Craft Beer Issue 2019
Listen—we’re not getting any younger and we all drink like monsters. I’m not suggesting we drink less, though. I’m just suggesting we drink lighter.
Not only is low-cal beer lighter on calories, but there’s also less alcohol by volume (ABV), so we can drink more for longer with less taking off our shirts and demanding people make good on imaginary debts.
Most of the big, brand-name beers have a light beer on offer—even Pabst Blue Ribbon reentered the low-cal game this spring with their PBR Easy—so I wasn’t all that surprised to find that some of our local craft brewers have also been dipping their toes in the low-cal pool. Can we drink the light beer our bodies crave while maintaining our local craft beer cred? You bet your sweet bippy we can.
(Ground Breaker Brewing)
2.8% ABV, 75 calories per 12 ounces
available at Ground Breaker Brewing and Gastropub, 2030 SE 7th
I found this beer by asking a Ground Breaker bartender, “Do you have anything that isn’t like getting punched in the face with flavor?” Olallie UL is subtle. A modification of the gluten-free brewery’s Olallie Ale, Olallie UL is also brewed with rosehips and blackberries, but the sweetness of the original version is noticeably gone. The rosehips still come through enough to make me wonder if “tea beer” is a thing. There’s a delightful light bitterness and an attractive pink shade to the ale.
According to Ground Breaker founder James Neumeister, Olallie UL is a lower-calorie variation on Olallie because Olallie was already pretty low ABV. “People were looking for lighter beer,” he explains. “Even our staff were steering towards the 4.5 percent beers as opposed to the 7.5. We saw people switching to hard seltzers, but we still like hops and beer flavor so we decided to try this.” Neumeister says they’re thinking of swapping Olallie UL out for regular Olallie in cans and bottles if it’s a success.
4% ABV, 99 calories per 12 ounces
available in cans and at Deschutes Public House, 210 NW 11th
Deschutes has also been experimenting with low-calorie, low-ABV beers. They’ve got a Teensy Micro Hazy—though it’s currently only available at their Portland pub—which boasts a proud 2.5 percent ABV. The Teensy feels like a work in progress, but Deschutes has fully committed to a terrific, if oddly named, pilsner called Da Shootz.
The name immediately brings to mind the “Da Bears”—from the Superfans SNL sketch—but the name is supposedly the final say on how to pronounce the brewery’s name. And despite its awkward title, Da Shootz has a lot of unique character: tangy and refreshing, with a nice citrus bite. Am I imagining a smoky aftertaste? Da Shootz has joined the yearly lineup and is widely available in cans and on draft.
2.7% ABV, 83 calories [estimated] per 12 ounce
available at Sessionable, 3588 SE Division
Since Portland has a bar dedicated to lower-alcohol beers, I swung by Sessionable for the final leg of this search and happened across Ethan’s Table, a 2.7-percent-ABV beer by Bellingham, Washington’s Chuckanut Brewery. Brewed with Belgian saison yeast, the pale yellow Ethan’s Table reminded my friend of soda water, but not in an expressly bad way. “It’s like when everyone started drinking soda water a few summers ago. At first they were like, ‘Do I like this bitter taste? Yes, I really like this.’” He tasted sourness. I tasted citrus. I knocked back two of them and barely felt buzzed.
Mari Kemper from Chuckanut says Ethan’s Table is their brewery’s version of a European farm beer, a style that’s meant to be drunk throughout the day. Chuckanut is probably the smallest brewery on this list, so their calorie information is a rough estimate. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) requires breweries to prove their beer is below a certain caloric limit before they can call it “light” beer. Chuckanut found that out recently when they tried to name another light beer (with a 3.7 percent ABV) Chuck Light. They sent samples to an independent lab to be measured, but as they waited, they had to call it Chuck Lager.
While it’s shocking to hear of the dutiful, painstaking regulation of the phrase “light beer,” I suppose that also means you can drink light beer with total confidence that there are a lab-approved, finite amount of calories in your glass.