Bottom Shelf Beer: 7-Eleven's Game Day Ice Ale

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor you don’t have to.


My strongest and strangest retail loyalty is to 7-Eleven, Inc. There is no good explanation for my devotion to this convenience store chain; indeed, there are several reasons why I ought to qwik-shop elsewhere.

For starters, 7-Eleven is a giant company based in Texas, which is a fine thing to be, but not a thing that appeals to my instinct to buy my Corn Nuts and roller-cooked meats from smaller concerns based closer to home. And I think Slurpee's one of the grosser things you can name a foodstuff—I'd just as soon suck down a Snottee or a Scummee. And though some of their house-brand items are OK, none of them are great, and the imposter Slim Jims are gray.

Yet I still find myself at 7-Eleven fairly often for days-old sandwiches and brand-name Slim Jims, and I steadfastly defend the chain—and my patronage—to dissenters like my fiancée, who somehow feels qualified to denounce the place even though she's never so much as tried the stickless corn dogs. I've spent so much time and money justifying 7-Eleven's ubiquity that I've been on the lookout for a definitive reason that A) 7-Eleven needs to exist and B) I need to exist inside it so damn often, which is why I was excited to finally notice the half-hidden beer cooler at the one closest to my apartment.

Very few convenience stores in Massachusetts are licensed to sell alcohol, but the 7-Eleven in Harvard Square sells the cheapest cold beer in town. (Trader Joe's has less expensive brew, but it's warm; furthermore, they don't sell heat-lamped sausage biscuits for a dollar.) If you live in a more reasonable precinct of the lower 48, you might not call $9 a bargain for a dozen cans of store-label beer, but in Cambridge, where nobody works yet everybody's rich, Game Day Ice Ale is a potential steal.

I say "potential," because just as discount meat snacks are worthless if they're gray, cut-rate beer isn't any good if it can't be fired down in rapid and happy succession on an otherwise dry day between paychecks. I set a very low bar for this category of beer, so I was optimistic about Game Day Ice. If it's better than Keystone and Busch Light, it's good enough to see me through till my ship's long overdue arrival.

Let's start with the name. I wasn't thrilled with the Game Day part, because I don't like the ham-fisted appeal to fat guys sitting around yelling at the television. I resent it when people try to sell me things based on my presumed Neanderthality.

I may indeed be a lazy, uncultured slob, but I don't need any more condescending advertisements (or blog posts) pushing the 11 Best Things To Shove In Your Face As You Neglect Your Family and Your Hygiene Because Football's On, You Big Dumb Asshole. You know what tastes best when you're wearing sweatpants and watching sports? 1985 Krug. The only reason to consider something like Game Day is because of the price, not the TV schedule.

The Ice Ale part is intriguing, though. The American macrobrew industry started calling things (typically lagers) "ice-brewed" in the 1990s as a way to indicate they had a higher alcohol content than their non-icy namesakes. If Big Yellow Beer was 4.4% ABV, then Big Yellow Ice would be 5.9, and maybe they'd tell you it was crisper or cleaner or more mountainous or whatever, but we all knew what it meant: "Hey fellas, want a little extra drunk for your buck?" Not the worst quality in a cheap beer.

Game Day Ice calls itself a "traditionally brewed ale" rather than an "ice-brewed lager," a hint that "ice" is strictly a marketing word here, and at 5.5%, GDI doesn't pack a ton more punch than Trader Joe's Name Tag Lager (5%) or Pabst Blue Ribbon (4.7%), its closest local price competitors. That's not enough of a difference to matter if it doesn't taste as good. So let's get down to it.

Poured into a glass, Game Day Ice looks as you'd expect, straw-colored and bubbly, with a head that starts strong but quickly dissipates. I'd call it medium-well carbonated, which is how I like my cheap yellows. It also smells like you'd imagine, except more so: As soon as I cracked the can, my whole kitchen reeked of keg party.

It has more flavor than most of its peers, which can be a dangerous thing at this price level, but Game Day Ice pulls it off reasonably well. There's a lot of sweet malt and even a bit of grassy hoppiness, with a slightly grapey edge. It finishes on the sour side, but not egregiously so, and it's less of a breath-wrecker than the initial smell threatens. Game Day Ice isn't quite good, but it earns its keep by being cheap, simple, and tolerable.