Lite me up

Over the past 30 years, lightbeer has become as American as apple pie and hot dogs on the fourth of July. Despite its reputation for being the watered-down, less-tasty cousin of “real” beer, sales continue to skyrocket. Half of all beers sold in the United States are light, with Bud Light and Miller Lite leading the pack. Although many honest people profess to truly enjoy the taste of light beer, a closer examination of the beer’s history gives reason to speculate that their palates have merely been conditioned by multi-million-dollar advertising campaigns.

Before light beer became synonymous with “real men of genius” and scantily clad women screaming, “More taste, less filling,” nobody saw the benefit of saving 30 to 40 measly calories at the expense of robust flavor. In 1967, light-beer inventor and chemist Joeseph Owades marketed Gablinger’s Diet Beer with little success. Poor Owades threw in the towel and gave the recipe to a friend at Chicago’s Meister Brau brewery, who re-branded it Meister Brau Lite. The face-lift did little to convince consumers of the beer’s worth. The future of light beer looked bleak.

That is, until 1975, when Miller Brewing Co. acquired Meister Brau, and reformulated the beer, naming it “Miller Lite.” As the expression goes, the third time’s a charm. Miller brought in a slew of masculine pro-sports stars in witty ad campaigns to convince men that light beer could be manly, and that they didn’t have to sacrifice too much taste for fewer calories.

Unfortunately, as we all know, it is almost impossible to reduce calories without reducing flavor.

“Life is too short to drink really crappy beer,” says Brock Wagner, founder of St. Arnold Brewing Company. “If you’re worried about your calories, I would recommend have a good beer and then a glass of water.

“When we’re talking about standard light beer, it’s pretty much impossible to have a good light beer,” Wagner says. “When you look at mass-produced beers marketed as light, the way they are made is they brew a high-gravity beer, and cut it with water. It’s called high-gravity brewing because you make a beer that has more malt sugar in it than you would expect the beer to have, but then you dilute it after fermentation.”

Shiner brewmaster Jimmy Mauric said he has heard the nasty rumors of breweries watering down regular beer and calling it light, but that isn’t how Shiner makes their lower-calorie variation of one of Texas’s most iconic brews. Shiner Light is made by starting out at a lower gravity, limiting the amount of calories and alcohol the beer will have, Mauric said.

Maybe all light beers aren’t created equal. If Americans are going to continue to consume light beer (regardless of what I say), the least I can do is try to broaden their horizons. To do so, I purchased several light beers recommended by connoisseurs (read: regular practitioners of the art of beer consumption), and enlisted three (of-age) Current interns to conduct a tasting panel. Even though Wagner insisted that what I was doing was akin to holding a vodka taste test to see which has the least flavor, I remained hopeful in my pursuit of a great-tasting light beer. Below are the results of our hard work.

The ground rules

• The judging panel consisted of four editorial interns: Jessica, Tony, Ashley, and Jordan.

• The beers were rated in four different categories: appearance, aroma, palate (the way the beer feels in your mouth and as you swallow it), and flavor.

• Appearance and palate were rated on a scale of one to five; aroma and flavor on a scale of one to 10. The highest score a judge could give a beer was 30. The judges’ scores were added to yield a total score. The maximum total score a beer could receive was 120.

First Place: Sam Adams Light

Recommended as the best light beer in numerous online beer communities. After tasting it, the interns understand why! This amber beer had the hugest head with the longest longevity, and the most pleasing aftertaste. It tasted lightly sweet and hoppy.

Second Place: Shiner Light

Shiner Light is brewed in the oldest independent brewery in Texas, the Spoetzl Brewery. When drinking a Shiner, you feel like you are giving back to Texas. Jordan was unhappy, however, finding the beer akin to “a sandwich in a bottle,” with a strange aftertaste not present in regular ol’ Shiner Bock. Did he taste the same beer as Tony? Tony said he was pleased with the dark, golden beer’s sweet aroma and berry-like flavor.

Third Place: Michelob Ultra Amber

Consumer Reports ranked Michelob Ultra Amber the top light beer in July 2007. The beer is a part of Anheuser-Busch’s premium line. Although Tony gave the beer a poor review, saying that it was “just above Keystone,” the rest of the interns were fairly satisfied with the amber-colored beer’s warm, malt-like aroma and crispness. However, the complaint across the board was that the beer tasted slightly sour going down.

Fourth Place: Sapporo Light

Sapporo Light is ostensibly an imported beer from the white-capped mountains of Japan’s northernmost major island. According to the company’s Website, a comparatively small amount of rice is used along with barley to make the beer pair well with light foods. Unsurprisingly, this beer was the lightest in color and taste. The subtly wheat-colored beer was highly carbonated compared to the other beers and had a substantially thinner head. Jordan and I described the beer as clean-tasting, while Tony said it was too wine-like and fruity, and Jessica’s face went into all sorts of comical contortions. She gave it the lowest score possible.

Price for a six-pack: $7.99
Per 12 ounce serving:
119 calories
9.7 carbs
3.9 percent alcohol by volume
24 23 26 28 101
Price for a six-pack: $6.99
Per 12 ounce serving:
120 calories
9.1 grams carbs
3.9 percent alcohol by volume
22 26 19 14 81
Price for a six-pack: $5.99
Per 12 ounce serving:
114 calories
3.7 grams carbs
4.2 percent alcohol by volum
22 11 21 22 76
Price for a six-pack: $7.99
Per 12 ounce serving:
96 calories, 4.5 grams carbs
Contains just under 4
percent alcohol by volume
04 11 17 21 53
* You must be at least 21 years of age to drink alcohol.

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