Michigan’s Craft Brewers Edge into The Low-calorie Beer Game

Move over, Bud Light

low-cal beer

The White Claw craze that overtook every boat outing, beach excursion, and backyard barbecue in the summer of 2019 is clear evidence of a growing demand for beverages that let you get tipsy without tipping the scales. Hard seltzer sales rose nearly 200% last year alone, according to Nielsen, a nationwide ratings firm. But the surge in seltzer popularity was simply a manifestation of a broader thirst for healthier adult beverages. Now, an increasing number of craft brewers, including several Wolverine State brands, are answering that call, elbowing their way into a market that many had previously left to Bud Light and other mega-brewery lights.

With both better-for-you beverages and craft beer experiencing market growth, it was only a matter of time before the two would collide. Bell’s Brewery founder and president Larry Bell says the movement is being fueled primarily by the increasing number of millennials and Gen Z-ers who have reached drinking age. “They’re better educated about everything they eat and drink,” he says, “and perhaps more health conscious than any other generation.”

They’re also drinking less beer from legacy beer brands and more from craft brewers — a trend reflected in data released last year by the market research firm IRI that shows sales for big-name brands declined 4.2% in 2018 alone.

As with the Bud and Miller lights of the world, the production of a craft beer with fewer calories results in some other differences in the consumer experience. Whether its craft or
mass-market, low-calorie beer tends to taste simpler, with a thinner mouthfeel, while alcohol content is almost always reduced as well.

Local low-calorie options are becoming easier to find. Short’s Local’s Light, of course, has stood the test of time, becoming a statewide favorite since it was introduced in 2004. The classic American lager weighs in at 115 calories and an ABV of 5.2%. Another local classic is Detroit Beer Co.’s clean, crisp-tasting Broadway Light, which packs just 125 calories and an ABV of 4.3%.

One of the newest additions to the market is Atwater Brewery’s Triple Double Lifestyle Ale, a brew created late last year in partnership with the Detroit Pistons. Available at Little Caesars Arena during home games and at stores and bars across the state, it’s a mere 95 calories per 16-oz. can with an alcohol content of just 3.2%, compared to the typical craft ABV of 5.9%.

And due to be released late this month or in early February is the little sister beer to Bell’s Brewery’s beloved Two Hearted Ale: the Light Hearted Ale. Though it’s just 110 calories and, at 3.7%, half the alcohol content of the original,  Bell says the ale is surprisingly flavorful, with a “sturdy malt backbone.”

“If you closed your eyes,” Bell says, “you’d think you were drinking a pretty regular beer.”