Loyal follower and beer lover J.M. Hancock asked me whether it was possible to make a lite homebrew beer, and whether it was heresy to even ask such a question. First of all, no it is not heresy. Most of us who are homebrewers do not aspire to make light beer but there is technically nothing wrong with that. We just have different tastes and that’s okay. So kum bah yah, pass the dutchie, whatever. It’s cool. And keep in mind that Lite American Lager is a legitimate style of beer, even though many of us do not hold it in high regard.
First, let’s agree that light beer, at least for this discussion, is simply beer with a low calorie count. It does not have to be bland, even though that might be how we think of it. This definition is opposed to “light beer,” which refers to color, as in light versus dark. Notice the difference in spelling – lite versus light. So for the purposes of this post I am talking about low-calorie beer.
Is it possible? Yes. It is possible to make a lower-calorie version of whatever you like to brew normally. What this requires is understanding where the calories in beer come from, which is partially carbohydrate content (and occasionally bacon fat). If you can lower the residual sugar, you can eliminate some of the calories. Will you get rid of all of them? No. If you want a zero-calorie beverage, I recommend water. Unfortunately, calorie intake is part and parcel of enjoying a beer.
The good folks over at Brew Your Own published a solution to the problem of calories in beer. My gym teachers used to tell me it was exercise, but I am glad I got past that nonsense. It turns out that you can add a little bit of Beano to your fermentation vessel to convert nonfermentable sugars to fermentable ones. Then the yeast gobbles up the sugar and makes more alcohol. Mr. Wizard did an experiment, making a brew he had made many times, but splitting it into two batches – one experimental and the other was the control.
He was able to make a beer with 122 calories per 12-ounce serving from a beer recipe that normally has 133 calories. That is not a huge jump in calories, but when you are keeping track, I suppose every little bit helps. What is more impressive is that the remaining carbohydrates were significantly reduced – by 53%. when you consider that the prevailing thought nowadays is that most weight gain is from carbohydrates, this becomes a pretty serious consideration.
The resultant beer was also higher in alcohol, weighing in at 5.2%, as opposed to the control batch, which was 4.7%. So not only is it lower in carbohydrates, it is also higher in alcohol. If only we could figure out a way to retain the fiber of the grain and still have it taste good, we could finally legitimize beer as the miracle food we all know it is.