Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 3, No. 3
Counting carbs

Oct. 17, 2002

The question we receive most often at used to be one that goes like this: "I've got an unopened 6-pack of Billy Beer. How much is it worth?" (The answer is that it worth only a few bucks -- that we get the question so often tells us how many bottles must have been saved.)


Now, the most frequently asked question is along the lines of this one from a person named Dee: "I've heard that beer is generally high in carbohydrates ... which turns into sugar. How many carbs are in beer? Is there an average or does it truly depend on the type of beer?"

So, it's probably time to revisit the topic of beer and calories, beer and fat and, now, beer and carbs. The early success of Michelob Ultra, which was rolled out nationally less than a year after being tested in four markets, has cast new attention on the subject.

Let's start with some facts. First (and we love saying this over and over): Beer has no fat. Unfortunately, it can have plenty of calories, because it contains carbohydrates, protein and alcohol. A gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories, a gram of protein 4 calories, a gram of fat 9 calories and a gram of alcohol a little over 7 calories.

And then there is the carb issue. Followers of Robert Adkins ("Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution") and other low-carb advocates now count carbohydrates more carefully than calories. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently quoted Adkins spokeswoman Colette Heimowitz as saying while Atkins discourages the use of alcohol in the beginning phases of the diet (the "induction" phase), "if somebody doesn't mind slowing down their weight loss it's fine to add the lower carb beers, as long as they add it into the total carbs for the day and don't go beyond their critical carb level."

Although Ultra's carb numbers aren't really much different than Miller Lite, which has been around since 1974, Michelob struck a chord by marketing to the low-carb crowd. Ultra advertising carefully stays away from making health claims, but the ads feature images of joggers, bicyclists and other healthy role models and the phrase "Lose the Carbs. Not the Taste."

"We're not after the hard-core dieters," Dave Peacock, Anheuser-Busch's vice president for high-end brands, said a while back. They're aiming at the exercise-intensive, health-conscious types who want to count carbs.

Pittsburgh Brewing jumped on the bandwagon earlier this year with an ad campaign that promises I.C. Light doesn't cause beer bellies. Just in case people didn't get the message from the slogan -- "More Taste. Less Waist." -- or the infomercial-style radio spots touting the new liquid diet, the company put up billboards with can't-miss views of well-developed stomachs. The hard bodies were adorned with plastic six-pack rings.

We'll leave most the discussion about how brewing light beers is different than other beers (despite rumors you have heard, it is not as simple as taking regular beer and adding water) for another time. Just know that in the case of Michelob Ultra, A-B says a longer mash is employed to hold down carbs. It's also interesting that in creating non-alcohol beer many breweries end up with beer a little longer carbs than your average beer (14-15 for the NAs versus 10-12 for regular beer). O'Douls is 0.4% abv, has 70 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrates. Coors NA is .5%/73/14.2.

More often than not, when you look closely at a beer label you won't find information about alcohol content, let alone calories or carbs. However, grab a bottle of Sam Adams Light or Edison Light and the numbers are all listed on the label. That tells you something about how these beers want to be perceived, and also makes it easier for us to answer some of those questions about carbs.

While we work on a longer list, here are 10 popular light beers with the calorie and carb counts (for comparison purposes, Budweiser and Heineken both have about 145 calories and 10-11 carbs) for 12-ounce bottles:

Amstel Light - 95 calories/5 grams of carbohyrdates
Bud Light - 110/6.6
Corona Light - 105/5.0
Edison Light - 109/6.5
I.C. Light - 96/2.9
Keystone Light - 100/5.0
Michelob Light - 134/11.7
Michelob Ultra - 95/2.6
Miller Lite - 96/3.2
Sam Adams Light - 124/9.7

We realize that many of you find this silly. You are resigned to the fact that fuller bodied beers contain more calories and carbs. You probably agree with a bar owner quoted in the Atlanta story. Robert Holland, co-owner of the Universal Joint tavern in Oakhurst, said, "If any of our customers were interested in a low-carbohydrate beer they ought to consider quitting drinking."

Tasting notes

Brewed by the Náchod brewery in the Czech Republic
Stephen Beaumont writes:
A deep burnished copper colour, this 9% alcohol by volume lager has a whisky-ish nose so pronounced that it almost seems the beer could have been aged in wood. Its very sweet start shows brown sugar notes and leads to a sweet and sugary body with notes of fresh grass and toasted malt. The warming finish left me acutely aware of having just sampled a strong beer, but the taster in me longed for more complexity and flavour.

Brewed by the De Leyerth Brewery in Belgium
Roger Protz writes:
A 9% beer from Flanders, Belgium, it comes with a cradled cork that blew right out of the bottle and nearly took my head off. A hazy gold color, with a dense, rocky head; it has a delicious sour and fruity (sour pears? peaches?) aroma. The palate is tart, slightly sour, with hints of almonds, and is wonderfully refreshing. The finish is dry and the fruit is now decidedly of the apricot variety. Sour and quenching, a beer that bows in the direction of both West Flanders sour red and Senne Valley lambics.