I would like to think I'm an equal opportunity beer drinker so when I saw that National Beer Day was coming up on April 7 (Saturday this year, y'all!), I knew that we had to do something special to celebrate one of our favorite holidays of the year. After all, is there a better way to celebrate National Beer Day than by taste-testing endless cans and bottles of light beer? If you're a purist and a beer enthusiast that enjoys craft over corporate, or even just unique flavors over the macro-lagers out there, you probably are thinking that nothing could sound worse than light beers. You might be right, but Americans don't agree.
As the Chicago Tribune reported in January 2018, the top three best-selling beers in America are light beers. With the craft beer market turning towards saturation, it seems that Americans are showing up for Miller Lite, Coors Light, and Bud Light. So what that in mind, I took it upon myself (no one had to twist my arm) to determine my favorite light beers. I got a little drunk, mostly bloated, and very sleepy but it was all worth it.
There are two things of note before we break into the rankings. The first is that I actually tasted 15 light beers, but chopped the list to 10. The five that didn't make the list are: Natural Light, Keystone Light, Busch Light, Labatt Blue Light, and Michelob Light. The second note is that I didn't discriminate between American and European-made, or regional American choices. If that's something you'd like to read, let me know in the comments and I'll gladly taste-test 15 beers again!
10. Michelob Ultra
Incidentally, Michelob brewing company is owned by the same company who produces Budweiser, Roling Rock and Busch. Growing up, I thought Michelob Ultra was the beer. It was what my mom ordered at Baltimore Orioles games and what they stocked for family BBQs. And it very well may be why I didn't sneak so many beers when I was a kid. While it tasted better than Michelob Light (read: less like gym socks), Michelob Ultra just takes like water with a hint of caramel coloring and a touch of barley. I am so glad I don't think it's the beer anymore, and my tastebuds are, too. When it comes to light beer with a low calorie count, I'll place my bets elsewhere.
9. Bud Light Lime
I chose the above photo because I agree with hair.with.morgan.xo's hashtag: #IPreferCorona.
I knew this would be low on the list, but I wasn't expecting it to rank in the Top 10. Honestly, I'd probably pick up Keystone Light before I grabbed a case of Bud Light Lime. Lots of people enjoy this bright yellow beer, so much so that AB InBev has even spun off other flavors that are just as terrible. The aftertaste of lime hits me like the smell of urine in the street on a hot Texas day. How did it edge out Michelob Ultra and the five left off the list? Well, at least you can taste it. Its cousin, Bud Light Platinum, is of similar quality but has a high alcohol content for beer, at 6% ABV.
8. Dos Equis XX Special Lager
Dos Equis isn't one of my go-to beer brands, so I was pleasantly surprised that the XX Special Lager wasn't a trash can fire in a bottle. It's refreshing alright, but it smells like hay in a bad way and I just cannot get behind this aroma. While it's easy to drink because there's so little taste, that is actually the problem. There's too little taste and the worst part is that the aftertaste hits you like a whiskey shot dumped inside. Normally I love boilermakers, but on my own terms, please.
7. Sam Adams Light
I tend to prefer Sam Adams' seasonal flavors, like the Summer Ale and the Blueberry Hill Lager, over their year-round releases and this beer reminded me just why that is. The flavor was a little sweeter than the previous beers, but where Dos Equis XX had too much of an aftertaste, this beer had none at all. It's the kind of beer your kooky aunt will let you sip at family functions because even she thinks it tastes harmless. Overall, it's so-so, which just wasn't enough to push it into the top.
6. Bud Light
Oh, the festival beer. If you've been to a concert, stadium, or festival in the last five years, chances are you ordered a blue-bottled Bud Light and happily went on your way to choke down the $8 beer. Comparable to the following beers but just slightly underwhelming, Bud Light is there for you when you don't want any surprises or carbonation because that is certainly where this beer falls flat in the competition.
There aren't enough dilly dillies in the world to bring this light beer up to snuff.
5. Heineken Premium Light
The disclaimer here is that I tend to hate Heineken, there's just something about the malt and hop blend that turns me off from the iconic green bottles. However!
I was pleasantly surprised by Heineken Premium Light. It finishes refreshingly crisp and holds its carbonation, something that most of these beers lost as I drank my way through them. After having sworn off Heineken, this ranking has made me reconsider my own beer opinions and from now on, I'll be ordering Heineken Lights more often when I'm in the mood for something easy and simple. It's hard for me to even believe Heineken makes this beer, y'all.
4. Corona Light
Remember when I said I'd rather have a Corona? I also meant Corona Light. This is, without a doubt, the light beach beer and listen, I know beach beer well. In fact, the best tasting beach beers are typically light because who wants something so heavy when you're in the hot sun and swimming all day?
One of the lowest calorie beers on this list at 103, it proves that fewer calories means less taste. At about one-quarter of the strength of Corona, the light version's flavors are more diluted, but it still drinks easier than the rest of the beers on this list and it comes away with a fresh aftertaste, along with being low-carb. Hand me one of these summer beers with a lime and I'm poolside in my head.
3. Shiner Light Blonde
I wouldn't expect a wildly good craft brewery to put out a good light beer because that's just not what craft does. Spoetzl Brewery, however, proved me totally wrong with Shiner's Light Blonde Ale. The smell isn't too grassy or sweet, but a nice blend of the two. The taste is where Light Blonde earns its keep on this list: the hint of pale malt and slight taste of wheat pair amplify the sorghum flavor which brings out the inherent sweetness of the beer.
Pass this light-bodied libation to me with a lime inside and I'll happily oblige without complaint. It does lose its carbonation easily and falls flat without a warning, but it tastes way better than the average (and Bud Light, the festival standard). Also, brownie points for the witty name!
2. Yuengling Light Lager
Because I went to Penn State before the craft brewery boom began, I was chugging Yuengling Lights (Mom, it was a little more ladylike than chugging, I promise) at tailgates and house parties. It seems that everyone else in Pennsylvania knew it was a step up from Natty Light and Keystone Light, too.
So why is Yuengling Light in the second spot of this list? I kid you not, this tastes nearly identical to Yuengling. Show me a light beer that mimics its full-bodied sister this well and I'll gladly take you to task (Anheuser-Busch, what happened with Bud Light). The carbonation stands through the whole can and the effervescence brightens the pleasant malt and barley flavor instead of overwhelming it.
Perhaps the best part about Yuengling Light is that it's around $10 for a 12-pack, making it one of the cheapest on this list so it's a good thing that it tastes great. While it's not the best light beer, it's damn close and one of my favorite beers. There, I said it.
1. Miller Lite
After waxing poetic about Yuengling Light, you might wonder how Miller Lite could ever top it. There are a few reasons, but the fact that Miller Lite is readily available nationwide helps. I won't fault America's oldest brewery for that, though. Here's how this American beer pulled ahead of my old Pennsylvania favorite.
It's perfectly complex, and while the flavor profile isn't as strong as IPAs out there, it certainly holds its own. Factor in that it's a lite beer and that statement matters even more. It has a simple and familiar flavor profile, I know I'm drinking a beer, but I'm also not feeling the typical bloat or heaviness that's associated with beer.
It's also one of the lightest on this list, but for a pilsner, it's pretty damn good. The mouthfeel and finish is clean and when it comes to other light beers on the market, it completely blows away the competition. Except for Yuengling Light, which remains a close second.
This post was originally published on April 6, 2018.