan stuff that was barreled in the 90’s in anticipation of a demand boom that never occurred. They unloaded it cheap to the warehouse brands who bottled and distributed it.

    • Clyde Barrow says:

      First I read that Costco has its own beer and now I read it has its own scotch? Oh mercy! I have tears in my eyes.

  13. reesebw says:

    My Costco sells 24 packs of Rogue Dead Guy. No way I’m passing that up for their generic beer. Costco beer would be great if you lived somewhere where domestics are all you can find, but in the Pacific Northwest our Costcos usually have a few microbrews like Deschutes or Red Hook which is hard to pass up on the deals they sell them for. The Costco beers are drinkable, but they definitely have a certain home brewers flavor (must be the malt extract?) and i swear the quality control from batch to batch is a little iffy (do they contract out to a variety of different breweries to make it?)

    • partofme says:

      Where is this Costco and how do I get there?

      • reesebw says:

        Well it might not be the one in Tacoma, WA, but when I was up at the Tulalip casino visiting my brother at college w/ the fam we stopped by Costco to buy him college things. While there they were selling 24 packs of Dead Guy for $25. That is ridiculous considering 6 packs at grocery stores cost $9. I’m not quite done with the 24 pack yet, but I assume Costcos in the Puget sound area must be doing this too.

        • lukesdad says:

          Yep. Everett Costco has Dead Guy for $25 and I’ve got at least 12 or so bottles still in my fridge! Can’t beat stuff of that quality for just over a buck per beer. They also have some stuff from Hale’s, Sierra Nevada and Scuttlebutt, in addition to their own stuff and the cheap yellow fizzy stuff.

      • mythago says:

        California Costcos carry the microbrews as well.

    • Silverhawk says:

      Oh, how I miss Costco beer variety. I used to be able to pick up 4-5 different Oktoberfests (in season of course) and occasional one-off micros from around the country at my local Costco in Iowa. Then I moved to Tennessee, and Costco carries only Sam Adams, Heineken or BudMilloors.

  14. nybiker says:

    Do they pay those taste testers? If so, please contact me the next time they’re doing that (hey, maybe they can start testing the different vodkas and rums – I am available right now, like this minute).

  15. Kitten3401 says:

    Last time I purchased a sampler case or Gordon Bierch beer (local microbrew) half the bottles in the case had kirkland bottlecaps….that explains why the beer is so good. Been buying the kirkland sampler ever since….Costco is known for finding products they like or their customers like and the following year they put the kirkland stamp on it and sell it for less. Exact same product!

    • Doncosmic says:

      Gordon Biersch is a national restaurant chain. The restaurants all brew beer in house, and the bottled stuff in stores in brewed in a few different locations

    • lukesdad says:

      They do all the “Trader Joe’s Brewing Company” beers as well.

  16. sagodjur says:

    So they taste just as bad as all those brand names? I’ll pass.

    I’ll stick to my northwest microbrews instead.

    • lukesdad says:

      Ditto. We grow all the hops and we’ve damn well perfected their use.

    • Pseodopod says:

      I’m a huge lover of northwest micros, but a lot of our hefeweizens aren’t as good as Paulaner, and fresh Sierra Nevada Pale is a pretty standout example of the pale ale style. Otherwise I’m with you, though Sam Adams is still a good choice when Bud/Miller/Coors and other pale swill are the only other choices at a bar or restaurant.

  17. tootberg@spam.la says:

    Most people probably don’t know a good beer from a crappy one. They’re the sort of people who think Miller, Bud, etc. are “good” beers.

    Although I’ve never tried Costco beer before, I can certainly tell a difference between brands and I do have my preferences based solely on taste. I think there is also a difference in beer drinking philosophy – most people drink to get drunk, so as long as it doesn’t taste like swill, they’ll chug it, whereas there are folk who drink beer for TASTE primarily and are picky about it.

  18. weblamer says:

    I like $3 walmart brand wine.

    • ARP says:

      That secret was eating at your soul, wasn’t it? :)

    • Clyde Barrow says:

      HA! Me too. Are you talking the $2.97 a bottle of the California brand, Swan Lake, or something like that? They have it as merlot, chadonnay, or white wine. LOL…It’s a bit bitter but just like beer, after the second glass, who cares.

    • freelunch says:

      But what about Target??? the $3 ‘lucky duck’ is pretty good for such a cheap price, and when purchased with a pack of Trojans is good for a laugh from the cashier.

  19. aleck says:

    That’s because Costco beer probably comes from the same breweries. Costco does not make any of their Kirkland brand products. They just work with the manufacturers to make the same product under a different label. Of course such agreements are kept in secret, otherwise people would pay the premium for the name brands. But every once in a while unconfirmed reports come out that Kirkland vodka is made by Grey Goose and diapers are made by P&G.

  20. Mecharine says:

    Quaffing at my desk.

  21. ferndave says:

    Our default beer is Sam Adams. We tried the Costco beer and liked it. Our friends liked it too after getting over the “Costco beer???” idea. Some styles were better than others, but for the price, we were happy enough to buy it again.

    • ludwigk says:

      The important thing to understand, as aleck points out, is that costco doesn’t make their own beer. They get a respected producer to make their product with private labeling.

      • ferndave says:

        Labels shouldn’t matter. What would be different if it was actually Costco than some smaller brewery filling the bottles? It tastes good, has a fair price, and doesn’t include a mouse in the bottle. Unfortunately, our friends had to get past the label before realizing that.

    • Clyde Barrow says:

      Adam’s always gives me a headache. I love the beer and flavor, but I can’t drink it.

  22. Adam Rock says:

    Kirkland brand beer in San Jose is made by Gordon Bierch, as is several Trader Joe’s branded beers. I went on a tour of the brewery and they had cases of Kirkland and Trader Joe’s beer ready to ship. Not sure if Costcos in other areas have the same source.

    • bluevideo says:

      Nope! Out east, it’s brewed by Saranac in Utica, NY. And it’s noticeably not as good.

  23. DWMILLER says:

    HANGER 24 Orange Wheat, Redlands, California
    The best micro around

  24. areaman says:

    This post confirms what is a well known beer industry fact. Most consumers cannot tell their favorite beer in blind taste tests.

    Knowing this many beer companies spend a lot of their resources in marketing.

    I wonder if I could pick Guinness out of the blind taste test???

    • RxDude says:

      I’ll bet $100 that I could tell Guinness from any of these Kirkland beers in a blind taste test.

      Any takers?

      • darklighter says:

        I wouldn’t take that bet, since none of the Kirkland beers are stouts.

        • partofme says:

          I bet $100 I could tell the difference between Guinness and Olde Main Stout (from the brewery that was local to my undergraduate institution). I miss the days of getting that on their dollar pint night… :(

      • Pseodopod says:

        You probably could pick it out from the main macrobrews simply because it’s a distinct style from the main contenders: a stout, a beer made from roasted malts. Bud, Miller, Coors, etc. are all pale adjunct lagers, and have very similar recipes.

    • bluevideo says:

      I can see how someone couldn’t blindly tell the difference between, say, Coors Light and Bud Light. But this doesn’t apply so well to the microbrews…

  25. sonneillon says:

    I’ll give it a shot. I like trying new beers and I do like Hefeweizen beers quite a bit.

    • lukesdad says:

      If you’ve got a Trader Joe’s around, try the Mission Street Hefeweizen. It’s $2.50 for a bomber and is as good as some of the best German hefs I’ve had. It’s made by Firestone Walker Brewing out of California, who make a lot of great pale ales as well.

      • sonneillon says:

        I do have a trader joes around. If there is anything in Virginia it is a butt load of grocery stores. I will try that too.

  26. radicalreeves says:

    Hooray! Just in time for 4th of July! I will take a 144-pack.

  27. Hotscot says:

    I love those Kirkland beers. I find they have a smooth finish.
    Much prefer them to Sam Adams and Biersch’s own brands, which I find have a bitter aftertaste.

    I actually found the recent Gordon Biersch sampler I bought to be all undrinkable.

    I wish I could find original Schlitz though. They recently started making it according to the twenty year old recipe but it’s hard to find outside Chicago.

  28. jecowa says:

    I only trust double blind taste tests, thank you very much.

  29. teke367 says:

    Experts? Sorry, but you’re either qualified to use the work “quaffable” or qualified to use the phrase “party worthy”, but not both.

  30. lukesdad says:

    “Brand Name” in association with beer doesn’t exactly stir up images of quality anyway. Budweiser is about as big a brand name as you’ll find anywhere, but that doesn’t mean I don’t vomit a little bit at the mere thought of it.

  31. PixDawg says:

    Alcohol. Gag.. An acquired “taste” I am proud to say I have never acquired. The only polar solvent I will drink is water.

  32. jason in boston says:

    Dammit consumerist! Now I have to go to Costco after work!

  33. seanx says:

    I just bought that case! Not an hour ago. I wanted better beer…but with my unemployment just about over…it was all I could afford. I am glad that it will be decent. I just put some in the fridge. Further reports in about 3 hours.

  34. LastError says:

    I got a case of that beer for my brother last Christmas. Not a big hit. I like a good, strong beer myself and honestly… it wasn’t that good. More bitter than anything. Had to get my brother something else to make up for it.

  35. Serenefengshui says:

    It’s good beer. And cheap!

    The pale ale is quite good.

  36. mcmunchkin says:

    Kirkland Signature Anejo Tequila is AWESOME. It’s made in Jalisco by one of the major brands, 100% agave, and yes, actually aged. (It’s not the only grocery store brand that is actually a relabeled name brand.)

    It’s only about 20 bucks when they have coupons. They seriously have the best booze at Costco.

  37. Ubernostrom says:

    Kirkland signature vodka is the only vodka I’ll ever buy again.

  38. moofie says:

    Life is too short to drink cheap beer.

  39. pencotron says:

    I found the Pale Ale to be the best of the bunch. I would buy a case of that one. I was very disappointed in the German Style Lager however.