Summer is just around the corner, and with it comes bathing suit season. No wonder then that brewers have stepped up the advertising for their ultra-light beers. These low-cal drinks are billed as the answer for anyone looking to throw back a brew or two without turning their rock hard abs to flab. The commercials for them show off unspeakably fit men and women living life to its fullest without depriving themselves of their favorite frosty beverage, and each successive ad seems to push a new beer with fewer and fewer calories.
Enter the world of “ultra light” beer.
Light beer as we know it has been around for a long time, with the categories first big push coming with Miller Lite's “Tastes great!/Less filling!” ads. The arms race has only heated up since then, with brewing houses competing for the lowest calorie count. But light beers have been dinged as watery, tasteless, bland, and not satisfying for nearly as long as they've been around. So this new breed of ultra-lights would seem to beg the question, at what point does it stop being beer and start being boozy water?
Fox BYO decided to find the answer by conducting a tasting of some of the lowest calorie beers on the market. The results are below, in order of highest calorie count to lowest. None of them will satisfy craft beer lovers, but there were some surprises in the bunch.
Michelob Ultra – At 96 calories, it's one of the heavier beers in the tasting and it does carry slightly more beer flavor than the others. Like them, it's a crisp pale yellow and has some sweet corn and grain aromas and flavors. Michelob Ultra differs slightly from the rest in that it also exhibits some citrus flavor, but there's a bitter aftertaste as well. With 4 percent alcohol by volume and a few more calories than the other bottles we tried, most expected it to be the odds-on favorite. While that wasn't the case, it did have the best mouth feel, with a much less watery texture than the competition. It was pretty tasty eaten with salt & vinegar potato chips, but that seems like it might be missing the point of drinking this category of beers.
MGD 64 - At 2.8 percent alcohol, this isn't exactly the beer to chug when trying to forget your troubles, but the pale gold liquid isn't half-bad. It's sweet, clean and crisp, but has virtually no body or complexity to it. Slightly watery and heavy on the carbonation, MGD 64 is a pretty easy drink that'd probably hit the right spot on a hot summer day. Unfortunately, it seems like it was tailor-made to enforce a diet, as salty snacks like pretzels or chips bring out the worst flavors in it - revealing almost metallic notes in what is otherwise a passable light beer. It’s one of the best of the bunch, and your best bet if for some reason you feel the need to go for a run and crack a beer immediately afterward.
Beck's Premier Light – Tied with MGD 64 on the calorie and alcohol content front, Beck's edges MGD out in flavor. With a bone white head and a ton of fizz, this bottle maintains some semblance of beer character, featuring a light hops bite and some nice malty sweetness. It still doesn’t come close to the greatest beers of the world, but it'd definitely be a decent pick to balance out the requisite three dogs downed before a baseball game.
Budweiser Select 55 - Amazingly, at only 55 calories, it looks like beer. A crisp golden pour with a nice pure white head. It smells faintly of grain, and comes across as a muted version of standard Bud. That's where the resemblance ends, however. Apart from some faint bitterness, the heavy carbonation covers any real beer flavor. Some slight yeasty grain notes come through, but you can't shake the feeling that you're drinking mineral water. There are far better ways to watch your girlish figure.