Better than “Light”: Seven Beers You Can Imbibe Without Blowing Your “Diet”

Strategically placed bottle: Yes, if you look like this, by all means drink Heineken. Or you could try a better, lower calorie beer from my list below!

Strategically placed bottle: Yes, if you look like this, by all means drink Heineken. Or you could try a better, lower calorie beer from my list below! Photo credit: Pinterest (that’s long form for “pint,” amiright?)

Standing in line for yesterday’s 32-mile Great Saunter hike around the rim of Manhattan, I was chatting up some other walkers when the topic of “what do you do for a living” came up. My poor attendance to this blog aside (sorry readers), I am still, in fact, making my money from writing about beer. I also noted that my attendance at the Great Saunter after an absence of five years (see? my blog posts are more frequent than my marathon-level walks!) was because my weight has gotten out of control and I need to “make some changes” to my lifestyle.

The reality is that if you’re in the beer world, you’d better have an exercise plan. There are several “universal” truths about being a beer writer:

  1. You drink too much. Whether by sheer quantity or just daily life, those of us who make our living in beer drink a lot. As in every day. As in, we do tastings in the morning. As in, no—unlike oenophiles—we don’t spit. Part of the reason why this blog has been on hiatus was my desire to cut back on my drinking. I literally can drink for free on a daily basis; not a good choice.
  2. Beer doesn’t make you fat… but calories do! I say this a lot, because there’s a bit of a public relations war vis a vis whether the carb-heavy world of beer contributes to weight gain. For whatever reason, Americans seem to think that carbohydrates are the enemy; add in alcohol (both carbs and protein weigh in at 4 calories/gram; whereas alcohol is 7 calories/gram; a gram of fat is 9 calories, meaning alcohol calories are more akin to fat than carbs) and beer can pack the calorie density of a mega-protein bar (cue Mean Girls reference here).
  3. If you’re fit in the beer world, that is due to exercise and not diet. I have seen skinny women downing bread and cheese with their beers, so it’s not about calorie control. A friend of mine who is a rep for a boutique importer spends (the warm) half of the year running and the other (cold) half of the year playing ice hockey. This is basic dietary science: burn more (or at least as many) calories than (as) you consume and you will (maintain or) lose weight. I have put on 10 pounds for each year (i.e. three) I’ve been writing about beer on a more-or-less full-time basis because I don’t burn more calories than I consume. And I, too, like bread and cheese with beer!

Back in the queue: The man I was talking to stated, “I suppose you don’t consider light beer an option,” to which I replied, “What’s ‘light’ beer?” I was being facetious, because I knew what the guy meant. Shortly thereafter, we were separated before I had the sense to recommend some “better than light” beers.

To me, “light” beer is far worse than decaf coffee. Decaf may be pointless in terms of a caffeine high, but “light” beer still packs quite the punch in terms of calories. And while there are good decaf options for flavor, beer marketed as “light” typically is a low-cal version of a better beer. The quintessential example of this is Budweiser: The full-calorie version of the beer (143 calories for 12 ounces – note: all calorie counts in this article are for a 12-ounce beer; 5.0% ABV) is better (in so far as a mass-market lager can be) than its pretty crappy Bud Light (110 calories; 4.2% ABV). At least Heineken attempts to differentiate its full-calorie beer (166 calories; 5.4% ABV) from its sister, Amstel Light (99 calories/3.5% ABV).

But all these beers run the taste continuum from “pretty bad” to “just okay.” And chances are that if you’re drinking Amstel or Bud Light, you’re gonna drink a lot more than one… pretty much negating any benefit from calorie control.

So, what can you imbibe and still watch your calories? First, let’s assume you don’t want to do a 32-mile hike or run a marathon every week to burn the extra calories that beer can put on. Second, let’s assume you want to drink “good” beer (the idea of “craft” beer is really in flux, especially as formerly defined “craft” beers are bought by huge conglomerates like AB-InBev). Third, let’s assume you have a drinking strategy:

  • Are you looking for a buzz? You might want to consider efficiency over calories. Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA packs a whopping 450 calories, but at 18% ABV, you’ll probably only need one… assuming you can stop at one.
  • Are you looking to drink all day? You are at the beach or by the pool and you just want a slow imbibe. Go for a low-ABV beer or… drink a great stout. People forget how lovely stouts are in the summer because it’s easy to think “dark beer for dark days.” However, stouts improve as they warm, so you can drink much more slowly. If you drink one Left Hand Milk Stout (180 calories; 6% ABV) an hour for four hours, you’ll be better off than drinking eight Bud Lights over the same time frame. Full disclosure vis a vis “craft” defined loosely: Guinness Stout on draught is one of the lower-calorie beers: only 125 calories; 4.0% ABV (most bars are going to do a 16-ounce pour, so expect your pint to cost you 167 calories).
  • Are you looking for flavor? A gose, lambic or Berliner Weisse will be super refreshing and full of fruity flavors. Tart, crisp and just right for warm weather drinking.
  • You either come prepared with BYOB or know how to read a label. One of the big problems with knowing how many calories you’re drinking is that very few craft beers publish their calorie counts (something the “light” beers capitalize on). However, they do typically have alcohol-by-volume (ABV) on the label. Obviously, the higher the ABV on a beer the higher the calorie count. Efficiency aside, you’ll want to slow your beer intake with lots of water to stay hydrated on summer days.

So here are the seven beers I think are “better than light.” The conditions were that they had to be roughly 10 calories per ounce or less and beers I’ve actually tried (note that the calories are “best guesstimates” based on published research). Also, on principle, I disallowed any beer with “light” in the mix (thus, Sam Adams Light isn’t recommended). If you can’t find my beers in your market, here’s a great breakdown of beers by calories, total carbs and ABV. And please share your “skinny” beers in the comments. Happy drinking!

  1. Anderson Valley Brewing Highway 128 Blood Orange Gose: 126 calories/4.2% ABV. A beautiful gose with intense flavors and amazing body.
  2. Evil Twin Brewing Bikini Beer: 81 calories/2.7% ABV. For hopheads! You’d never guess drinking this that it is so low in calories. The true poster beer for “tastes great, less filling”!
  3. Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project Vielle Saison: 126 calories/4.2% ABV. Another bright sour beer that is widely available.
  4. The Bruery Hottenroth Berliner Weisse: 93 calories/3.1% ABV. I’ll take the sour beer behind door #3! Such flavor for a beer that has fewer calories than Corona Light!
  5. Abita Brewing Amber Ale: 128 calories/4.5% ABV. The most calorie-dense beer on this list is also one of the more “efficient” beers if you’re looking to get a bit more buzz from your beer.
  6. New Belgium Brewing Skinny Dip: 110 calories/4.2% ABV. A solid blonde with solid efficiency.
  7. Telegraph Brewing Petit Obscura: 113 calories/3.7% ABV. Another sour beer you might want to try if you can find it.

Quench Your Tørst

TorstThinking about trying out Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø’s Tørst this weekend? Well, let’s just say the Bitch is Ecstatic (on the precipice of Orgasmic, see review below) about this Greenpoint bar.

If you don’t know about Tørst (located at 615 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn – right next to the Nassau G stop), then you’ve probably been in a beer-free coma for the last three months. I’m not going to regurgitate all that has been said about Evil Twin‘s evil twin (he’s not, incidentally, and our kids go to school together if I’m going to announce my connections in an effort towards transparent journalism), which has been going around in all the beer press since the bar opened last weekend.

Jeppe has a super cool story, however. As a gypsy brewer, he can make his “Danish” beer pretty much anywhere. So why not Brooklyn? Apparently the thought crossed his mind, and he has relocated to north Brooklyn with his wife and the aforementioned children to set up shop here.

And what a shop it is! Twenty-one draft lines of some “you can’t get it anywhere but here” brews, plus a slew of bottles (I’m still researching the list!). This place is a must destination for any serious (or quasi-serious) beer drinker.  A limited kitchen (they’re offering either a meat or cheese plate, handsomely presented with an inordinate amount of olives) will be expanding closer to summer with Chef Dan Burns five-course, Scandinavian tasting menu.

Here are the high/low points of my visit (if you can call any of my constructive criticisms “low”):

The Good/Great

  • Aside from the vast selection of beer and reasonably priced food, the space is incredibly elegant and perhaps the most tastefully appointed bar I’ve ever seen. It’s like Jeppe took all that Ikea sensibility and then shopped at Design Within Reach. The bar would be hipster chic if it were situated four blocks south.
  • They only serve beer. They only ever will serve beer. Yeah, you can get a soft drink if you want, but for Loki’s sake!!! don’t ask for wine. This is a great and powerful adventure in craft beer bars. Bless the journey! Embrace Port Jesus!
  • Despite being slammed, the bartenders kept their cool and were serving up glasses in a flash.
  • The 8-oz pour means you can try a lot of brews without getting hammered.
  • A great place for groups of beer lovers, and a damn fine bar for singletons (aka The Bitch, although I did know a half-dozen people in the place, both behind and in front of bar).

The Bad

  • As with any “It bar,” you’re gonna get a clientele with a massive and comprehensive knowledge of beer. Let’s just say, the bar staff really needs some training on how to deal with us. Two examples: One friend was asking about beers on draught and the bartender kept trying to offer her “what she wanted.” She knew what she wanted, which was for the bartender to answer her question so that she could choose for herself. My experience was even worse. With 21 taps and a menu situation (see below), I wanted to get “a beer I cannot buy anywhere in a store.” What was I poured? Femme Fatale!!! I mean, come on! You can buy that at Whole Foods. I know it’s a good beer, but why not offer up a Port Jesus (which I got the next time I came in via a different bartender)?
  • The cheese plate was served sans napkins and utensils. Maybe you can pick up charcuterie with your fingers, but I’m not spreading cheese on lovely danish bread with my hands. They need some knives worthy of the wooden plank upon which they serve your meal. Also, some small to-go containers for the olives would be lovely. I left over half of mine on the bar for someone else to eat; I’m guessing they were trashed. A crying shame (I wanted to take home, but no container with which to do so).
  • What is it with widely spaced hooks under the bar? There could be a hook at every chair (or every chair and a half). Hooks will do nothing to detract from the place, and it will stop people from placing their coats willy nilly all over the bar. Not to mention, my hook was three bar stools away from me and I left without my bag (did I mention going back the next day for Port Jesus… it was a reward for having to retrieve my bag, which had nothing of value in it, but I do like the thing!).
  • This place is not for those light of wallet. Remember those convenient 8-oz pours I mentioned? Well they start at $5 and go up. That’s $10 a pint, my friends. Is the beer worth the price? I believe it is. But it’s unlikely to become your neighborhood hangout with the bar bill that ensues from drinking here for hours on end. Bring friends and share!

torstThe Bitch Wants You To Fix

  • Did I mention the bar is beautiful? Well, it’s a little too aesthetically pleasing. Someone decided that rather than have a horrible chalk board behind the bar upon which to write the draughts, they would employ dry erase marker on mirrors. Yes, it’s beautiful. And unintelligible! You can only read roughly six draughts at a time, meaning you have to walk the length of the bar just to know what’s up there. This is fine at noon on a Sunday, but at six on a Friday or Saturday, ummm, no. Just no. Fix it!
  • ABVs anyone? There’s not a damn ABV in the place. Not on the reflective draught menu nor on the extensive paper bottle menu. I drink based on how fast I’m gonna get smashed. I don’t have a smart phone, but even if I did, I want to be at the bar, not hanging out at Rate Beer or Untapp’d.
  • Come on. Can we get some real glassware? The wine glasses look nice hanging above the bar, but they don’t do a thing for most of these beers. Also, the pours into them are really inconsistent, meaning sometimes you can smell the beer but usually you can’t. I want to embrace the scent before I drink. You really cannot accomplish this with the current glassware line-up. These beers deserve to be poured into the correct stemware… and by that, I don’t mean a white wine glass.

With these minor adjustments, this will be a truly Orgasmic bar on the Brookyn (and world) bar scene.