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The Skinny on Light Beers

Due to the aggressiveness of the light beer marketing campaigns and the drinking culture that evolved as a result, there is no single beer market anymore. The light beer market is nearly 50% of the total beer market in the US and has become such a factor that craft brewing giant Sam Adams felt compelled to stake out a share. The odd thing is that the light beer genre is as colorless and ambiguous as the beer itself. Light beers are practically indistinguishable from each other in appearance and taste.

It’s like buying printer paper-all brands make the same size, color and thickness, you only really need to worry about the price. Thanks to endless advertising and marketing, light beers have become a niche that not only divides the overall market but also smear the craft brands by misinforming consumers.

It is important to note the ambiguity of the term “light beer.” Technically, in order for a company to call something a light beer, it has to have fewer calories than its regular beers. For brands like Bud or Corona that produce relatively light beers already, this translates to legitimately light beers. However, if a brand that makes strong ales were to come out with a light beer, it could potentially have twice as many calories as Bud Light and still have the ‘light’ description on its label. In addition, most people assume that dark beers are stronger and more caloric due to the stronger flavor. Many brands use this to their advantage in order to mislead consumers into thinking that a beer isn’t low in calories unless it’s pale yellow and tasteless. As an example of how untrue this is, consider that Guinness has fewer calories than regular Bud. In contrast, Pabst Blue Ribbon, a good ole fashioned yellow American lager, has more calories than Sam Adams Lager, a beer synonymous with craft beer.

Beer is made of malted grain, hops, yeast and water. The calories in beer come from carbohydrates from the malt and the alcohol. Hops are used for flavor and aroma yet don’t contribute to the caloric content.

The yeast is merely the mechanism that turns the malt sugar into alcohol. The alcohol is where the majority of the calories come so the more the malt, the more the alcohol and calories. Conventional light beers use a minimum amount of malt to keep the alcohol level low. For some reason they also use the palest, least flavorful malt and adjuncts like rice or corn to keep color and body at a minimum as well. They don’t use much hops either. Basically, there’s just enough stuff in there to call it beer but not enough to produce any flavor.

Amstel Light has been running an ad campaign recently featuring the slogan “The beer drinker’s light beer.” The idea is that their light beer actually tastes like a decent beer. Sam Adams released their light beer this past year with a similar promise. Both brands are thankfully releasing light beers with some substance but why are they bothering to call it “light” beer? They could just as easily make those same beers and advertise the fact that here are two quality brews that aren’t high in calories. They don’t seem to understand that the whole point of light beer isn’t necessarily calorie content versus flavor; it’s about yellow stuff that eventually makes you drunk.

October 15, 2002
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