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Light Beers

Photo of BeerAdvocate, author of: Light BeersFeature Article by email The Alström BrosChampion of Beer in The Halls of Beerdom w/ 6155.05 Beer Karma points / 10-03-2001

First published in: Boston's Weekly Dig

Light beers. Many drink them as they truly believe that there is some "health benefit" in drinking a lower calorie beverage. That they might avoid expanding that unjustly named excuse for a bloated gut. Some, even drink light beers as they appreciate the flavour and lightness. Well bullocks to all of that!

First let's discuss how some light beers are made.

Many breweries add enzymes -- usually derived from fungi -- to aid in breaking down unfermentable dextrins that would normally be left in the finished beer. Tweaking mashing techniques, fermenting at high temperatures, and aiming for high original gravities (a measure of sugar in solution) are other methods often applied, in conjunction. To boot, the vast majority of mega-breweries also add adjuncts like rice and corn in their beers (cheaper than malt and produce highly fermentable yields). For instance Budweiser is said to have 30% rice in it. If we wanted to drink sake, we'd break out the thimble sized mugs and go to town on the real stuff!

Anyway, these dextrins are responsible for much of the malt flavour and aroma in finished beer, however in the case of light beer will get converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide by the yeast - which also uses energy/calories to convert. Light beer brewers want to break down these unfermentable carbohydrates as much as possible as they will contribute around 4 calories per gram. Okay ... Now you are left with alcohol and its calories (essentially malt liquor - a strong tasteless beer)! In fact, beer gets most of its calories from alcohol, around 7 calories per gram. So how do you think they get rid of all the calories from the alcohol? They don't. Many light brewers, depending on the specific brewing method, will then dilute the beer with water to hit a desired gravity. End result = less calories.

Bottom line is that the vast majority of light beers have been watered down. While they contain only slightly less alcohol, the carbohydrates have been cut in some cases well beyond half. Unfortunately they have also been stripped of their flavour, aroma and body as a result. And, as the alcohol content is only slightly less, the overall calorie difference between a regular beer and its light beer counterpart ... well, it is hardly worth worrying about. Why? As stated, beer gets most of its calories from alcohol. Example:

(12oz)                  (ABV %)         Calories        Carbs (g)
Budweiser 4.9 143 10.6
Bud Light 4.2 110 6.6
Miller High Life 4.6 144 13.1
Miller Lite 4.2 96 3.2
Coors Original 5.0 148 11.3
Coors Light 4.2 105 5.0
Corona Extra 4.6 148 n/a
Corona Light n/a 105 5.0
Guinness Draft 4.1 120 n/a

As you can see Bud and Bud Light differ by only 33 calories. The average person can burn that off in about 30 minutes of sleep, or during a 10 min walk. Hell, by the time you are finished with this article ... it's gone baby!

So what is the benefit? Well here is the thing ... there is none. Not really. It is all more or less a marketing mind-fuck. What you gain in way of less calories you lose in a major way with flavour, aroma and body. True, carbs get converted to fat, but this only happens when your body converts carbohydrates into glucose (cell energy) and glycogen (its stored form in your liver and muscles) and runs out of use for, or room to store, it. The amount of carbs in beer is very small anyway and they are good carbs (not derived from fat, and simple carbs that your body can break down quickly into energy).

Our BeerAdvocate advice: Live a little. Do not sacrifice taste for something that you will burn off in your sleep anyway. Had a few more beers than expected? Just quit your crying fatty and sleep in the next morning or go for a walk. You were probably fat before you began drinking beer anyway.

Have a question for the Alström Bros?
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