Do you know what is the number one enemy of beer quality and freshness? It’s heat. Nothing will turn your gorgeous, delectable, super-fresh hoppy IPA into a sickly sweet and stale mess faster heat. Extended time at high temperatures can leave a beer tasting “cooked,” that is, tired, overly sweet and papery. But what’s better in the dog days of summer than a beer?
That’s why a good cooler is a beer fan’s summer essential. With the increasing ubiquity of craft beer and the relatively recent proliferation of high-end coolers in which to store it, there are more choices out there than ever. Below, we’ve wrangled up a list of five of the best beer coolers for summer 2018, at various price points and for various purposes.
Trendy Beasts: Yeti, Orca and Pelican
It might be unfair to characterize these expensive, “overbuilt” high-end coolers as trendy. Pelican, for example, has been in operation since 1976 and Yeti has been making its high-end, roto-molded coolers since 2012. It’s undeniable that these beasts are experiencing something of a moment, though. As recently as a few years ago, your average person probably never even considered spending upwards of $300 on a beverage cooler. Today, it’s more likely.
Unless you need to keep your Narragansett extra chilly on a long shark-hunting excursion, these things are more than the everyday drinker needs. That being said, they are extremely durable, high-quality and keep beverages cold far longer than the time it takes to drink them. If you’re a “Best of the Best” type, a classic Yeti Tundra 45, capable of holding just north of a case of cans, plus ice, and will set you back the aforementioned $300. Meanwhile, the 40 quart Orca can stock an entire case of beer for $270.
The Pelican 30 quart Elite can’t quite stock an entire case of beer in cans—it tops out at 22, according to Pelican—but it’ll set you back a slightly more modest $225. Bonus points for it looking like something you’d use to store uranium. People will definitely know you mean business when you show up to the Rotary Club picnic with that sonofabitch. Pelican also recently introduced the Pelican Bottle: this 8-, 32- or 64-ounce thermos-style insulated tactical beverage retaining system is meant to replace your taproom growler and ranges in price from $25 to $50.
Big Softies: Mountainsmith
The overbuilt coolers discussed above are all of the hard-side variety and meant to withstand bear attacks—seriously. For a lighter touch, easier storage and more modest price, there are plenty of soft-sided cooler options out there for your beer-totin’ needs. One brand that kept coming up among beer rep friends was Mountainsmith, particularly the Mountainsmith Crosstown Cooler Tote. I heard a lot of praise for this cooler from people whose jobs depend on keeping beer cold. It’s also quite the attractive cooler—its tote-bag-style makes it a little lower profile. Mountainsmith’s website says it can hold “a day’s worth of beverages,” so figure out where you exist on the sliding scale of problem drinking and plan accordingly. This guy goes for $60.
If your beer-cooling needs run to the more abstemious side of things, Mountainsmith has options for you: The aptly-named Sixer is a soft-sided messenger bag-style cooler meant to hold a “six pack of your favorite micro brew.” If you’re still into growlers, there’s also a cute lil’ ol Growler Sling you can tuck that glass boi right on into for only $22—I used to have a neoprene growler jacket that worked really well in the summer; I imagine this would serve a very similar purpose.
Old Ironsides: Coleman
Let’s talk about steelsides. The Coleman 54 quart Steel Belted cooler is an American classic. Maybe my personal favorite, as an incorrigible hipster and easy prey for heritage workwear brands. Nonetheless, this is undeniably a handsome, rugged and durable cooler for a great price. While Coleman has begun to manufacture their own line of high-end, on-trend rotomolded “Super Coolers,” it’s hard to beat the understated timelessness and functionality of the Steel Belted. Its design has remained essentially unchanged since 1954, which is why this cooler looks so familiar to so many of us. It’s probably been a fixture at many of our family get-togethers and backyard barbecues over the last couple of generations, without us being aware of it.
Did I mention it also keeps stuff cold? Coleman claims “four-day ice retention at temperatures up to 90-degrees Fahrenheit.” While it probably won’t hold up to a hungry bear, you can own this little piece of Americana for only $150. It also holds up to 85 cans—fewer with ice, presumably—which, at normal craft beer prices, means you’ll spend all the money you saved not buying the $300 Yeti by filling this guy up with fresh-ass IPAs. It’s still made in the USA, too, if that matters to you. Grab one before the steel tariffs make this the nostalgic luxury option.
We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat: Igloo
In the vein of the Coleman Steel Belted is the Igloo Marine Ultra. These are big, no bullshit coolers originally and primarily meant for fishing, so they’re tough and effective—five-day ice retention, Igloo says, and the 94 quart size can hold a whopping 140 cans of beer. They’re great value for the money: The massive 94Q model is $180, while a Yeti of similar capacity will run you around $800. Sometimes less is more.
On that note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the adorable and venerable triangle-top Igloo Playmate. This handy little grab-and-go cooler is as quietly iconic in its own way as the Coleman Steel-Belted, and it’s become pretty ubiquitous over the course of its 45-year run. The little 16 quart guy will only set you back $28, and will help you lug around up to 30 cans with cheery aplomb. There’s also something weirdly satisfying about working the thumb-button on the handle.
On the other end of the cooler spectrum, Igloo makes a destroyer-class, high-end cooler ideal for summer night soirees: The “Party Bar Liddup” is a sleek 125 quart jobber on casters featuring sleek industrial design, removable drink dividers and wine caddy, room for about 200 cans, plus a built-in softly glowing white LEDs which illuminate your refreshments from below. All-in-all not a bad deal at $250.
All A-Quiver: Mountainsmith (again)
Here's one more for funsies, because I’ve wanted one ever since Revolution Brewing showed up at a summer beer festival with these a couple years ago: The Mountainsmith Cooler Tube is ridiculous, impractical and fun. It only holds six cans, which makes its utility somewhat questionable. What’s unquestionable is that it makes you look like an urban archer. Or just some dude headed to yoga. Let’s go with archer.