Tastes great. Less filling – Is Craft Beer “Light” a good thing?
It seems to be the latest rage in craft beer. Not New England IPAs, not putting the entire snack shelf from the corner store into a stout, but instead, light craft beer. Light beer got its start in the late 1960’s being invented by a biochemist PhD, working at Rheingold Brewery in New York. Through a series of hand offs, Miller Brewing Company acquired the recipe and officially launched Miller Lite (96 cals) to the nation in 1975. After seeing major volume increases, in part due to heavy advertising, the other major brewers joined in, including Coors Light (102 cals) in 1978 and Bud Light (110 cals), which launched in 1983 (Wikipedia, “Miller Lite”).
That also happened to be the time that the pioneers of craft brewing started their businesses. Places like Sierra Nevada (1981), Boston Brewing (1984), and Bell’s (1985) came about in direct opposition to the pale, bland macro-beers like Miller and Bud, touting European-style beers that packed flavor and variety. That then begs the question, “Is Craft Beer “Light” a good thing?”
The first Texas light craft beer I saw was from Shiner, their Light Blonde (99 cals) hit the stores in 2011 but I thought nothing of it. Shiner (as well as Boston Beer Co which has sold Sam Adams Light (119 cals) since 2001) for all its pioneering here in Texas, seems to hold a craft-in-name-only status to most aficionados, as they seem to be appealing to the center position between craft and non-craft beer drinkers, in my opinion.
Therefore, when Real Ale recently came out with their Firemans Light (110 cals), I had to think again. I respect Real Ale for making quality beers I enjoy every time and there was a period of time around 2008 that Firemans 4 was my go-to drinker for relaxed weekends. A little research on the internet shows there are a few other light beers being made by craft breweries, though certainly not an abundance. These include Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company from California who makes a Fig Mtn Light (135 cals), Full Sail’s Session Light (100 cals), and Southern Tier has Swipe Light (110 cals), among some others.
But that’s not the full story. Many of the national-level craft breweries have been sneakily releasing light beers without the “light” on the can. What’s interesting with these beers is the calories are printed on the label, something you don’t see with their other labels. Some of these beers are Easy Sport Recreation Ale (99 cals) from Boulevard, DayTime IPA (99 cals) from Lagunitas, Slightly Mighty (95 cals) from Dogfish Head and Da Shootz (99 cals) from Deschutes. All of these beers easily compete on the calorie level with the macro-brewery light beers and offer the discerning craft beer drinker an option to keep their credibility.
All of these breweries have a similar pitch for these beers that goes something like, “It’s low calorie but tastes like craft.” Real Ale pitches Firemans Light to “…a craft beer drinker looking for a lighter option.” Figueroa Mountain states, “Why settle when you can have craft?” Dogfish Head goes for the pitch, “A lo-cal IPA that’s slight in calories and mighty in hop character.” Finally, Full Sail states its Session Light is, “…a great alternative for people wanting all the flavor of a craft brew without all the calories.” Which all sounds eerily similar to Miller Lite’s advertising slogan, “Tastes great. Less filling.”
To avoid being a knocker and not a try-er, I bought a few different light beer options and gave them a try. While they aren’t my favorite beers of all time they are definitely light and have more flavor than a Miller or Bud equivalent. Then again, it’s still relatively cool in Texas. Once temperatures are regularly cresting 100 degrees, I’m always looking for something lighter but I don’t want to switch to macros to do that. The lightness and crispness of these beers, without the belly-bulging level of calories, would work
To answer the question, ” Is Craft Beer “Light” a good thing?” I predict it won’t be much longer before the trend to create light craft beers trickles down to the local brewery level, with all breweries touting one of their beers as a light option. Add in other relatively recent trends of brewing Mexican lagers and session IPAs, which tend to be lower in alcohol and calorie counts, and it appears light craft beer is a thing that’s here to stay. After all, we all like flavor but we don’t all like to get weighed down by it.