When I was in college (1979-1986) I usually drank cheap, but did enjoy "the nicer beers" at the time, which were Henry Weindhardt, Rainier Dark, and the occasional Anchor Steam. I moved to Pennsylvania for work in 1986, where I still bought cheap beer (cases of Lionshead and Lord Chesterfield Ale for under $10).
My "aha" moment came in 1988, while I was working on a project in Easton, PA. I went to some German restaurant, and they had Pilsner Urquell on tap. Wow. I started drinking better after that, and homebrewing in 1990.