24 Light Beers, Ranked

Raise your hand if you're even fatter now than you were on New Year's Day. No, your other hand, the one that isn't strangling a donut. Oh, I see. Well, do you have a third hand? Never mind, the tear tracks carved through your powdered-sugar beard are affirmation enough.

You've put on a couple. Me too. It's been a hell of a winter. But spring training's here, which means it's time to drink ourselves back into shape. I know it's still freezing out, but dignity demands that we put away the mayonnaise hot toddies and the pulled pork stouts, because March is the month we get simultaneously liquored up and slimmed down. Maybe we'll switch to light beer?

It's tough to define what qualifies a beer as "light" (different countries and regulatory agencies have different criteria), but for our purposes we're basically including any beer that labels itself as such. Broadly speaking, this means it has fewer calories than the regular version of the same beer. Here's a ranking of all the nationally distributed light beers I found at my local liquor stores.


Flavor was the predominant factor in the proprietary algorithm used to compile this list, but when the taste was a toss-up I added and subtracted points based on alcohol content, since booze provides the bulk of both a beer's calories and a person's reason for drinking.

24. Bud Light Lime, 116 calories per 12 ounces, 4.2 percent alcohol by volume

Woe be to the human tongue that's touched anything nastier than this sinister shit. Last July I said Bud Light Lime tastes like green Froot Loops soaked in thigh sweat. It's too cold to muster enough sweat for a retest, but I'm confident that Bud Light Lime is still the world's worst light beer.

23. Miller 64, 64 calories, 2.8 percent ABV

The label says it's "perfectly balanced" but makes no reference to what balance is being struck. The urge to die versus the urge to tear your mouth off and throw it into the ocean? Miller 64 tastes like a cardboard cup of sour limeade left overnight on a subway car.

22. Beck's Premier Light: 64 calories, 2.3 percent ABV

I've heard good things about this one, but it's been skunked both times I've tried it. There's no excuse for this, especially now that Beck's is brewed in the U.S. by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

21. Amstel Light, 95 calories, 3.5 percent ABV

Amstel Light tastes like rotten fruit.

20. Bud Light, 110 calories, 4.2 percent ABV

Bud Light is the best-selling beer in America. For shame, because it always tastes like fermented cardboard, no matter how fresh it is. You could suck Bud Light straight from the stainless steel teat and it would still taste like regular Budweiser infused with the filters of a thousand discount cigarettes.

19. Bud Select 55, 55 calories, 2.4 percent ABV

Tastes like an old hard-taco shell, which, I know, sounds decent, but for whatever reason the experience doesn't translate well to superlight beer.

18. Sapporo Light, 119 calories, 3.9 percent ABV

Sapporo Light smells like caramelized skunk-meat. The taste isn't quite as grim, because the initial blast of necrotized game fades quickly into a more generic light beer flavor, but the first impression is tough enough to keep this one just outside of drinkable.

17. Busch Light, 95 calories, 4.1 percent ABV

And we've finally reached the "Sure, if that's all you've got. I'm thirsty and free beer don't grow on trees" portion of the list.

16. Natural Light, 95 calories, 4.2 percent ABV

Did you know Natural Light was introduced by Anheuser Busch in 1977, five years before Bud Light? And that it's the sixth most popular beer in the United States? What you probably did know is that tastes a little bit like hay but mostly like nothing, and that's good enough if you're on a tight budget.

15. Keystone Light, 104 calories, 4.1 percent ABV

Keystone Light is much, much better than Keystone. I guess the easiest way to extract calories from a standard 'Stone is to remove the brown banana peels from the fermentation tank?

14. Corona Light, 99 calories, 4.1 percent ABV

I despise regular Corona, but the Light is better. It smells—and to a lesser extent tastes—like stale beer, which isn't as bad as it sounds in the context of this shit list. Whereas the lesser competitors resemble stale beer polluted by this or that other terrible flavor, Corona Light is just a regular old shoddy keg-party brew. It's a bit sweeter than an honest doctor would order, but it dries out on the slightly feral finish.

13. Michelob Ultra: 95 calories, 4.2 percent ABV

Michelob Ultra is familiar to any road racer too dumb or dedicated to cherry pick only those races sponsored by reputable local breweries. If you're not careful, your semi-competitive Sunday morning jog is going to be rewarded with a 9-ounce plastic cup of Ultra, a sugary malt juice that sours just enough on the quick finish to make it grudge-chuggable in a pinch.

12. Genny Light, 100 calories, 4 percent ABV

Genny Light has a good, clean brewski smell that's undercut somewhat by a sugary corn taste and a hint of rusty lemon. But it's a decent, straightforward beer that manages to fly under the radar and into the shopping cart due to its low price and manageable ambitions. Genny Light's not trying to impress you; it's just trying to skate by, and there's an ugly honor in that.

11. Bud Light Platinum, 137 calories, 6 percent ABV

Not sure what to do with this one. The flavor is fair—clean, sweet malt, and one-note hops—but 137 calories is awfully high for this category. But so is 6 percent alcohol. Let's move on.

10. Coors Light, 102 calories, 4.2 percent ABV

9. Medalla Light, 83 calories per 10 ounces, 4.0 percent ABV

This another tough one to rank. I love Medalla Light, but I've only had it on the beach in Puerto Rico. I understand you can also get it at gas stations in Florida, which I have to imagine degrades the experience. I realize this is very unscientific of me, but I really do think context matters in evaluating taste. How do you think a $7 ballpark hotdog would go over in your work cafeteria? Like cotton candy in prison.

8. Michelob Light, 122 calories, 4.3 percent ABV

The label says "Our full-flavored light lager features a malty sweetness and aromatic hop profile" and boasts of Hallertau, Strissel, Spalt, and other hop varieties. All that hopping doesn't add up to a ton, but Michelob Light comes across as balanced and bitter relative to the competition. Michelob Light sales declined 70 percent between 2007 and 2012, which makes sense given that Anheuser-Busch has cannibalized it with the Mich Ultra line, but it's still a decent light beer.

7. Mich Ultra Lime Cactus, 95 calories, 4 percent ABV

You know how when you snort green Runts dust you can taste it a little bit in the back of your throat? Mich Ultra Lime Cactus reminds me of what your mouth's left with right after you dispatch a green candy loogie, but in the best possible way. It's not too sweet and the aftertaste is only ever so slightly chemical tasting, plus it gets bonus points for novelty and ambition.

6. Heineken Light, 99 calories, 3.2 percent ABV

Last year Heineken reworked this slow-seller by adding Cascade hops, and it seems to have worked. Funky and skunky regular-strength Heineken is my least favorite beer in the world, but the nearly odorless Light makes a strong first impression by making very little impression at all. It tastes like basic-ass beer with a hint of sour metal, which is a welcome addition to this artificially sweetened list.

5. Miller Lite, 96 calories, 4.2 percent ABV

This is the best American macro-light.

4. Sam Adams Light: 119 calories, 4.3 percent ABV

This is a disappointing showing for a beer that should have been a ringer. The Boston Beer Company is the only legitimate craft brewer that makes a nationally distributed light beer, and while Sam Light is fine, it should be better. Despite the label's claim that it's a whole different beer, it resembles a limp, watered-down version of the flagship Boston Lager, which is to say it resembles Yuengling. It's very sweet, with a strong suggestion of candied orange peels and very little discernible hops. Its greatest strength is its lack of glaring weaknesses.

3. Labatt Blue Light: 108 calories per 11.5 ounces, 4 percent ABV

Blue Light is surprisingly ambitious and assertive, showing enough bite to resemble a credible Czech pils. There's a slightly off-putting soapiness on the finish, but Labatt Blue Light is still one of my world's best light beers.

2. Kirin Light: 95 calories, 3.3 percent ABV

It turns out that this Japanese impostor is brewed domestically by Anheuser-Busch, which likely contributes to its superfresh taste. Kirin Light is so crisp and lively it reminds me of prosecco that's been open for an hour at an all-you-can-mimosa brunch place. The tart apple and biscuity yeast character are unusual for a light lager, but slightly faded prosecco is better than most light beers.

1. Molson Canadian Light: 120 calories, 3.9 percent ABV

The best light beer I've ever had is floral, dainty, and a tiny bit grapey up front, with a clean, dry finish. Molson Canadian Light is merely a good beer, which makes it a great light beer.

So there's your list. What does it all mean? Well, it means Canadians have another reason to show off their unique blend of smug humility. But since I'm an easy grader who struggled to find anything good to say about most of these beers, it might also mean we shouldn't drink so damn much light beer. Six of the eight best selling beers in America are light lagers, but market share is starting to fall as we gravitate toward better beers and other liquors. Even dedicated beer drinkers looking to slough off enough donut padding to fit into their button pants have better options.

Guinness has 125 calories per 12 ounces, compared to Bud Light's 110 and Michelob Light's 122. Wouldn't you rather have 98 percent of a Guinness than all of a Mich Light? A beer's calories correlate very strongly to its alcohol percentage (which is why Bud 55 and Miller 64 are half-strength), so the tastiest way to cut down on beer calories is to seek out low-alcohol offerings from good breweries.

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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.

Image by Sam Woolley.