Your perfect beer is the perfect combination of barley, hops, yeast, and water. A light beer is the result of compromises.
Anheuser-Busch InBev is betting that American beer consumers will make compromises and make Bud Light Next, a no-carb beer, a winner. Interestingly, it still has a lot of calories. The premise of this bet is that a segment of beer consumers is interested in reducing calorie intake through carbohydrate reduction. At 4% alcohol (ABV), the effort is a bit confusing. After 130 iterations and a decade, Anheuser-Busch believes they have achieved the holy grail by cutting carbs 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 arises is: Do consumers focus solely on low carbohydrates or calories, regardless of the calorie source? Low or no carbohydrates is only one part of achieving a low calorie goal.
The motivation to consume beer in the “light” (low carb) or “no alcohol” category is primarily motivated by diet issues. No matter what we eat, weight control is a function of alcohol, carbohydrates, and calories from sweets / cheeses / processed meats, etc. Carbohydrates and alcohol account for the majority of the calories in beer. For example, Weight Watchers’ approach to weight management is to limit calories and the Atkins diet’s approach is to limit carbohydrates specifically. Choose from starches, sugars, or alcohol.
“Today’s consumers have low-calorie, low-carb product options, this is another entry for something that goes down to zero carbs,” Goeler said. “It’s a huge consumer trend that we see in a lot of consumer industries.” According to Calories.info, “An alcoholic beverage, made from fermented grains, beer has calories from both alcohol and carbohydrates.”
Starch / carbohydrate sources are attributed to bread, potatoes, rice, barley, fruit, and pasta; just specifically, when fermented, it converts starch into sugars for the yeast to produce alcohol. High-calorie foods include peanut butter, candy bars, cheese, processed meats, fats, and raw sugar.
Trying to keep it simple, think of it this way: “Carbohydrates generally refer to foods high in starch or sugar. Carbohydrates always contain calories (4 per gram), but calories do not necessarily indicate carbohydrates,” as stated in the article. : “Calories vs carbohydrates”. Diffen.com. Diffen LLC.
But is the beer market becoming too segmented? Selecting a beer based on carbohydrates, calories, or alcohol can be challenging because the calories in beer are affected by a host of factors, including style. And style dictates carbohydrates, sugars, alcohol, and protein in beers. All this for a beer with great flavor and aromas. Note: Residual sugars in beer after fermentation can be approximately 75%.
The lowest calorie beer, so far, has been Bud Select 55 with fifty-five calories, 2.5% ABV, and 1.9 carbs. (With 1.9 g that contributes around seven calories to the beer). So why has Anheuser-Busch gone to great lengths for another beer that contains alcohol, calories, and protein, but no carbohydrates? It seems that the decision is based on marketing issues.
Leaf Nutrisystem conducted a survey asking beer consumers what they were looking for in a beer. Taste (85%) was way ahead of price and style considerations when choosing a beer. Obviously, style dictates taste. The three components of beer style that impact taste / flavor are grain / malted, hops, and yeast. This generates questions and comments:
If consumers are interested in the taste of beer and grains impact flavor just like hops, then why would Anheuser-Busch dive headfirst into the “no carb” category? The grain is the largest contributor to flavor through the malted grain. If grains are an important consideration in the carbohydrates and flavor profile of beers, why play drastically with the grain bill (the largest contributor to carbohydrates) and not drastically impact calories?
Cutting back on carbs will cut the calories in a beer. However, one gram of carbohydrates adds four calories to a beer and one gram of alcohol translates to 6.9 calories. If a person strives to consume fewer calories in their beer, while placing great importance on taste / mouthfeel, it appears that the only course of action is to “commit” a recipe to juggle calories through the carbohydrates and alcohol.
Wade Souza, a former beverage executive, comments on Quora on why light beers get a bad rap. “Generally speaking, those light beers lack fully developed craft beer flavors and have a poor and weak taste. Using rice and other diluting adjuvants in the brewing process lightens the calorie content, reduces body and alcohol, but also the taste. Also, the beers are very light hops so they don’t taste bitter or crunchy, which can add complexity to a low calorie beer. “
If most people are only interested in the calories in their beer and not the flavors and aromas, then it must be a matter of diet. The calories in beer are obtained by determining the calories from carbohydrates (mostly derived from the sugars released from the grain in the mashing process) and the calculated calories from alcohol (based on ABV). Then add them in and you’ve got your beer calorie count. You can only get the alcohol from the grain when it is made into wort and fermented with yeast. Carbohydrates are the supply of sugar to the body and reducing carbohydrates will produce beer with less sugar and alcohol, therefore a light beer.
The must is the result of extracting the sugars from the grain / barley. Yeast does not consume all the sugars in the wort. What remains are carbohydrates. This event adds to the flavor and style of the beer, be it light beer or regular beer.
Calculation of calories in carbohydrates and alcohol begins with the original gravity reading of the wort and the final gravity reading at the end of the fermentation. From that point on, a formula is used to arrive at the total calories. Easier still, a computer program can be used to get calories from carbohydrates and alcohol / ABV. Nothing here involves magic or algorithms, here simple math.
Here’s how manipulating a beer recipe can influence the trade-off between calories, alcohol, and carbohydrates. I selected two sample light beer brands to compare to Bud Next. Keep in mind the compromises made for each style.
Becks Premier Light
Carbohydrates (g) -3.9
Slightly powerful dogfish head
Carbohydrates (g) -3.6
Bud Light Next dating in 2022
According to Nielsen, the beer industry grew 8.6% in 2020, representing $ 40 billion in revenue. The “light” category had $ 10.6 billion in revenue with a growth of 5%. This is significant as the wine industry is trying to adapt to changes by making wine “lighter”. Obviously their focus is on the alcohol content while preserving the flavors and aromas.
Travis Moore-Brewmaster, Anheuser-Busch comments on light beer in a Food & Wine article by Mike Pomranz, “Light-style lagers are definitely difficult to make with a consistent and repeatable flavor profile.” (Note that the focus here is on flavor.) Moore continues. “All of the beers we brew have a rigorous quality control routine to consistently brew high-quality beers in a repeatable manner … but Light American Lagers can be extremely relentless due to their lighter body and more subtle flavor profiles.” .
There is no doubt that light beers have a strong place in the beer market. Light and non-alcoholic beers are here to stay judging by the large number of participants in the category. In fact, many craft brewers are stepping up their offerings. Effort is a delicate compromise between calories, alcohol, carbohydrates, and flavor. Even participants who do not consume alcohol are gaining ground. The winners will be the ones who come closest to being described as full-bodied. Choices based primarily on carbohydrates and alcohol content may not be sufficient motivation to become loyal consumers.
There is a place for light beer with consumers shopping for specific occasions. But the beer chosen to go light is compared to a gold standard craft beer: body, mouthfeel, flavors, aromas, and alcohol.