The 10 Best Ice Beers: Taste Tested

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Ice. Ice. Baby!

The phrase transports me back to the early 90s, when, in first grade, Vanilla Ice was the hottest cassette tape in the deck. Sure, New Kids on the Block and MC Hammer also were heavy in the rotation, but to me, Vanilla Ice “rocked the mic like a vandal.”

But, I. I. Digress. 

Since I was only six, I was generally unaware of the other ice trend: ice beer, a stronger, smoother, budget-friendly beer offering. I assume adults debated the superiority of Molson Ice and Bud Ice, just as we kids defended our choice of “To The Extreme” against the 1990 meteoric album “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em.”

Like Rob Van Winkle (and Stanley Burrell), ice beer doesn’t get the attention it did back in 1990. Trends come and go, and today, beer drinkers have far too many options to focus on the ice beer niche, but in a pinch, the category could come in handy for a fishing trip, impromptu BBQ, or a throwback 90’s dance party. In any case, we tasted the ice beer that has stood the test of time to decide ONCE AND FOR ALL THE BEST ice beers.

So slip on your parachute pants, empty that can of AquaNet, and YO, VIP, let’s kick it!

1. Natural Ice

ABV: 5.9% | Calories: 177

Part of the sub-premium line of beers owned by AB InBev made famous with Natty Light. Natty Ice is one of the more widely available ice beers in the United States. It promotes a “smooth, clean taste” with a mild malt sweetness and subtle bitterness.

2. Milwaukee’s Best Ice

ABV: 5.9% | Calories: 177

Like all ice beers, Milwaukee’s Best Ice is made by an unorthodox brewing process where beer is frozen, and a portion of the water is removed. This process is said to create a smooth drinking experience, but it also concentrates the alcohol content and flavor.

In the United States, this process is considered a form of distillation, which may be one reason why you don’t hear about many craft breweries making this style of beer. Homebrewers and some European brewers, not restrained by US government oversite, do produce ice beers either on occasion or as a novelty to push the boundaries of alcohol content possible in a beer.

The majority of the beers in the world with the highest alcohol by volume utilize ice distillation to achieve such strength. The strongest beer in the world currently is called Brewmeister Snake Venom and clocks in at 67.5% ABV. The beer is described as “using smoked peat malt, two yeast strains (one for beer and one for champagne), and undergoes a special freezing process to concentrate the alcohol content.”

3. Molson Ice

ABV: 5.4% | Calories: 162

Crispness is critical with Molson Ice and all of these ice beers. For this, you’ll find Molson Ice to be a straightforward American Adjunct Lager with light grain-like malts and little to no hop character. It’s priced to sell and is available throughout the US and Canada.

4. Genesee Ice

ABV: 5.5% | Calories: 165

From the makers of Genesee Cream Ale, Genny Ice is produced by removing ice crystals. This increases the strength of the beer and gives the ice beer’s smoothness. The beer was introduced in 1993 (by that time, I was listening to Tag Team’s Whoop There It Is) and is still a year-round favorite in Upstate New York. It’s a cheap beer from what I believe to be a craft brewer now (don’t quote me), but a fine corn lager with a bit of flavor, nonetheless.

5. Bud Ice

ABV: 5.5% | Calories: 165

Bud Ice is a highly drinkable ice lager, like all Bud brand extensions. AB might have the ultra and premium beer categories on lock, but they need to own the cheap beer categories, too, and Bud Ice fits the profile. A six-pack of Bud Ice can come in handy, especially when you’re in the mood for cheap beers. The beer has a subtle malty flavor and low bitterness. Of course, it comes in 30 packs and 32-ounce bottles for all your low-cost consumption needs.

6. Keystone Ice

ABV: 5.9% | Calories: 177

Fast forward from 1st grade to college, and I finally experienced the ice beer trend. Four years (+) in college was spent playing epic rounds of beer pong with Keystone Light, but Keystone Ice was a worthy fill-in in a pinch. It is unbelievable that college students shared those disgusting cups playing that game, but maybe we felt like the added alcohol from Keystone Light would somehow defend against germs.

What were we thinking?!

7. Busch Ice

ABV: 5.9% | Calories: 177

Busch is another sub-premium American lager brand from AB-InBev. I’ve written of my appreciation of Busch Light. It’s a guilty pleasure for this old craft beer dork, and Busch Light is right up there in that category. It’s a cold one for a trip to a lake or hunting trip, simple as that. The target market is indeed focused on Midwest hunters and fishermen. The cans and packages are commonly adorned with camouflage or classic white-tail deer imagery. So the next time you’re in Wisconsin or Iowa for deer season, be sure to stock up on a few sixers of this golden beast when you hit the stores for supplies.

8. Labatt Ice

ABV: 5.6% | Calories: 168

Labatt Ice is the first of two ice brews from the Labatt brand in this list. It’s a reminder that somewhere, at this very moment, some kid is just pressing play on Vanilla Ice; they’re in for a treat! Ice beer seems to have retained more of an interest with our friends to the North. I wonder if the popularity of ice beer in Canada explains something about why some Canadians believe the beer is stronger up North. Well, yeah, it’s easier to freeze stuff up there.

9. Carling Ice

ABV: 5.5% | Calories: 165

Carling Ice is another inexpensive beer that is pretty rare in the US but more available in Canada and elsewhere. Carling Ice is an extension of the Carling brand and is produced by freezing the beer. When the batches form ice crystals, the remaining liquid is separated. The result is a smooth, slightly more robust taste.

Today, this American style specialty lager with corn is brewed under contract at Molson-Coors. Look for it in boldly black packaging at a sub-premium price point.

10. Labatt Maximum Ice

ABV: 8% | Calories: 240

Removing ice crystals from fermented wort concentrates flavors and increases alcohol content in ice brews. Judging by the ABV of Labatt’s Maximum Ice, the brewers took some liberties with how much water was removed. Clocking in at eight percent alcohol by volume, Max Ice is sure to pack a punch at an economical price. In fact, this beer is commonly sold as a 24-ounce can or 40-ounce bottle at about three dollars each. I hope there isn’t anybody who’d need a whole case, anyway.

Yo man, let’s get out of here

Word to your mother

Ice ice baby (too cold)

Ice ice baby (too cold, too cold)

Ice ice baby (too cold, too cold)

Ice ice baby (too cold, too cold)

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Andy Sparhawk is an avid beer lover and the former editor-in-chief for Andy is the lead writer for The Beer Babe and lives in Westminster, Colorado, with his family. As beer enthusiast and experienced beer judge, he loves sharing his experiences with The Beer Babe's dedicated audience of beer enthusiasts.