Thursday, June 19, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Light Beers (Updated)

     One of the things I find most irritating is when people criticize products or creative endeavors that they haven’t tried or experienced, whether it’s a movie, musical group, artist, book, food or beverage, or whatever.  Because, essentially, their opinion is useless—how do they know?  What’s particularly annoying is that I’m not better than these people, as I’m just as guilty of doing this throughout my lifetime.  However, I have become aware of the folly of criticizing without experiencing, and of late I’ve stopped.  So now I’ll qualify harsh opinions by saying something like, “From all I’ve heard about them, I don’t think I would enjoy the “Twilight” series, but since I haven’t read the books or seen the movies I can’t say for sure.”
     One of those products I’ve railed against is light beer.  As regular readers have probably picked up on by now, I’m quite the beer aficionado, or more unkindly, a beer snob.  And in these circles light beer is considered the bottom of the list, right down there with malt liquor (that is, American style malt liquor.  In some places, like parts of Europe, “malt liquor” is a different type of beer, and one which is much more reputable).  I’m no stranger to light beer.  For example, during my freshman year of college, I drank a lot of Coors Light.  This was because the only person who had a fake I.D. in the group I normally hung out with was at least a borderline anorexic.  Even then, when I’d only had probably about 6-8 different brands of beer, I considered it pretty weak.  (To illustrate my beer novice-ness, at one point in college Miller Genuine Draft, which is mediocre at absolute best, was my favorite beer.)  Since then I’ve had others, usually only in situations where it was the only beer available at the bar, or the party, etc., and I really had no option.
     But, for this post I decided to grit my teeth and give light beer a fair, open-minded shot.  So I bought up all the light beers I could find.  There were practical considerations, though—I wasn’t going to buy a 12 pack, or even a 6 pack of a light beer, since I strongly suspected I wouldn’t like them much.  The area I’ve been in for quite some time, South Central Virginia, doesn’t have much in the way of beer stores (with rare exceptions), so I wasn’t able to get all that I wanted to try.  For example, I’ve heard Yuengling Light, Sam Adams Light, and especially Amstel Light are considered to be among the best light beers.  Also Miller 64 and Michelob Ultra, (and Budweiser Select, and Becks Light) are currently the “lightest,” both calorie and alcohol content wise of the light beers, but I couldn’t locate them here.  Anyway, when I’m able to find these in single bottles or cans I’ll try them and update my list.  (Update:  I was able to finally get some single bottles of most of these, all but the Yuengling Light.  See my additional ratings below. Also, readers might notice my reviews get a little nastier with these updated ones, as I got more frustrated with drinking these poor excuses for beer!)
     When I’m referring to light beer, I mean the modern, American version of this.  Technically lighter beers are at least hundreds of years old.  In the days when water could be unhealthy due to bacteriological contamination, beer (which is boiled during its brewing) was often a safer choice for drinking.  Therefore, most of this was low alcohol beer, often called “small” or “session” beers.  To illustrate, an average beer is about 5% alcohol, while session and small beers might be less than 4%, or even 3%.  During Prohibition in the U.S. (1920-1933), the only legally available beer was of the non-alcoholic variety, defined as being less than .5%.  Even up to the present, certain U.S. states only allow sales of “3.2 beer” (3.2% alcohol) in some stores or counties.  But these aside, I’m talking about modern light beer, which was invented by Rheingold Brewing employee Joseph Owades in 1967.  The recipe for this concoction, called Gablinger’s Diet Beer, was purchased first by Chicago brewery Meister Brau, and then in turn by Miller Brewing.  Miller released this as Lite Beer in 1973.  Other major breweries gradually stepped into the fray.  Budweiser release Natural Light in 1977.  Coors released their version (Coors Light) in 1978.  Then Budweiser released Bud Light in 1982.  By 1992 light beers were the top selling type of beer in the U.S.  And by 1994 Bud Light was the best selling beer, period, in the U.S.
     But enough background, let’s get to my ratings.  They’re on the U.S. scholastic code, meaning A is outstanding, B is good, C is average, D is bad but passing, and F is failing.  (Update:  By the way, I realize that there is no official "F-" in U.S. schools grading systems, but I don't care.  The beers that got this made-up rating were abysmal!)

1) Lite Beer (Miller Brewing) 4.2% alcohol, 96 calories per 12 ounces:   D-.  Okay odor.  Tastes like a regular lager that’s had water added.  Light, inoffensive, dull, slightly sour at end.

2) Coors Light (Coors Brewing) 4.2% alcohol, 102 calories per 12 ounces:  D-.  Remarkably like Miller’s Lite Beer—watery, sour-y taste at end.  Drinkable but bland to the extreme.

3) Bud Light (Anheuser-Busch Brewing) 4.2% alcohol, 110 calories per 12 ounces:   F.  Tastes almost literally like water.

4) Natural Light (Anheuser-Busch Brewing) 4.2 % alcohol:   D-.  Also terrible.  Also watery.  A tad better than the regular Bud Light.

5) Keystone Light (Coors Brewing) 4.2% alcohol:   D-.  Thin. Watery.  Sour at end as well.

6) Genny Light (Genesee Brewing) 3.6% alcohol, 100 calories per 12 ounces:  F.  Still watery, very sour, nasty.

7)  Budweiser Select 55 (Anheuser-Busch Brewing) 2.4%  alcohol, 55 calories per 12 ounces:  F. tastes like a glass of water with a shot of beer added.  What's the point?! This isn't beer!

8)  Miller 64 (Miller Brewing) 3.0% alcohol, 64 calories per 12 ounces:  F-.  Even worse.  SO watery!  I've had non alcoholic beers with more taste.

9) Michelob Ultra (Anheuser-Busch Brewing) 4.2% alcohol, 95 calories per 12 ounces:  D-.  Still bad and weak, but a little bit of taste.

10) Becks Light (Anheuser-Busch Brewing) 2.3% alcohol, 64 calories per 12 ounces: F-.  Horrendous.  Watery-est of them all so far, and that's saying something!

11) Amstel Light (Amstel, The Netherlands) 3.5% alcohol, 95 calories per 12 ounces: D-.  Slight upgrade, because again, some iota of taste.  This taste was kind of weird and unpleasantly sweet,  but still.

12) Sam Adams Light (Sam Adams Brewing) 4.0% alcohol, 119 calories per 12 ounces: C-  Okay.  Best of the light beer bunch by far, but still not great.  Nearly tastes like a real beer. 

     So, as you can see, my prior opinion of light beers was born out.  In general I think they’re pretty awful.  It’s weird that something so bland and watery can somehow still taste bad.  A friend of mine (Hi Candice) was a big fan of light beer, and explained it thusly, “It tastes like water, but it gets you drunk.”  And that is my view of why it’s so popular.  I think its fans don’t really like the taste of actual, real beer, and choose the most mild and watery alcohol vehicle to drink.  On one of my trips to the late, lamented bar The Brickskeller (in Washington D.C.), I observed a customer ordering a Bud Light (or Coors Light, it was a while ago).  Mind you, this was a bar with a phenomenal selection, over 1000 different kinds of beer, many different beer types, from dozens of countries, from every continent of the world (except for Antarctica, of course).  And he chose the same damn (crappy) beer you can find anywhere!  I wanted to slap him.
     On the other hand, to each their own.  Many (most?) light beer drinkers might claim they really do like beer, they just prefer the milder taste, fewer calories, and lower alcohol content of light beers.  I’m can sympathize with working to cut back on calories, but personally I’d rather drink less of a good beer, or even none at all for a while, rather than drinking what’s essentially water with a hint of beer taste.  Clearly, multitudes of people disagree with me.  Here is a list of the most popular beers in the U.S. (based on total volume of beer sold) for 2012.
1)      Bud Light
2)      Budweiser
3)      Coors Light
4)      Miller Lite
5)      Natural Light
6)      Busch Light
7)      Busch
8)      Michelob Ultra
9)      Miller
10)  Keystone Light

And here’s the list for the entire world in 2013.
1)      Snow (made in China)
2)      Tsingtao (China)
3)      Bud Light (U.S.)
4)      Budweiser (U.S.)
5)      Skol  (kind of a group effort, made by Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, the U.K., Canada, and Brazil)
6)      Yanjing (China)
7)      Heineken (The Netherlands)
8)      Harbin (China)
9)      Brahma (Brazil)
10)  Coors Light (U.S.)

     Finally, I find it telling that Coors Light is so innovative in their container designs.  They were the first beer to come out with “wide mouth” cans in the late 1990’s (Mountain Dew was evidently the first soda), and recently (2009) they introduced the “cold activated” can and bottle.  When the Rocky Mountains on the can or bottle turn from a white color to blue, that means the can is down to 4 degrees C, or 39 degrees F.  Kind of a neat development, but if I’m allowed to be catty one more time, that’s like putting an ornate, awesome, technologically superior frame around a putrid painting done by an art school dropout.
     In a weird way, although I disliked them more (they were “drain pours,” meaning I couldn’t finish them), I respect beers like sahti (see July 30, 2012 post), Cave Creek Chili Beer (see May 20, 2012 post), or even Rogue’s Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Beer (see September 10, 2012 post) more than light beers.  They tasted worse, but at least they tried.  They didn’t just put out a pale, safe imitation of a beer, like the light beers do.  Light beer is the Velveeta Cheese, the Wonder Bread, the plain rice cake of the beer world—it appeals to the lowest common denominator, and it doing so, is hopelessly dull.
     Best of all, now I can brutally criticize light beer with a clear conscience!  And I plan to.

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