Light beer is popular. Criticize it, belittle it, make fun of those who drink it, but there is no denying that light beer sells. Its sales are falling, as noted in several official marketing studies, but declining or not, light beer still commands a large percentage of the overall American beer market due in no small part to its reduced calories and appeal to those watching or concerned about watching their midsection expand over time. Light beer seems to make people feel better and happier, like they are somehow not really drinking beer because of the reduction in calories.
What You Save
Light beers are popular for several reasons, but for most of the people who turn their attention to the light bodied, light tasting, fizzy water with yellow coloring, the primary motivator is, indeed, calories. A few calories saved here and a few saved there, dieters reason, can add up over time and help keep off the unwanted pounds.
Just how much difference is there? Let’s take a look at the caloric content of a few different, popular brands of light beer compared to craft beer options:
Brand Calories per 12 oz. Serving
Miller Lite 96
Coors Light 102
Bud Light 110
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale 171
Deschutes Black Butte Porter 185
Sam Adams Double Bock 240
As the numbers illustrate, there is a significant difference in calories between light, mass produced American style lagers and their fuller bodied, better tasting craft beer brethren. Take the extremes, for example. A 12 oz. serving of Sam Adams Double Bock has exactly 2.5 times as many calories as the same serving size of Miller Lite. That is a significant difference, but most craft beers are more in- line with the Sierra Nevada Pale Ales and Deschutes Black Butte Porters of the world. Comparing, say, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to Bud Light reveals a difference of 61 calories, or 1.55 times. This means that two bottles of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale contains about the same aggregate calories as three bottles of Bud Light.
Lower Calories, Reduced Taste
Reduced calories in beer might serve some people psychologically. If I consume fewer calories, whether in my beer or anything else I consume, I will be better off in the end, the light beer drinker reasons. But there are fallacies in this thinking. For one, those who drink lighter beers tend to consume more. Remember the “Less Filling, Tastes Great” mantra from Miller Lite? The ‘tastes great’ part of the slogan is highly speculative, but I definitely agree that Miller Lite is less filling. And less filling beers tend to do what?- fill you up less, which mean you will be tempted to continue drinking, whereas with a regular craft beer, you are more apt to stop after just a few.
Cutting calories might make some people feel better about the beer they consume. But another thing that I often have to stress to my light beer imbibing buddies is that beer was never intended to be a low calorie beverage. When you take away calories, either through reduced alcohol, reduced ingredients, or both, you also take away flavor. Maybe one day, in the distant future, technology will advance to the point where someone can make a great tasting, flavorful beer with less than 50 calories per 12 oz. serving. I doubt it will happen but until it does, we beer drinkers need to accept this simple fact: Beer is a high calorie drink and, generally speaking, reduced calories translate into reduced taste, period.
Drink Less, Drink Better
Those who love their light beer and insist that fewer calories is the way to go will likely not be swayed. But before you pop open that can of Bud Light, I have a simple proposition to make. Rather than fret over a handful of additional calories and settle for a beer that you know is inferior, why not just drink something you like but reduce the volume? If four bottles of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has about the same calories as six bottles of Bud Light, then why not switch to an obviously superior beer and drink less of it? Doesn’t it make sense? If I am counting calories and don’t want to exceed a specific number, and I know the caloric trade- off between these two beers is about 1.55 times, then why not drink a little less but drink something vastly superior in taste?
But I Want to Stay Busy
I know, I know- there are still those light beer drinkers out there who will whine about volume. “But six bottles of Bud Light will keep me occupied longer than four bottles of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale”, they will say. But the fact is, with light beer, people tend to drink faster. I don’t know anyone who sips on a Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, or similar product and thinks about the taste or ponders the complexity. These types of individuals just drink away and often consume their light beer at a faster pace. I don’t have any scientific evidence, but I would bet that the difference in drinking time between a person who consumes four Sierra Nevada Pale Ales and six Bud Lights is minimal.
No Light Beer Here
Calories do matter to some people and sometimes for good reason. Obesity and the health issues it can cause are a serious concern and it makes sense that someone with a condition such as this would want to eliminate calories whenever possible. Beer, however, is a not a good place to turn for calorie reduction. It takes away too much from the flavor and character of the product, leaving you, the weight conscious consumer, ultimately dissatisfied.
Light beer doesn’t enter my home. When I want beer, I want beer– full bodied, gut- expanding, high- calorie, complex- flavored craft beer, the type your mother warned you about but you can’t resist. For those who still cannot resist the urge to give up calories, I suggest drinking better beer, but just drink a little less. The calories will balance out and you, my friend, will be much happier in the end.