Your perfect beer is the perfect blend of barley, hops, yeast, and water. A light beer is the result of compromises.
Anheuser-Busch InBev is betting American beer consumers are going to make compromises and make Bud Light Next, a zero-carb beer, a winner. Interestingly it still has plenty of calories. The premise for this bet is that a segment of beer consumers is interested in reducing calories intake through reduced carbohydrates. At 4% alcohol (ABV) the effort is a little confusing. After 130 iterations and a decade, Anheuser-Busch believes they have achieved the holy grail by reducing carbohydrates in their new beer.
“Bud Light Next is the next generation of light beer for the next generation of beer drinkers,” said Andy Goeler, Vice President of Marketing for Bud Light. The question that begs asking is: Are consumers solely focused on low carbs or low calories, no matter the source of calories? Low or no carbs is only part of achieving a low-calorie goal.
The motivation to consuming beer in the “light” (low carb) or “non-alcohol” category is mostly motivated by issues of dieting. No matter what we consume, controlling weight is a function of alcohol, carbohydrates and calories from sweets/cheeses/processed meats, etc. Carbs and alcohol account for most calories in beer. For example, the Weight Watchers’ approach to weight control is limiting calories and Atkins Diet approach is to limit carbohydrates specifically. Take your pick it is either starches, sugars, or alcohol.
“Today’s consumers have got options of low calorie and low carb products, this is another entry to have something that goes all the way to zero carbs,” Goeler said. “It’s a big consumer trend we see across many consumer industries.” Per Calories.info, “An alcoholic beverage, made from fermented cereal grains, beer has calories from both the alcohol and carbohydrates”.
Starch/carbohydrates sources are attributed to bread, potatoes, rice, barley, fruit, and pasta; barely specifically, when fermented, converts starch to sugars for yeast to make alcohol. High in calories are such foods as peanut butter, candy bars, cheese, processed meats, fats and raw sugar.
Trying to keep it simple, think of it this way: “Carbs typically refers to food rich in starch or sugar. Carbs always contain calories (4 per gram), but calories do not necessarily indicate carbs,” as noted in article-“Calories vs Carbs.” Diffen.com. Diffen LLC.
But is the beer marketplace becoming too segmented? Selecting a beer based upon carbs, calories, or alcohol can be challenging because calories in beer are impacted by a myriad of factors such as style. And style does dictate carbohydrates, sugars, alcohol and proteins in beers. All of which make for a beer with great taste and aromas. Note: Residual sugars in beer after fermentation can be approximately 75%.
The lowest calorie beer, until now, has been Bud Select 55 with fifty-five calories, 2.5% ABV and 1.9 carbs. (At 1.9 g that amount contributes about seven calories to the beer.) So, why has Anheuser-Busch gone all out with another beer containing alcohol, calories and protein, however without carbs? It appears the decision is based on marketing issues.
Leaf Nutrisystem did a survey asking beer consumers what they looked for in a beer. Taste (85%) was far ahead of price and style considerations when it came to choosing a beer. Obviously, style dictates taste. The three components to beer style that impacts taste/flavor are: grain/malting, hops and yeast. This begs questions and comments:
- If consumers are interested in the taste of beer, and grains impact taste as do hops, then why would Anheuser-Busch dive head-long into the “no” carb category? Grain is the big contributor to taste through malted grain. If grains are a major consideration in carbs and a beers flavor profile, why drastically play with the grain bill (the major contributor to carbs) and not drastically impact calories?
- Reducing carbohydrates will reduce calories in a beer. However, one gram of carbohydrates adds four calories to a beer, and one gram of alcohol translates into 6.9 calories. If a person is striving to consume less calories in their beer, while placing a premium on taste/mouthfeel, it appears the only course of action is to ‘compromise’ a recipe to juggle calories via carbohydrates, and alcohol.
Wade Souza, a former beverage executive, comments in Quora about why light beers get a bad rap. “Generally speaking, those light beers lack fully developed craft beer flavors and are poor, weak tasting. The use of rice and other dilutive adjuncts in the brewing process lightens the caloric content, reduces the body and alcohol but also the flavor. Additionally, the beers are very lightly hopped so they are not bitter or crisp tasting, both of which can add complexity to a low-calorie beer”.
If most people are interested in only the calories in their beer and not flavors and aromas, then it must be an issue of diet. Calories in beer are derived by ascertaining the calories in carbohydrates (mostly derived from sugars released from the grain in the mashing process) and the calculated calories in alcohol (based upon ABV). Then add them together and you have your calorie count in beer. You can only get the alcohol from the grain when converted to wort and fermented using yeast. Carbs are the sugar supply to the body and reducing carbs will make beer with less sugar and alcohol-thus a light beer.
Wort is the result of getting the sugars out of the grain/barley. Not all sugars in the wort are consumed by yeast. What remains are carbohydrates. This event adds to the flavor and style of the beer-whether it be light beer or regular beer.
The calculation for calories in the carbohydrates and in alcohol starts with the Original Gravity reading of the wort and Final Gravity reading at end of fermentation. From that point a formula is employed to arrive at total calories. Easier yet, a computer program can be used to get the calories from carbohydrates and alcohol/ABV. Nothing here involves magic or algorithms, simple math here.
The following illustrates how manipulating a beer recipe can have influence in compromising between calories, alcohol and carbs. I selected two sample light beer brands to compare to Bud Next. Note the compromises made for each style.
Becks Premier Light
Dogfish Head Slightly Mighty
Bud Light Next coming out in 2022
According to Nielsen, the beer industry grew by 8.6% in 2020 representing $40 billion in revenue. The “light” category had $10.6 billion in revenue with a 5% growth. This is significant as the wine industry is trying to adjust to changes with making a “lighter” wine. Obviously, their focus is on alcohol content yet preserving flavors and aromas.
Travis Moore-Brewmaster, Anheuser-Busch comments about light beer in a Food & Wine article by Mike Pomranz, “Light style lager beers are definitely difficult to make with a consistent and repeatable flavor profile.” (Note here the focus is on flavor.) Moore continues. “All the beers we brew have a rigorous quality control routine in place to consistently make high quality beers in a repeatable fashion… but Light American Lagers can be extremely unforgiving due to their lighter body and more subtle flavor profiles.”
There is no debate that light beers have a firm place in the beer marketplace. Light and non-alcohol beers are here to stay judging by the sheer number of entrants in the category. For that matter, many craft brewers are stepping up their offerings. The effort is a delicate compromise between calories, alcohol, carbs and flavor. Even the non-alcohol entrants are gaining traction. The winners will be the ones delivering the closest to being described as full-bodied. Selections based primarily upon carbs and alcohol content may not be enough motivation to become loyal consumers.
There is a place for light beer with consumers buying for specific occasions. But the selected go to light beer is measured against a gold standard craft beer-body, mouthfeel, flavors, aromas and alcohol.