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Craft Beer Experts Name The Light Beers That Actually Don’t Suck

There are certain phrases that, when placed in front of another word, always seem to have a negative connotation. One of those is “light.” Light cream cheese, light soda, light cookies or crackers… they all sound kind of bleh. This is especially true when it comes to light beer. There’s a pretty good chance that just hearing that phrase you’re immediately imaging yellow, fizzy water with little to no flavor — the type of beer that tastes more like hard seltzer than anything else.

But while oh so many light beers deserve the negative aspects of that moniker, there are a few that certainly don’t. Because “light’ shouldn’t have to mean dull or flavorless — technically, light beers are simply lower in alcohol content, calories, and carbohydrates than other beers. That’s it. And there are myriad great options that fit that bill (some of which don’t even add the term “light” to their packaging).

Parker Penley, lead innovation Brewer of Widmer Brothers Brewery in Portland, Oregon points out that a great way to find these gems is in the import section of your favorite beer store.

“Give some of the import lagers a try,” he says. “Some of them can be a little beat up from their voyage so pro tip: check the package date or ‘born on’ date to find the freshest. Munich Helles, pilsner, and many other great styles can be packed with flavor while still being light, refreshing, and not overly full of calories.”

To find the best options for light beers — both imported and domestic — we asked a handful of our favorite craft beer experts and brewers for help. Keep scrolling to see all of their picks.

Perennial Ales Saison de Lis

Perennial Ales Saison de Lis
Perennial Ales

Garth E. Beyer, certified Cicerone® and owner and founder of Garth’s Brew Bar in Madison, Wisconsin

ABV: 5%

Average Price: $10.99 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans

Why This Beer?

If you want something light and flavorful, then grab Saison de Lis by Perennial Artisan Ales. It’s brewed with a traditional Saison yeast, but they don’t let the spice or fruity esters get out of hand. They further mellow it out with a nice currant of chamomile flowers to impart a tea-like quality to it.

There’s no shortage of flavor in this one.

Coors Banquet Beer

Coors Banquet Beer
Coors

Jeremy Marshall, brewmaster at Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma, California

ABV: 5%

Average Price: $6.99 for a six-pack

Why This Beer?

I’ll always have a soft spot for Coors Banquet. This is the best adjunct lager, “corn-gate” or not. It may that Rocky Mountain water, but as a brewer, I suspect the yeast. There’s a hint of bubble gum and apples there, fruity by-products of fermentation that reminds me brewers don’t make beer; yeast makes beer.

Deschutes Wowza!

Deschutes Wowza!
Deschutes

Karlton Graham, head brewer at Kansas City Bier Company in Kansas City

ABV: 4%

Average Price: $10.99 for a six-pack

Why This Beer?

I’ve been trying all of the low-calorie, low ABV IPAs on the shelf from the big craft brewers and have settled on Deschutes Wowza as my favorite. There is something about the bitterness in Wowza that is more interesting on the palate than the other offerings in the category. That along with what I perceive as a distinct lemon/lime kick makes it my pick for a light beer that I’m most likely to drink a whole six-pack of while smoking brisket.

Russian River Velvet Glow

Russian River Velvet Glow
Russian River

Rob Lightner, co-founder of East Brother Beer Company in Richmond, California

ABV: 4.8%

Average Price: $6.50 for a 16.9-ounce bottle

Why This Beer?

A classic Helles German-style lager may look like an American macro lager. Done well it delivers a big dose of delicious bready goodness, while usually hovering around 5% ABV. Both Russian River’s Velvet Glow and Heretic Brewing’s Lager are amazing examples of this style. If I only had to pick one, it would be Velvet Glow with its crisp, clean flavor, and biscuit-like malts.

Trumer Pils

Trumer Pils
Trumer Pils

Gary Glass, head brewer at Left Hand Brewing in Longmont, Colorado

ABV: 4.9%

Average Price: $8.50 for a six-pack

Why This Beer?

Trumer Pils is a classic example of German-style Pilsner that doesn’t suffer the ill effects of being shipped across the ocean, since it’s brewed in Berkeley, California. It blends a delicate pilsner malt backbone with spicy noble hop character and an appropriate palate cleansing bitterness.

Allagash River Trip

Allagash River Trip
Allagash

Ian Brown, head brewer at Biggerstaff Brewing in Atlanta

ABV: 4.8%

Average Price: $13.99 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans

Why This Beer?

Allagash River Trip holds my heart. A small, hoppy, almost table beer with plenty of orange and spice and light hops. Definitely perfect for a river trip. This sessionable, Belgian-style table beer is dry-hopped and brewed with coriander to give it a surprisingly complex flavor profile.

Werkforce Ol’ Pile

Werkforce Ol’ Pile
Werkforce

Ben Saller, founder and brewer at Burnt City Brewing in Chicago

ABV: 4.5%

Average Price: Limited Availability

Why This Beer?

Ol’ Pile by Werkforce Brewing is an amazing light lager. It’s got a really nice, low-key balance of malt and hops. This lager is hazy, crisp, and sessionable on a summer day. It’s the kind of beer you want to buy to fill your cooler.

Lagunitas Daytime IPA

Lagunitas Daytime IPA
Lagunitas

Josh Radigan, director of food and beverage at Viceroy in Washington DC

ABV: 4%

Average Price: $10.50 for a six-pack

Why This Beer?

Lagunitas DayTime IPA. It’s low carb and around 4 percent ABV. It’s clean and crisp for easy drinking, and you’ll detect some hints of white grapefruit. It’s labeled as a light IPA, but even given its low alcohol content and calories, it’s surprisingly well-balanced and filled with citrus and pine flavors.

Writer’s Pick:

Pilsner Urquell

Pilsner Urquell
Pilsner Urquell

ABV: 4.4%

Average Price: $9.99 for a six-pack

Why This Beer?

If you’re going to drink a “light” beer, why not make it the beer that started everything. The first pilsner ever made, Pilsner Urquell is crisp, flavorful, and low enough in alcohol to make you feel okay with throwing down a few on a hot, hazy summer day.

When it comes to sessionable beers, it’s very difficult to beat the appeal of Pilsner Urquell.

Writer’s Pick:


Harpoon Rec League

Harpoon Rec League
Harpoon

ABV: 4%

Average Price: $11.99 for a six-pack

Why This Beer?

This alcohol, low-calorie pale ale has interesting ingredients like buckwheat kasha, sea salt, and chia seeds. It’s light, refreshing, and surprisingly flavorful for a “light” beer. It’s hazy, juicy, fruity, and slightly salty. A highly drinkable, crushable beer for a hot summer day.

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