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The term "light beer" is often associated with low-calorie macro brews, but that is changing rapidly. Many of today's best light beers come from small breweries and are filled with flavor, a far cry from the watered-down lagers that have dominated the market for years. Light beers generally have around 100 calories and are lower in alcohol—responsible for most of the caloric intake. They’re also very refreshing, which makes them perfect spring and summer brews.
Here are the best light beers.
Best Craft: Night Shift Brewery Nite Lite Craft Light Lager
You won't be disappointed when you open a can of Nite Light. From Night Shift Brewing out of Massachusetts, this well-crafted light lager is enjoyable in its crispness and is delightfully smooth. It’s often compared to macro brew light lagers, though it has more flavor than most. Supporting a small brewery is a nice perk, too, especially since this craft beer is not overpriced.
The 4.3 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) lager weighs in at 120 calories per 12 ounces, so it’s not the lightest beer available. For fans of tallboys, 16-ounce cans are available, too. If you're looking for a perfect barbecue beer or a refreshing beverage to drink on the patio after a long day, it's a great choice.
Best Lager: Shiner Light Blonde Lager
Shiner is a modest Texas town and home to the Spoetzl Brewery, which pumps out some fantastic and widely distributed beer. One of those is Shiner Light Blonde, which has been around since 2011. In essence, it's everything that can be found in the average light lager—just more refined and better-tasting without the high price of the typical craft beer.
This award-winning lager has nice carbonation, a hint of sweetness, and a good deal of flavor. It’s simply a pleasant drinking experience, whether you’re hanging out in the yard or enjoying time with a few good friends. Add in the benefits of just 99 calories and 4.2 percent ABV, and it's an excellent upgrade for anyone who typically drinks the big-name American light lagers.
Best Ale: Southern Tier Swipe Light Lager
Top-fermenting ales are known to be flavorful and robust, but they’re not a common beer style in the light beer scene. When carefully crafted, it works out very well. A perfect example is Swipe Light from Southern Tier Brewing Company, and it's turning some heads. From the name to the slim can, this ale is unmistakably modern. It’s also an easy drinker and a refreshing pairing when chicken, salmon, or brats are on the menu.
With very low bitterness (15 IBUs), a light body, and pale color, it's surprising how much character remains in Swipe Light. Brewed with four types of malt and two hop varieties, it holds bright citrus and hop notes that are perfect for summer. At 110 calories and 4 percent ABV, it’s virtually guilt-free, too.
Best IPA: Dogfish Head Slightly Mighty Lo-Cal IPA
The hoppy character of an India pale ale (IPA) is not a typical candidate for a light beer. Dogfish Head Brewery has proven that it is possible with the Slightly Mighty. Categorized as a "lo-cal IPA," it weighs in with just 95 calories and at 4.0 percent ABV. The secret is monk fruit, which takes over the sweetness in the IPA's malt bill without adding calories.
Slightly Mighty is a remarkably crisp beer. It has a perfect amount of bitter hoppiness that can compete with any IPA, so even “hopheads” will find it to be a nice surprise. At 30 IBUs, it's at the lowest end, but that makes it approachable for drinkers who typically don't enjoy the style.
Best Cheap: Miller Lite Lager Beer
Sometimes you have to stick with a tried and true brew. Miller Lite is the “original light beer” and, despite its numerous competitors, it remains one of the best you’ll find. Released in 1975, it changed the modern brewing scene by offering drinkers a low-calorie, low-alcohol beer option.
Miller Lite is an American pilsner, which is a style of lager, but this beer has more flavor than the average light macro brew. With each sip, you’ll find a nice balance of malt and hops and enjoy a crisp finish that doesn’t linger. Natural corn syrup sets it apart as well since many big breweries go with high fructose corn syrup. It weighs in at just 96 calories and 4.2 percent ABV, and you’ll appreciate that it’s light on the wallet, too.
Best German: Beck's Premier Light
As a whole, German-brewed beers are typically not concerned with calorie or carb counts, so this category is very limited. However, Beck’s Premier Light was designed with the health-conscious American drinker in mind. It’s actually brewed in the American light lager style, which is why the taste is so familiar.
This easy drinker is very similar to Beck’s classic German pilsner. It has some fruity notes and that signature crispness and dry finish expected from the bottom-fermented brews. It’s possibly also the lightest of all light beers on the market. With just 64 calories, 3.9 grams of carbs, and 2.3 percent ABV, there’s no chance that this beer will break your diet. For a real treat, mix this one into a shandy with fresh-squeezed lemonade
Best American: Yuengling Light Lager
A 99-calorie brew, you'll appreciate the character left inside Yuengling Light Lager (3.2 percent ABV). It's been around since 2001 and remains a favorite within this style, particularly among fans of the brewery's original lager. It’s also just a little heavier than the Yuengling’s Flight, which is an ultra-light beer, so “America’s oldest brewery” has something for everyone.
What's noticeable about this beer is its amber color and the caramel and toasted malt notes. These characteristics are unique for the category, and more like a traditional lager than many of the domestic options available. Though the Pennsylvania brew is often tagged as a “craft” beer, the price is not out of line, making it a great everyday drinker.
Healthiest Adjuncts: Harpoon Rec League Pale Ale
Harpoon Rec. League's label may be straight out of the ’70s, but this beer is a modern marvel. Created by New England's Harpoon Brewery, it's a 120-calorie pale ale that uses a combination of buckwheat kasha, chia seeds, and Mediterranean sea salt. Each of these adjuncts brings in healthful elements—from vitamin B to fiber, and antioxidants to electrolytes—that may make you feel a bit better about cracking open a cold one.
Golden in color with a slight haziness, Rec. League has grapefruit and mango flavor notes interlaced with a fluffy mouthfeel and a snappy bitterness that's sure to grab your attention. Available in affordable 12-packs in many beer coolers and at just 3.8 percent ABV, this can easily become your new afternoon brew.
Best Reduced-Gluten: Omission Ultimate Light Golden Ale
Beer is brewed from barley, which means it includes gluten. If you need to avoid or reduce your gluten intake, Omission Brewing Co.’s Ultimate Light Golden Ale is one you’ll want to try. It follows the brewery's mission to remove gluten from all of their beers. Though they can't guarantee it's totally gluten-free, this beer is a hit among people who have tried the alternatives.
Unlike many gluten-free beers, Omission uses traditional beer ingredients, including barley, malts, and hops. It tastes like regular beer but is “crafted to remove gluten.” This is simply a nice beer without any funky flavors that are common in its competitors. It holds citrusy hop flavors, has a gentle 10 IBUs, and a semi-dry finish. Add the fact that it's just 99 calories, has only 5 carbs, and is 4.2 percent ABV, and there's very little you won't love about it.
Best Pumpkin: Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale
Pumpkin beers are an autumn indulgence designed to satisfy a craving, so don’t expect to find a true low-calorie option. The best bet is Post Road Pumpkin Ale (5 percent ABV) from New York’s Brooklyn Brewery. Its 165 calories is actually really low for a pumpkin beer, and fans of these seasonal brews really enjoy its taste.
Brewed with barley malt, real pumpkin, and a hint of spice, this is a traditional pumpkin ale. Supposedly, it's very similar to those brewed by American colonists. With a deep orange color, fall spice accents, medium body, and high carbonation, the ale is a well-balanced drink that even non-pumpkin lovers find impressive. Bring it to the holiday dinner table for an excellent turkey pairing, or enjoy it on a chilly fall evening with friends.
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Colleen Graham is a beverage writer with over a decade of experience writing about cocktails, beer, and wine. The author of two books, she not only knows the alcohol industry, but also listens to what the average drinker enjoys and tries to find practical recommendations for everyone.