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For all the enthusiasm surrounding the craft beer boom and its burly porters, full-bodied stouts and hoppy heavies, there’s a fact that shouldn’t get lost in the world of suds: light beer remains the once and future king of beers.
These beers are defined as having a lower ABV (typically around 5%) and a lower amount of calories (or both), which includes a lot of pale lagers. To navigate this pervading category, we found the best light beers to drink today.
Best Overall: Inedit Damm
Michelin-starred chef Ferran Adrià crafted this beer with Barcelona’s Damm Brewery and his world-class sommelier team, resulting in a unique extra lager that combines a malted-barley pilsner with an ale-style wheat beer. This is for those in pursuit of a lighter style that doesn’t sacrifice the full range of flavors and complexity often reserved for bigger beers. It pops with elements of licorice, coriander and orange peel. Clean and slightly acidic yet creamy, there's also a spark of sweetness that adds fruitiness to the finish.
Adrià wanted a beer that could rival wine’s ability to pair with fine foods, though it’s excellent on its own as well.
Best Budget: Miller Lite
Known as the original light beer, award-winning Miller Lite has just 96 calories and 3.2 grams of carbs. Easy drinking with a classic golden hue, this beer has a Galena hops-driven aroma and a crisp, but slightly sweet finish. This is about as dependable as a mainstream American pilsner gets.
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Best Irish: Guinness Draught
Most beer drinkers are familiar with the nitro smoothness, caramelized and chocolate character, and deep roasted coffee color of Guinness Draught. Still, at a low 4.2% ABV, it's a light beer. (Even Guinness Extra Stout has a 5.6% ABV.)
It’s also versatile enough to pair with Irish standards like soda bread or bangers and mash, or for use in beer cocktails, shots and layered drinks.
Best Low-Carb: Lagunitas DayTime IPA
Lagunitas DayTime IPA barely brushes the scales with 98 calories, 3 grams of carbs and a 4% ABV. This craft beer doesn't sacrifice flavor, though. It’s easy drinking, hoppy and balanced, bursting with citrus and tropical fruit, as well as a complexity many wouldn’t expect with limited alcohol.
Best Japanese: Hitachino Nest White Ale
After starting with sake in 1823, Kiuchi Brewery has been brewing beer as a family across eight generations, with this witbier at the forefront.
Its creators call the light-bodied, Belgian-style white ale “soft and flavorful,” and they’re accurate. Flavored with coriander, orange peel and nutmeg, it’s explosively fragrant and carbonated with a pleasantly dry finish.
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Best Mexican: Tecate Original
Using the brand's long-trusted formula, Tecate Original has a reasonable 141 calories, 4.5% ABV and a classic flavor profile that distinguishes it in blind taste tests. You’ll be hard-pressed to find something this accessible and full-flavored yet light-bodied.
"The palate-cleansing effervescence and hint of sweet corn in Tecate makes it perfect not only for summer, but for anything fresh off the grill," says Anthony St. Clair, an author and long-time beer critic.
Best Wheat: Allagash White
Allagash’s brewers call this witbier their "interpretation of a traditional Belgian wheat beer," spiced with flavors of coriander and curaçao orange peel. Experts celebrate its mouthfeel and interplay of sweetness and bitterness.
"One of my all-time favorites," says Merideth Canham-Nelson, an author and experienced beer traveler. "It has a refreshing balance of citrus and spiciness, [and it's] easy drinking with a lower ABV."
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Best Pale Ale: Harpoon Rec League Pale Ale
From Massachusetts-based Harpoon Brewery, this is a rare hoppy and hazy light beer at 3.8% ABV and 120 calories. Kris Calef, owner of MonthlyClubs.com, identifies the nose as herbal, grassy and overall “very inviting,” giving way to flavors that are simultaneously bitter, earthy and citric.
"It has a pretty unusual flavor profile,” he says. "I like it enough that I'd seek it out [over] other session IPA options."
Best Belgian: Saison Dupont Farmhouse Ale
Saison Dupont is a classic Belgian farmhouse ale with a vibrant nose full of citrus, star anise, esters and aromas of fresh bread. It’s one of the strongest light beers in the market, but it's still super crisp and dry with a 6.5% ABV.
"The complexity of fruitiness and funkiness makes it an exciting beer to drink,” says Canham-Nelson. “It tingles with effervescence and finishes dry. In spite of its humble farmhouse origin, it has an elegance befitting a nice dinner.”
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Best Hefeweizen: Primator Hefeweizen
At a smooth 4.8% ABV, Primator Hefeweizen is Bavarian in style, unfiltered, and built around malted wheat, malted barley, Saaz hops, proprietary yeast and pure mountain water. Its lively aromas of clove, fruit and yeast are striking, and its flavors of banana, orange and mango expand on that complexity.
One of the best hefeweizens in the market, it was even voted "World's Best Beer" at the World Beer Awards in 2013. "This is a really solid Czech brewery nailing the style," says Calef.
Best Pilsner: Ninkasi Pilsner Cold Fermented Lager
Ninkasi made a name for itself with its bold and bright IPAs. The company also strives to give back to the community through its Beer is Love program, which supports various causes.
Its beers are exemplary, too, including this pilsner. St. Clair calls it his favorite on the planet. "A refreshing hop bite is the cornerstone of any thirst-slaking pilsner," he says, "and Ninkasi's mix of European hops packs intense aroma and enhances the crisp mouthfeel."