Consumer Reports Rates Light Beers

Update 1-Feb-2008 It seems that Consumer Reports is trotting out this report from last summer in anticipation of the Super Bowl. It’s also one of the links on their Super Sunday Guide. While this guide is mostly about HDTVs, it does also offer links to their ratings of hot dogs, wine, and veggie chips. And light beer. Sounds like the worst Super Bowl party ever. At least the TV will be big.

This evening my wife made a wonderful dinner, a sesame brown rice salad with chicken and peanuts (cilantro and lime as well); it was delish. With it, we shared a bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle, a Gewürztraminer wine from Washington State. It was bright and spicy with grapefruit and citrus notes that were lively on the palate, much like a Coors Light.

What? Are you thinking I’m a bit off my rocker? Tell that to Consumer Reports whose expert taste testers with 25 years of experience, “focused on whether a beer tasted fresh and had a balanced mix of floral, fruity, malted grain, hops and other appropriate flavors” in an attempt to rate “light beers”.

The “Very Good” beers resulted in the following ranking:

  1. Michelob Ultra Amber
  2. Michelob Light
  3. Michelob Ultra
  4. Coors Light
  5. Sam Adams Light
  6. Budweiser Select
  7. Busch Light
  8. Bud Light
  9. Natural Light
  10. Keystone Light
  11. Miller Lite

Some background first…
I am a Consumer Reports fan. I’ve been a Consumer Reports subscriber for at least 10 years. I have a stack of the last 5 years of issues in my closet. I understand how to read and interpret their scientific findings and I appreciate their unbiased opinions. I am also health conscious, fit and a beer drinker.

I can only assume that when Consumer Reports chose to rate light beers, as opposed to regular beers and craft beers, was because they are the biggest sellers. Fair enough, but that’s too bad because not only do the choices suck, but also because I think there is a flaw in this reasoning.

First off, if you are really trying to get, or stay healthy, you are not going to be drinking more than a couple-three beers. If you are only going to have a couple-three beers and are trying to cut calories, don’t do it by suffering through a light beer, the calorie difference between a mega brewed light beer and a craft beer is minimal when considered with the rest of your diet. There are much better ways to cut calories and carbs without such a sacrifice to taste. Keep in mind what makes a light beer a light beer. In order for a manufacturer to make a beer “light” it has to list the calories, carbs, fat, and protein on the label. That’s it.

But the true flaw in thinking that most people drink light beer because it outsells all other beer is that most people who drink light beer choose the light variety because they will be sucking them down in mass quantity. Your light beer drinker is buying in cubes of 30 cans while your craft beer drinker is buying 6 packs. Have you ever even seen someone buy a six pack of a light beer?

I don’t have to point out the healthiness of drinking 20 cans of Coors Light as compared to a couple Victory Prima Pils… do I? Let’s face it… the reason people buy such enormous quantities of the mega brewed light beer is to get drunk.

But what really irks me about the article is their expert taste tester’s findings of any significant floral citrus hop flavors or aromas, at all, let alone differences, between the beers tested. I have actually blind taste tested light beers and while there is a different flavor, they are all so much of the same blandness it makes no matter. I have tasted Michelob Ultra Amber and Sam Adams Light as well and I can see these two beers bubbling to the top of the list, but still, not by any significant measure. I cannot believe Coors Light has better malt and hop characteristics than Sam Adams Light. (If I had to drink a light beer, I would choose the Sam Adams Light)

Another point is that while the mass market drinks that “light” crap, they drink it because they want less flavor. Take that Keystone bitter beer commercial. “Oh gads! Don’t drink that bitter Bud Light… drink our beer… it practically has no taste at all!”

Consumer Reports also notes pricing, as they always do. But should paying as little as possible for a watery malt beverage be a good reason to buy it? Busch, Natural and Keystone were rated as CR best buys, yet Keystone at the bottom of list implies less intense and/or off-notes. Why would you want that? Oh yeah, when you just want to get drunk on watery beer, you buy the cheapest you can find.

I do commend Consumer Reports for pointing out the problems regarding freshness and beers packaged in green or clear bottles. The off-flavors make those beers undrinkable which are typically caused by shipping logistics. (Although they still rate the worst one “fair”.)

But what about us craft beer drinkers, people who likely also drink wine. Why don’t Consumer Reports’ wine articles talk about how to buy wine in bulk? It would be cheaper, but I’m sure it would taste more like grape juice. Why doesn’t that attitude apply to beer? On page 7 of the same issue, they offer “Wine – 5 tips for summer sipping”, which includes a suggestion for food pairing of a complex pinot noir with some salmon off the grill. What do they suggest for pairing with a light beer…? Nothing, unless you count the all too obvious preceding article on hot dogs as their suggestion.

Consumer Reports could never rate craft beers, there are just way too many. They would have to do what they would normally do in a similar situation and just pick the most popular brands. I would suggest comparing the flagship beers of Sam Adams, Budweiser, Miller, Michelob, Coors, Sierra Nevada, etc. They could also pick styles, just like they do for wines and rate stouts, pale ales, oktoberfest/marzens, etc. Lastly, they could do that and not focus on off-flavors, rather, focus on what tastes the best. Then, with their pricing information, they can help consumers choose the best tasting beer for their money.

Or, you can just stay tuned to Hop Talk and the beer blogging community. See our Beer Roll to the right left.

9 thoughts on “Consumer Reports Rates Light Beers

  1. Ah, the power of marketing, eh?

    CR notes that Bud Light has 110 calories per serving, while Budweiser has 145.

    A McDonald’s double cheeseburger has 440 calories. (source)

    So, in order to achieve a better reduction in the number of daily calories as not having one double cheesburger by switching to a light beer, you would have to drink 13 beers a day.

    By golly, just drink one less beer a day and you’re four times ahead.

  2. Amber Ultra is only 42 calories less than regular Michelob, which at least has “some” flavor. Why suffer for 42 lousy calories?????

  3. Aren’t all the Michelob beers ALL malt now? Explains the top 3 perhaps…and that maybe these guys do have taste?



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  7. Sorry for commenting late, but it is a comment nonetheless. I have always felt that Sam Light had much more taste than any of the other lights, but when standing in the bar, i would go for an IPA over any of the light stuff

  8. Honestly, if people really understood what was going on, there would be no market for light beers.

    I had a Krispy Kreme glazed chocolate cake doughnut this morning. According to Krispy Kreme, each of these has about 300 calories.

    Assuming a “regular” beer has about 140 calories (which is high for most styles) and a light beer has about 90 calories, I will have to replace six nice, yummy, flavorful beers with six bland, tasteless, gassy light beers to offset the calories.

    What kind of a deal is that?

    I swear, the only reason light beer is as popular as it is is because people can’t get drunk on water.

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