Thursday, February 7, 2008
What is Light Beer?
While tending taps I often get asked "What is your best light beer?". I always find this be an odd question. "Light" means something different to everyone. Light taste? Low calories? Low alcohol? I will usually recommend something slightly different and more flavorful such as a Munich Helles or German/Bohemian Pilsner style beer. Occasionally I will recommend a Belgian white ale such as Hoegaarden.
In America "light" (or Miller's trademarked "lite") beer usually refers to a pale-colored lager with less calories and alcohol than its non-light version. For example "Budweiser" is 5%abv and contains 145 calories. Its light brother "Bud Light" is 4.2% abv and contains 110 calories. Curiously, in the state of Oklahoma both Budweiser and Bud Light are ~4.0% abv (or 3.2% alcohol by weight).
Two ways of thinking about "light" beer:
Color: Sometimes people use light as a descriptor for color. It should be noted that color does not necessarily say anything about alcohol content. The jet-black Guinness Draught contains only 4.2% abv (the same as Coors Light) while the golden-colored Chimay Tripel clocks in at almost twice the alcohol at 8.0% abv. For more on color and beer, take a look here.
Calories/Carbs: Alcohol is more calorically dense than carbohydrates or protein with 7 calories per gram (compared to 4/gram in carbs/protein). Only fat is more energy-dense with 9 calories per gram, and there is no fat in beer! Naturally, cutting alcohol content will cut calories. If you are looking for a calorie-light beer you should look for beers lower in alcohol, regardless of color.
Light-colored beers with high calories: Belgian Golden Ales (Duvel), Belgian Tripels (Chimay White)
Light-colored beers with low calories: Pale-American lagers (Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light), Bitters (Coniston Bluebird Bitter, Boddington's Pub Ale)
Dark-colored beers with low calories: Irish Dry Stouts (Guinness, Murphy's)
Dark-colored beer with high calories: Belgian Quadrupels (Konigshoeven Quadrupel, Westvleteren 12), Russian Imperial Stouts (Great Divide Yeti, Avery Czar)