Let there be light

​Can you believe that light beer as we know it has only been produced in the United States since the mid 1970s? That’s barely a blink of an eye in beer history. The story goes that George Weissman, chairman of Phillip Morris, had his first low sugar lager (called a diat Pilsner in German) in Munich, West Germany. He enjoyed it and had a sneaking suspicion many Americans would, too. And boy was he right. In fact, according to Statistica, 6 of the 7 top selling beers in the United States in 2017 were light beers. Generally speaking, these beers have lower calories, less alcohol, and a lighter body than their full-calorie counterparts. They are also very refreshing and usually highly carbonated. For these reasons, they obviously appeal to a very wide market.  

But what makes a beer light? Basically, in order to make a less caloric version of beer, you must decrease the amount of fermentable sugars. When brewing, malt is the sugar source that yeast consumes to produce alcohol. More malt = more alcohol = more calories. Yet it’s not as simple as just cutting down the malt and calling it a day. Light beer still needs to be tasty. In order to achieve a good tasting final product, bitterness from hops is essential to offset the sweetness of the malt. These contrasting flavor combinations produce delicious and exciting taste sensations, for example sweet and sour, or spicy and sweet. 

After 18 years of brewing full-bodied craft beer in the Old World Tradition, Stockholm’s owner and brewer Michael Olesen is lightening things up. Loki, Stockholm’s first every light beer, is new on tap this week. When asked about brewing beer that is light in calories but still big in flavor, Olesen says that the key is balance. “While less malt produces less alcohol and therefore less calories, you still want a well-balanced, good tasting beer. To help achieve this balance, we’ve used Cascade hops added to the brew at two different times for their light bitterness and aromatic qualities.” The result is a smooth and refreshing brew that is the perfect accompaniment to a hot summer’s day.

An interesting bit of beer trivia: the light beer first brewed in the United States for commercial consumption has a local origin story. The Peter Hand Brewing Co. on North Avenue in Chicago, founded in 1891 by a Prussian immigrant, was purchased by investors in the 1960s. The brand never quite got the traction they hoped for and the recipes were eventually sold to Milwaukee’s Miller brand in the 70s. The recipe for Peter Hand’s Meister Brau Lite seemed to have stood the test of time, as you might have heard of it even all these years later. Does Miller Lite ring a bell?