Light beer is beer that has been brewed in a special way to reduce the overall alcohol or caloric content, and in some cases both. Many people drink it because they enjoy the flavor, or because they believe that it is less unhealthy than regular beer. Other beer consumers are dismissive of light beer, arguing that it has a disagreeably thin flavor and it is not, in actuality, that much healthier than ordinary beers.
Most light beers are brewed as pale lagers like Pilsner, a traditional Czech lager. Originally, these beers were meant to have a lower alcohol content so that people could enjoy several without feeling intoxicated. They were often designed for casual drinking; some people call them “lawnmower beers” in a reference to the habit of drinking one or two after a day working in the yard. Over time, people began to demand low calorie versions of beer, and those in the sense of “light on calories” arose.
There are several ways to make beer light. Higher fermentation temperatures tend to cut down on alcohol content, as will various techniques for handling the barley mash that is fermented to make the beer in the first place. Some brewers also use ingredients like rice and wheat in their beers to make them lighter. The other option is the addition of enzymes that will break down substances in the beer known as dextrins. Dextrins are not fermentable; they retain their structure through the brewing process, adding mouthfeel, texture, and a rich aroma. By breaking the dextrins down, brewers can reduce the caloric content of the beer.
These steps may not always make much of a difference in the caloric content of beer. As a result, some brewers actually water down their beers to dilute the caloric value and alcohol content. Nutritional comparison between regular pale lagers and light beers as they are brewed reveals little difference between the two, in many cases. As one might expect, however, the practice of watering down the beer causes the flavor to become watered down as well, giving the brews a bad reputation.
Critics claim that the flavor of this type of beer is often lacking as a result of the practices used to make it light in the first place. Light beers can seem very watery, especially when they actually are watered down, and their flavors tend to be more subtle and less brassy than those of more conventional ales and lagers. Some people do genuinely enjoy this flavor, however, and drink the beer out of personal preference, rather than the perceived health value. For people who want a low-calorie alternative to beer, simply cutting down on beer consumption might be a better way to go.