Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What is the Point of Light Beer?

The other day I was wondering ... why is there light beer?

I say this because I have had light beer maybe a handful of times in my entire life and Foodgoat never buys light beer.  In my limited experience, light beer is ... almost flavorless.

That's usually bad, right?

Yet light beers account for about 38% of the total beer market share.  So why do people drink light beer?

Is it for the taste?  Is it for the lower calories?

Foodgoat has a theory.

First, some history ...

I thought light beer was just watered down beer, but light beer started in 1964 with a biochemist working at Rheingold Breweries, then an industry leader, who found an enzyme that prompted yeast to digest all the starch found in malt, resulting in beer with no residual carbohydrates and with less calories. Rheingold came out in 1967 with Gablinger's Diet Beer but it was a flop:  the TV commercial featured a super fat guy shoveling spaghetti into his mouth and downing a Gablinger's.  Apparently the beer drinking population saw the diet beer as a "sissy" drink that no "real man" drank.

All that changed when Miller bought Gablinger's, and in 1973 slapped a new label on the same beer calling it Miller Lite. More importantly, they ditched the fat guy, used ex-athletes and other macho, macho men to promote it, and came up with the "Tastes great, less filling" slogan.  Instead of aiming towards people worried about their weight, the campaign targeted young men with blue-collar occupations - the typical beer drinker.

Of course, it worked.  Miller Lite was a big hit, Bud Light came out in 1982, and by 1992 light beer became the biggest domestic beer in America.  (Since light beer typically requires fewer and cheaper ingredients, it often has a bigger profit margin as well.)

So, why is light beer so popular?

Foodgoat doesn't think it's the low calories.  It was a flop as diet beer, and while light beers tend to have lower calories than regular beer, it isn't always the case, and the difference is pretty minimal.  In fact, it's a myth that dark beers are loaded with calories. The calories in beer come primarily from alcohol, so beers with less alcohol content, regardless of how dark it is, have less calories.

Foodgoat doesn't think it's the taste, either.  Light beers really only taste good when they're ice cold, and one's taste buds are kind of numb.

So what is it?  Foodgoat thinks light beer exists for ... binge drinking.

Light beer, by being "less filling," allows you to drink more beer than if you drank regular beer.  Regular beer might make you feel full after a few drinks or so, but light beer, you can keep on chugging.  So if your goal is just to drink a lot of beer, light beer would seem to be a good choice.

Since I first came across light beer at a keg on second base during a fraternity game of sloshball, I can't argue with his theory.


  1. I agree. You never see a real hop head say "I chugged 15 beers last night". Just those who always want to brag about how many beers they drank. Yeah, all 15 Coors Light. Good for you.

  2. Anonymous7:03 PM

    Speaking from a UK perspective, light beer here has never been marketed as "low in calories" and this is regarded by Coors Brewers as a misconception to be overcome (together with the even more damaging "low alcohol" misconception).

    They try to emphasise the fact it is light in flavour and, as with anything else, I guess that's just a matter of personal preference.

    I recall being told that the word "cold" got a significantly better response in market testing than "flavour" and so the adverts feature as much ice and skiing as 30 seconds will allow. It seems lager drinkers here would prefer to drink cold beer than flavoursome beer.

    Personally, I'll stick to my Old Peculiar - now that's a real beer.

  3. Anonymous7:16 PM

    I switched to light beer because I'm a alcoholic and its changed my life. I think the water content makes it easier on your body. Sure you can drink 12 no problem but your able to function the next day. Oh yea my beer gut went away as well.