Cheapest Beer Ever: The Legend of Game Day Ice

Summer 2011—a rumor had reached us through a friend’s dad about a $3.00 12-pack of generic beer from Grocery Outlet. One hour later, myself and two roommates had spent our combined fortunes on alcohol— nearly $100—for thirty 12 packs of Game Day Ice. We were lucky enough to miscount at the checkout and had accidentally acquired thirty-one 12-packs for the price of thirty, making the experience all the more sweet.

None of us were huge drinkers but we lived in a house of eight students. This house was going to have a party or two. Thanks, Game Day.

The Story of 7-Eleven’s Game Day Ice

Game Day Ice was $0.25 per 12-ounce can, and worth every penny. Was it good? No. Was it beer? Possibly. What did it taste like? Vaguely reminiscent of berries. Did we love it? Genuinely. The story of Game Day Ice is one all too familiar in the off-brand world. A major commercial food sales company, having built its brand around the products of others, attempts to diversify by competing with its partners.

Game Day Ice was 7-Eleven’s venture into brewing. Or some fermenting process similar to brewing. There was definitely alcohol in it and it was carbonated. But being sold as beer, it was a commercial failure (as was 7-Eleven’s in-house Corona-competitor, the nearly forgotten 2003 cerveza, Santiago).

Game Day did not last long on 7-Eleven’s shelves and was quickly available for the astonishing price of $3 for a 12-pack at the local discount retail store, Grocery Outlet. That’s $3.49 in 2021 dollars. At 5.5% alcohol by volume, it rivaled Christian Brother’s Ruby Port in “ability to get you drunk on a budget”. The following algebra compares the bang-for-buck aspects of the two beverages.

Game Day Ice Was Even Cheaper Than “Beer Beer”

“Beer Beer” was a legendary historical off brand beer. It served the beer-drinking American public well throughout 1970’s and 1980’s. All it said on the label was, “Beer”. And it was cheap.

It’s difficult to find data on Beer Beer. I had to consult a local beer expert. In 1981, Beer Beer cost $2.99 for a 6-pack. That’s $7.41 in 2011 dollars. As you can see, Game Day Ice was even cheaper than “Beer Beer”.

ProductPriceProofTotal VolumeEthanol ContentBang 4 Buck (ethanol)
Christian Brother’s Ruby Port$6.00 (at Safeway)40750 ml150 ml25 ml/$
Everclear (Grain alcohol)$21.00190750 ml712.2534 ml/$
Game Day Ice (12-pack)$3.00 (Grocery Outlet)114.25 L234 ml78 ml/$
An analysis of the cheapest booze. 2011 prices. Game Day Ice wins.

Bang for your buck, Game Day was among the purest forms of bang, being 3x Ruby Port and 2x Everclear itself. Bang for your tolerance of trash beverages, port still probably wins (when consumed responsibly). Game Day Ice was truly a horrible beverage. At first.

But then it does something to you. You learn to appreciate the berries. To associate it with good memories, or a good absence of memory. Though chemically and mechanically similar to beer, Game Day Ice is not beer, and it should never have been sold as one. Game Day is an experience.

Game Day Ice, 2011 vintage, batch #1640, S/N 0148FL, empty can.
Game Day Ice, 2011 vintage, batch #1640, S/N 0148FL, empty can.

Cheap Store Brand Beer

7-Eleven may have simply been ahead of its time in bringing to market the lowest-cost beer-like experience of the post-9/11 world. But timing is everything, and Game Day appeared in 2010 at the beginning of the “IPA-masochism” craft beer fad. If you are reading this blog, you were there, and you will remember the era correctly as “peak hipster”. Millennials and Gen-Xers alike wished themselves neither love nor happiness, but instead felt the need to punish themselves with incessantly bitter hops and deliberately bad customer service. From this, we derived price-insensitive pleasure. $10 IPAs served in mason jars at dehumanizing bars with 50+ on-tap gave us exactly what we asked for—the relentless flogging we knew we deserved. I, for one, had been bad. It never felt so good to have been bad. Game Day Ice, available at the same 7-Eleven that gave you the beaming-child joy of pina colada / wild cherry Slurpees, never have a Big Gulp’s chance in hell.

At Grocery Outlet, the product thrived. There, it was marketed not as beer, but as the timeless, compelling, universally appealing story of “second chances”. Grocery Outlet sold an experience, the Starbucks-model of objectively-gross beverage sales, at $3 for a 12-pack and cleared shelves the moment the not-beer landed. We still hated ourselves the same, but Game Day gave us hope, and from hope we found the glimmer of love.

Game Day Ice Ale — A Plea to 7-Eleven

The beatings have not stopped, but morale is beginning to improve. The 2020’s aim to be an era of commercialized pseudo-wellness, of self-care and therapy-as-a-social-requirement, sharply in contrast to the self-hate from the previous decade which still lingers but may eventually fade. The duality that is Game Day Ice serves both markets. If the intellectual property and know-how to produce Game Day Ice still exists, the shrewd 7-Eleven executive will discover, sitting among its records, a hidden treasure.

Are you there 7-Eleven? It’s me. I still have a keepsake empty can of 2011-vintage Game Day Ice. I never bought it from your store, but I would now if you would give it a second chance. It has been a divisive, painful year in America, and it’s time for us all to come together. To heal. One can never heal from beer alone, but Game Day is no beer — Game Day is friendship. Game Day is fun. Game Day is Game Day. I know it’s a big ask to bring back this beloved commercial failure, even if it is coming from your number-one fan, but don’t do it for me. Do it for your country.

And maybe it will help you sell Doritos.

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