Better For You Beer on the Rise in Austin
One of the largest national trends in craft brewing is making waves in Austin this spring. More and more craft breweries are trying their hand at creating lighter, lower-calorie beers and beer alternatives, some of them supplemented with superfoods. From 100-calorie hazy IPAs to hop waters, there are more health-conscious options available for craft drinkers in Central Texas than ever before. Now to take a look at some of the options for Low-Calorie Austin Beer.
The best-known and most widely-sold of the better-for-you beverages, light beers made up almost half of the top 20 beer brands sold in the U.S. in 2019. Craft brewers have traditionally held light beers in disdain, but changing consumer interests and better brewing techniques have made it worthwhile for smaller breweries to put out low-calorie beers.
The Traditionalist: Real Ale Fireman’s #4 Light
Real Ale Brewing Company in nearby Blanco is one of Texas’ oldest craft breweries, celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2021. It’s no wonder then that they make one of Texas’s earliest (and best) light craft beers. Clocking in at 110 calories, 5.5 grams of carbohydrates, and 4% ABV, the lighter sibling to Fireman’s #4 is a classic clean, malt-forward lager that puts macro light lagers to shame.
Pushing the Envelope: 4th Tap’s Running Man
North Austin’s 4th Tap Brewing Collective is no stranger to better for you beers. Their sorghum-based Sun Eater is arguably the most distinctive gluten-free beer in Central Texas. Their first light beer is Running Man, a 100-calorie, 5% ABV hazy IPA brewed with a trio of fruit-forward hops. A session-able alternative to conventional calorie-laden hazies, Running Man has peach, tropical fruit, and lemon notes.
The Newcomer: Meridian Hive’s Skinny Bee
Meridian Hive is Austin’s most popular meadery. For many drinkers, Meridian has redefined mead from an expensive, syrupy Renaissance Faire specialty to a delicious, gluten-free alternative to beer and cider with an approachable price point. The meadery is taking that change in perception even further with their new Skinny Bee series. Skinny Bee clocks in at 100 calories and 2 grams of sugar per can and comes in blueberry, cranberry, acai, and grapefruit flavors.
While some breweries decide to cut calories in their pursuit of better-for-you beers, others look to beer styles that are lower-calorie for inspiration. Adding healthy ingredients puts a nutritious spin on the classics.
The Traditionalist: Blue Owl’s Little Gose
Brewed since the 13th century in Leipzig, Germany, the tart, slightly salt gose style is low-alcohol, low-calorie, and contains electrolytes from the small amount of salt used in brewing. As Austin’s first sour-only brewery, it comes as no surprise that Blue Owl Brewing has a particular affinity for this style. In 2020, the brewery put out three different variations on their core Little Gose recipe, including Thai basil and cara cara orange, watermelon and mint, and smoked lime.
Pushing the Envelope: Orf Brewing’s Oocheenama Asian White Ale
South Austin’s Orf Brewing specializes in unexpected combinations of beer styles and flavors. Oocheenama is a hybrid of a witbier and a rice lager, low-calorie, low-alcohol styles from opposite sides of the world. It is flavored with orange peel and a medley of good-for-you spices in ginger, nutmeg, and jasmine flowers.
The Newcomer: Independence Brewing’s Blueberry Acai Lime Redbud
Independence Brewing’s Redbud is the most popular Berliner Weisse-style beer in Texas, but a new variant hopes to be the best Berliner Weisse for you. Blueberry Acai Redbud is the first beer in Independence’s “Better for You” series, a planned trilogy of low-calorie, low-alcohol variants on the core Redbud recipe. Blueberry Acai Lime Redbud clocks in at 125 calories and 4.7% alcohol by volume and is loaded with antioxidants from the blueberry, acai, and lime puree added at the end of brewing. The brewery plans to release a pomegranate green tea and a Paloma-inspired version of Redbud later in 2021.
Hard Seltzer and Hop Water
The explosive growth of hard seltzers has been one of the biggest stories in the alcoholic beverage industry for the past few years. Low-calorie, low-carb, and available in nearly infinite flavors, hard seltzers are the most approachable alcoholic option for consumers and one of the cheapest and easiest to produce for brewers. For beer drinkers who want hops rather than fruit, a smaller but parallel trend is the ascendance of non-alcoholic hop waters.
The Traditionalist: Mighty Swell
Founded in 2016, Mighty Swell is a relative newcomer to the Austin brewing scene but was one of the first craft seltzer makers in the U.S. The brand currently carries five flavors that can be enjoyed on their own or as a mixer: peach, cherry lime, watermelon mint, blackberry, and grapefruit.
Pushing the Envelope: Zilker Brewing’s Tiger’s Blood
Most craft brewers who venture into hard seltzer sell their product under a different label than the brewery’s beer offerings. East Austin’s Zilker Brewing is an exception, possibly because their lone hard seltzer is unlike any other on the market. Tiger’s Blood is a punchy variation on the classic snow-cone trio of strawberry, watermelon, and coconut.
The Newcomer: Whitestone HopWater
Cedar Park’s Whitestone Brewery is the first Texas brewery to produce a hop water. The brewery uses the double dry-hopping technique most commonly used for IPAs to impart a fruity, tropical hop flavor with no bitterness. With no alcohol or calories, HopWater can claim to be the most safely session-able beverage in the Texas craft brewing scene.