Beer & Wine Beer

5 Low-ABV Beers to Try Right Now

The latest trend in beer is shrinking ABVs.

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Low-ABV beers / Laura Sant

Over the past decade, American beer drinkers’ demand for ever bigger and bolder flavors has pushed hazy IPAs and pastry-laden stouts to the brink of, and often past, double-digit ABVs. Simultaneously, the wellness movement has inspired brewers to explore non-alcoholic options, spurring newfound variety and quality in the zero-proof field.

More recently, brewers have turned their attention to beers that split the difference. Shrinking ABVs, in the 2 to 4% range, are proving a growing trend.

“Two percent-ABV beers make a world of sense,” says Pete Ternes, co-owner of Chicago’s Middle Brow Beer Co., which has brewed almost exclusively 3 to 4.5% ABV beers for five years and released its 2% ABV By Day beer in 2020.

Brewers are creating low-ABV beers that are just as complex as their boozier counterparts, says beer writer and author John Holl. “After years of pushing ABVs into the stratosphere, they’re going in this different direction and looking to coax nuance and depth into these low-alcohol beers,” he says. 

Ternes agrees. “There’s so much cleverness in brewing these days,” he says. “It’s possible to produce immense complexity in beer, whether derived principally from yeast, hops, or malt, with a little extra reading and practice.”

Take the 2% Beer Initiative, a project from Jack Hendler, the co-owner and brewer at Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers and Springdale Beer Co. Hendler hones in on every component of different beer styles to reconstruct complex and flavorful iterations of classic types with significantly lower alcohol contents. Echoing Ternes, Hendler says he has seen the beer industry begin to seriously factor in consumers’ increasing interest in mindful drinking. So-called “small beers” are a response to an overall shift in American drinking culture. 

Craft brewers across the country are meeting this demand by creating complex and high-quality low-ABV beers. These are the standout options when you’re beginning to explore the trend.

Allagash Little Grove Sparkling Session Ale with Blackcurrants (3.8% ABV)

Allagash Little Grove Sparkling Session Ale with Blackcurrants / Laura Sant

An iconic founding member of contemporary American craft beer, Maine’s Allagash Brewing Company is a safe bet for balanced brews with Belgian-inspired bites of fruitiness and spice. Its sparkling session ale is bright and effervescent, with the perfect harmony of sweetness and tartness. You might find it hard to believe it’s only 3.8% ABV and 100 calories.

Anchor Little Weekend Golden Ale (3.7% ABV)

Anchor Little Weekend Golden Ale / Laura Sant

Pilot brewer Dane Volek says Anchor Brewing Company has been experimenting with lighter beers for several years at its San Francisco tasting room and has seen an increasing demand for these smaller brews. This spike in interest inspired the creation of Little Weekend, a golden ale with just 100 calories but plenty of mango flavor. “This is a beer you want to take with you to the park, to the beach, on a hike,” says Volek. “It’s inspired by the spirit of getting outdoors; it won’t slow or weigh you down.”

Bell’s Light Hearted Ale (3.7% ABV)

Bell’s Light Hearted Ale / Laura Sant

Bell’s Two Hearted ale is credited with creating the mold for perfect IPAs and has consistently been voted the best beer in America. The Michigan brewery has translated Two Hearted’s crisp and bitter punch of citrus and pine into a light option that’s sure to please any IPA lover. The Light Hearted ale has a 3.7% ABV and just 110 calories, but it boasts plenty of flavor and body.

Goose Island Brewing Co. So-Lo IPA (3% ABV)

Goose Island Brewing Co. So-Lo IPA / Laura Sant

Not all IPAs weigh in at over 6 or 7% alcohol, and big hop flavor doesn’t have to mean big booze. Goose Island’s So-Lo is proof. The 3% ABV beer has a bouquet of citrus and herbal notes and a nice presence of bitterness will satisfy IPA drinkers—plus it’s only 98 calories. Brewer Quinn Fuechsl was inspired by his own needs to craft this beer. “Over a year ago, I became a new dad and knew I wanted to make some small changes toward a healthier life, including the beer I was drinking,” he says. “What I needed was a full-flavored beer that had all the hop character I loved but was still sessionable and balanced.”

Sunday Beer Light & Tight Anytime Lager (3.8% ABV)

Sunday Beer Light & Tight Anytime Lager / Laura Sant

Sunday Beer co-founder Eric Schulz says the company was born out of a quest for quality local craft beer that was friendly to active lifestyles and parenthood. “We’ve always said the goal for Sunday was to be interesting enough that if you really wanted to do a sit-down tasting, there’s enough there to pay attention to,” he says. “Or you could just sip on one with your friends and not be labored by a discussion of hops, malt, and yeast—the choice is yours.”

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