A Brief History of Light Beer
So what’s the difference between light beer and regular beer, and what exactly makes light beer better for you? The FDA defines light beer as beer containing at least 33% fewer calories than their full-calorie counterparts. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which regulates light beer standards in the United States, defines light beer in looser terms. According to the TTB, light beer is “one with a meaningful decrease in calories compared with a reference, full-strength version” and companies are simply required to label light beers with calorie, carb, protein, and fat content.
There are many methods breweries can use to make light beer, and unfortunately, many companies cut corners on flavor and body in order to reduce the calorie content of their beers. Using fillers, artificial flavors, and preservatives to make up for the loss of flavor and body has become commonplace. As a result, some light beers don’t measure up to their full-calorie counterparts in terms of taste and enjoyment. Over time, the quality of light beers has improved significantly due to technology. Techniques such as malt substitution and low-temperature brewing as well as the use of natural ingredients and a focus on craft brewing has helped to improve the overall quality and taste of light beers.
Light American-style lager is the most famous style of light beer, with Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite being the main commercial examples. The origins of light beer can be traced back to the 1940s, when Coors Brewing Company introduced Coors Light, a lighter and lower calorie alternative to its premium lager. Miller Lite, the first nationally available light beer in the US market, was introduced in 1973, followed by Coors Light in 1978 and Bud Light in 1982. Low-carbohydrate light beer, made with exogenous enzymes to break down carbs into fermentable sugars, enjoyed a brief period of popularity but has since declined in the market. Light beer has become the largest selling segment of the US beer market due to a combination of its light, non-bitter taste, low caloric content, and effective marketing. American-style light lagers have historically been difficult to manufacture and distribute, but they have gained global popularity in recent years.
What Makes a Light Beer?
There are four main ways that light beer can be made: diluting regular strength beer, decreasing the serving size, extending the mashing process, and using exogenous brewing enzymes.
- Diluting regular strength beer: One way to create a light beer is to simply dilute regular strength beer with water. This can be done either before or after fermentation. This method results in a lower alcohol by volume (ABV) and calorie content but can also result in a loss of flavor and body.
- Decreasing the serving size: Light beers can also be created by decreasing the serving size of regular strength beer. For example, a light beer may be sold in a smaller bottle or can than its full-calorie counterpart. While this method does reduce the calorie content of the beer, it doesn't necessarily change the recipe or the brewing process.
- Extending the mashing process: Mashing is the process of converting the starches in grains, such as barley, into simple sugars. By extending the mashing process, more of the carbohydrate material in the grains can be broken down into simple sugars, which can then be fermented by yeast into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). This method results in a lower calorie beer, as fewer carbs are left unfermented.
- Using exogenous brewing enzymes: Another way to create a light beer is to add exogenous (or external) brewing enzymes to the fermentation process. These enzymes help to break down more of the carbs in the grains into alcohol and CO2, resulting in a lower calorie beer.
The flavor profiles of lighter beers are considered more difficult to replicate due to this process, and therefore light beer is subject to stringent quality control measures in order to achieve consistency.
What to Look for in a Light Beer
When looking for a high-quality light beer, there are several factors to consider. Here are some things to look for in a light beer that stands above the rest:
- Clean ingredients: Look for a light beer made with natural, whole ingredients such as water, grains, hops, and yeast. Avoid light beers that contain fillers or artificial ingredients, as these can compromise the flavor and overall quality of the beer.
- Clean brewing process: Choose a light beer that’s brewed using sustainable practices and minimal processing. Look for breweries that use natural filtration methods such as kettle-filtration or centrifugation rather than chemical processes.
- Non-GMO ingredients: Consider choosing a light beer made with non-GMO ingredients to eliminate the potential health risks that come along with genetically altered grains.
- No added sugars: Avoid light beers that contain added sugars, which can contribute to the calorie content of the beer. Instead, opt for a light beer made with naturally occurring sugars from the grains used in the brewing process.
- High-quality hops: Hops are a key ingredient in beer, and they can have a big impact on the flavor and aroma of the final product. Look for a light beer made with high-quality hops, as they can add depth and complexity to the flavor of the beer.
- Balanced flavor: Choose a light beer that has a well-balanced flavor, with a good balance of sweetness, bitterness, and aromatics. Avoid light beers that taste overly sweet or bitter.
In summary, when looking for a high-quality light beer, it's important to consider the ingredients, brewing process, and overall flavor of the beer. Look for a light beer made with clean, natural ingredients, using sustainable brewing practices and minimal processing. Avoid light beers that contain GMOs, fillers, artificial ingredients, or added sugars.
Taste the Difference with the Best Light Beer: Island Active
Light beer has been around for decades, but finding a good-tasting one can be a challenge. Many light beers are made with artificial ingredients or fillers, which can compromise the flavor and overall quality of the beer. However, there are a few easy ways to find the best tasting light beers. Look for a light beer made with clean, natural ingredients, using sustainable brewing practices and minimal processing. Avoid light beers that contain fillers, artificial ingredients, or added sugars.
If you're looking for the best tasting light beer, check out Island. Island Brands is dedicated to creating high-quality, better-for-you beers using clean ingredients and sustainable brewing practices. Island is also committed to improving the health of our Earth for future generations and donates 1% of annual sales to environmental charities. Discover Island Active today.