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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. They’re a far cry from the watered-down lagers that have dominated this category for years. That’s exciting news for beer drinkers looking for a great-tasting low-ABV beer with fewer calories.
From refreshing pale lagers to malty, hoppy ales, these are some of the best light beers you’ll find.
Best Craft: Night Shift Brewery Nite Lite Craft Light Lager
Crisp, smooth lager
Low price for craft beer
Available in tall cans
Distribution is limited
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, 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 necessarily the lightest beer available, but if you're looking for a barbecue beer or a refreshing beverage to drink on the patio after a long day, it's a great choice. For fans of tallboys, 16-ounce cans are available, too.
Best Lager: Shiner Light Blonde Lager
Excellent carbonation and flavor
Craft beer with a macro price
Not available everywhere
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. It’s been around since 2011 and has everything that you'll find 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. It has 99 calories, 4.2 percent ABV, and is an excellent upgrade for anyone who typically drinks the big-name American light lagers.
Best Ale: Southern Tier Swipe Light Lager
Full of character
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. It has 110 calories and clocks in at 4 percent ABV.
Best IPA: Dogfish Head Slightly Mighty Lo-Cal IPA
Crisp and perfectly hoppy
Includes monk fruit
Higher priced than some competitors
An India pale ale’s (IPA) hoppy character 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 95 calories and 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
Very easy to find
Crisp, clean finish
Too light on flavor for some tastes
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. It weighs in at 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
Not a true German-style beer
Almost too light on flavor
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. It has 64 calories, 3.9 grams of carbs, and 2.3 percent ABV. For a real treat, mix this one into a shandy with fresh-squeezed lemonade.
Best American: Yuengling Light Lager
Just 3.2 percent ABV
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
Also available in 16-ounce cans
Decent distribution, but not everywhere
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.
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
Brewed from actual barley
True beer taste
Not guaranteed gluten-free
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 its 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 has 99 calories, 5 carbs, and 4.2 percent ABV, and there's very little you won't love about it.
Best Pumpkin: Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale
Light for a pumpkin beer
Made with real pumpkin
May not be in season for in-store purchase
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 are 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.
What to Look for in Light Beers
There is no standard definition of “light” beer, so breweries can add that name to any beer they want. Without regulations, it’s up to consumers to find beer that fits their personal definition of low-calorie (if that's what they're in search of). Pay attention to labels and, if needed, turn to the brewer’s website. If they advertise it as “light,” they should reveal this information.
What is light beer?
Light beer generally has either fewer calories and less alcohol than the average beer. Most often, it is lighter than the brewery’s flagship beer, but may still have more calories than the “heavy” beer of another brewery. Beers labeled “ultra-light” are typically at the lowest end of the calorie and alcohol spectrum for the category; again, that title is subjective. “Light” is also used to describe light-bodied beers that are also lighter in taste, but it doesn’t pertain to the actual color of beer. It can be a beer of any style, although American-style lagers are most common.
How many calories are in light beer?
Beers with the light label generally have anywhere from 50 calories to 120 calories. The average is around 100 calories per 12-ounce serving. It’s not always a significant difference from regular beer, though. For example, Budweiser has 145 calories and Bud Light has 110 calories.
Does light beer have less alcohol?
Alcohol is produced through fermentable sugars; in beer, this typically comes from grains like barley. Those sugars contain calories, and the way most brewers reduce calorie counts in light beer is to lower the alcohol content. This makes light beers some of the lowest ABV drinks on the market. The majority are in the 3 percent to 4 percent ABV range, though some are higher or lower.
How much sugar is in light beer?
Nonalcoholic beers have more sugar (10 to 30 grams) than any other beer. Though sugar is key to the brewing process, that sugar is turned into alcohol during fermentation. The final sugar count for all alcoholic beer is zero or, in rare cases, below 1 gram per 12-ounce serving.
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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.