While some might argue it’s always beer-drinking season, this time of year is especially ripe for kicking back a cold one. The last barbecue of summer is still on the horizon, as are the first tailgates of fall. But, if you’re like us, you want to enjoy your beer without wrecking the hard work you’ve put in the past few months.
Your solution: beers with low alcohol by volume (ABV). Why? Simply put, less alcohol equals less sugar, and less sugar equals fewer calories. (Also, breweries aren’t required to disclose their calorie counts, so educated guesswork will have to suffice.)
We’re defining “low” as 4.5% or lower, though one of these dips all the way to 2.7%. (For reference, Bud Light weighs in at 4.3%.) The good news: We’re currently experiencing a boom in well-made, interestingly flavored light beers. As a generation brought up on craft brewing has aged, drinkers gained an interest in beers that lowered the intensity without sacrificing the flavor. The upshot: Here are 10 tasty beers you can imbibe without the guilt — or flabby consequences.
BOULEVARD UNFILTERED WHEAT | KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
Midwesterners will be happy to learn this beer made it just under our self-imposed limit, as (according to Boulevard, anyway) it’s the best-selling craft brew in the region. That’s not surprising: It’s deliciously drinkable (and not too sweet for a wheat), with a hazy body that goes down easy. Better yet, Boulevard has expanded its distribution in the past few years, so it’s easier to find than ever.
SIXPOINT JAMMER | NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
The most unusual beer on this list; it’s a gose, the sour beer type that has become a cult favorite among hopheads. Yet it’s not overly tart, thanks to a tasteful (and tasty) execution by the brewers. A nice entry point for beer fans looking to get into the sour game or an edgy alternative for anyone suffering from light beer fatigue.
ANCHOR SMALL BEER | SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
The pioneering craft brewery also pioneered the light beer craze, introducing this tasty number way back in 1997. Anchor was inspired by the English tradition of “small beers,” wherein a barleywine brewer creates a lighter brew from the same source mash. (Hence the name.) It’s hoppier than you’d expect from a lighter beer, with a pleasant caramel finish. And while many beers on the list are summer offerings, this one’s available year-round.
SLY FOX O’REILLY’S IRISH STOUT | POTTSTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA
It’s counterintuitive, but most stouts have fewer calories than their lighter-colored brethren. The reason? Malt is where most of a beer’s alcohol (read: sugar) comes from, and it takes fewer malts to make a dark beer. (Experts compare it to food coloring, where a dot does a lot.) That’s why Guinness has fewer calories than Budweiser, and it’s why this particular stout — with its paltry ABV — is a particularly diet-friendly option. It’s also plenty satisfying, especially on draft, when it’s poured with nitrogen.
UINTA BABA BLACK LAGER | SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
A similar logic applies to this black lager. But while the Sly Fox is generally available in the northeast, Uinta is available throughout much of the western United States. Its low ABV may owe something to its home state: Utah limits the ABV for beers sold at stores and establishments with a beer-only license, to … you guessed it … 4%. But much like an artist creating a masterpiece within defined limits, Uinta has brewed one of the country’s best-tasting beers, low-alcohol or otherwise. Its smoky, chocolatey goodness is well worth seeking out, especially in the colder months.
EVIL TWIN BIKINI BEER | DENMARK
As The New York Times put it recently, “The creators of some of the most distinctive craft beers in the world are identical twins from Denmark who can’t stand each other.” The older of the twins founded Mikkeller, while the younger founded Evil Twin (ha!) after advising World’s Best Restaurant™ Noma on its beer selection. So when Evil Twin — which is a nomad brewery, creating its beers at other brand’s breweries around the world — introduced this insanely low-alcohol brew in 2011, it heralded a new age of delicious low-ABV beers. Can-only, it’s citrusy and surprisingly hoppy. FYI: Because it’s 2017, there’s also a sour version, the appropriately named Sour Bikini Beer.
READ MORE > WHAT ONE SERVING OF ALCOHOL LOOKS LIKE
NARRAGANSETT SUMMERTIME CITRA ALE | PAWTUCKET, RHODE ISLAND
‘Gansett’s been around since the 19th century (peaking, perhaps, with its iconic appearance in “Jaws”), and this relatively recent entry into its portfolio is as friendly as the “Hi-Neighbor!” motto that adorns the can. Mild, a pinch fruity, this is the kind of beer everyone at your summer barbecue will appreciate. It also pairs well with a Red Sox pennant chase.
DOGFISH HEAD FESTINA PÊCHE | MILTON, DELAWARE
A mild and hazy guy from the the pinnacle of American craft brewers, this charming peach beer is an ultra-satisfying pick on a hot summer day. It’s a Berliner Weisse, which (per Dogfish) is traditionally served with a dash of essence of woodruff or raspberry syrup to dampen the harshness — which you won’t need to do, since (again, per the brewer) the yeast eats up the peach sugars. Bonus: That also keeps it diet-friendly.
BROOKLYN 1/2 ALE | BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Turns out the Brooklyn Half ain’t just a 13.1-mile run through Jay-Z’s home borough. It’s also the perfect thing to quaff after a good run — an unfiltered farmhouse ale with all the flavor of its more powerful cousins. Like most farmhouse ales, this pairs well with anything fresh and seasonal (and, OK, a good cheese plate, but we won’t tell).
ROSS ISLAND BITTA | PORTLAND, OREGON
Naturally, the city with the most breweries per capita has embraced the low-ABV boom. In fact, at a new spot called Sessionable, that’s all you’ll find: lower-alcohol beers like this one, which happens to be brewed just down the road. It’s an English Bitter, with limited distribution, but the beer — like the bar and restaurant where we found it — is worth the effort.