Beer Town: Cut calories and carbs with new wave of lower-alcohol beers

Lower-calorie “light” beers have been around for a long time, with Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite perennially among the best-selling brands in America.

And over the years, craft breweries have released lower-alcohol styles, like Boston Beer’s Sam Light, along with sessionable styles like Founders Brewing’s All Day IPA.

But the latest wave of light beers not only boast fewer calories, the breweries often list the carbs on the label, boost the flavor with more hop varieties, and employ a few brewing tricks, like the “AMG” enzyme used to dry out brut IPAs.

To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about this growing category, until a recent encounter with Abita Brewing’s Hop 99.

It was on offer at the bar during an Atlanta event presented by Louisiana Culinary Trails, where I sipped it and immediately experienced a surprising pop of hops, along with some clean but complex aromas and flavors, and a nice dry finish.

Abita, Louisiana’s first and biggest craft brewery, introduced Hop 99 in late September as “a guilt-free IPA offering to meet the demands of the evolving beer drinker.”

Available year-round on draft and in six-pack 12-ounce cans, it contains 99 calories and 2.7 grams of carbs per 12-ounce serving, and at 4.2% alcohol by volume, it’s certainly sessionable.

Flavors and aromas come from additions of Mosaic and Citra hops, and pale malts help give it a light body and crisp finish that’s closer to a lager than an IPA.

“As the IPA category continues to change, we wanted to do something different that would appeal to a broader range of beer drinkers, so we took a look at how we can make an IPA an everyday hop-forward beer,” Abita brewmaster Mark Wilson said when the beer was first released.

Now it seems more and more brewers and beer drinkers are thinking the same thing. And with that in mind, here are three more year-round light IPAs to try if you’re looking for a session with fewer calories and carbohydrates and less alcohol.

Dogfish Head Slightly Mighty — Billed as a “lo-cal IPA that’s slight in calories and mighty in hop character,” at just 4% alcohol by volume, it has 95 calories, 3.6 grams of carbs, 1 gram of protein and 0 grams of fat per 12-ounce serving. Notably, Mighty is made with monk fruit, touted as giving it more body and complexity, and helping balance the hop bitterness and malt sweetness. It also may contribute to the hazy gold color and tropical notes.
Harpoon Rec. League — Said to be “brewed with a groundbreaking blend of ingredients” that include buckwheat, chia, sea salt and a blend of Cascade, Mosaic, Ekuanot and Citra hops, Rec. League is a refreshing tropical pale ale with plentiful citrus aromas and flavors and a soft mouthfeel. At just 3.8% alcohol by volume, it has 120 calories, 10 grams of carbohydrates, 1.2 grams of protein and 0 grams of fat per 12-ounce serving. 
Lagunitas DayTime — With a recipe that’s evolved over time, this sessionable IPA was released in cans for the first time earlier this year. At 4% alcohol by volume and only 98 calories per 12-ounce serving, the brewery claims it “represents everything we know about making hop-forward beer, expressed in a sotto voice.” Light, bright and fizzy, DayTime’s citrus aromas and flavors sing out before a dry finish. 


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