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Beer - Variations On The Lights

Updated on October 28, 2009

All of the brewing parameters depend on how you define light beer. As already stated, Americans define it as a beer lower in calories than the standard beers. However, in most other top beer producing countries, light beer refers to beer with less alcohol than regular beers. This actually makes more sense in light of the fact that most of the calories actually result from alcohol. If you focus on lowering the alcohol level, you will also see a concomitant reduction in calories, even if you do retain the unfermentable carbohydrates. However, if your goal is to reduce calories while maintaining nearly the same alcohol level, you really have no choice but to limit the amount of dextrin which carry through to the final product.

Several beer styles offer possibilities for those who want to brew a low alcohol light beer with all the flavor, color, and body of real beer. They include the English mild and ordinary bitter, Scottish light ale, Irish dry stout, German Berliner weisse, and American wheat. You can even brew a lower alcohol but more flavorful version of American lager. These styles typically start at a lower gravity and therefore, have less alcohol. However, brewers of these styles don't sacrifice flavor and character.

According to beer experts, mild is a beer designed to be consumed in quantity. Thus, it is often referred to as a session beer. However, mild is consumed more as a restorative than a refresher. With an original gravity of 1.030 to 1.036 and at between 2.5 and 3.6% alcohol by volume, the mild is certainly low in alcohol. This, together with the fact that it is also light bodied, made it a popular lunch drink, especially with the working class. The name "mild" refers to the hop character, which is very light. But, unlike mainstream light beer, mild is not light in flavor. It can be a bit on the sweet side, as there is less hop character to balance the malt character.

In contrast, the more highly hopped ordinary bitter is drier and crisper tasting. However, in many ways it is similar to mild. It is also fairly low in gravity (1.030-1.038) and alcohol (3- 3.8% by volume) and is also a popular session beer. It is light to medium-bodied and can range in color from pale to medium brown. Ordinary bitter is the lightest form of bitter. Beers carrying the designation "special bitter" and "extra special bitter (ESB)" are stronger and heavier.

The Scottish light ale, often referred to with the designation "60/-" meaning 60 shilling, is another good possibility for those seeking lower alcohol brews with flavor. This style is low to medium in body and amber to dark brown in color. As with the English mild, Scottish light ales are hopped lightly and the flavor is dominated by malt character. Brewed from original gravities between 1.030 and 1.034, 60 shilling ales range from 2.5 to 3.3% alcohol by volume.

Though typically not thought of as a "light style" due to its dark color and robust flavor, dry stout is actually rather low in alcohol when compared to many other styles. Although it is probably higher in calories than the aforementioned styles, its caloric content is in line with mainstream American lagers. For a light bodied dry stout, one could begin with gravity at the lower end of the typical range (1.035 to 1.050) and use one of the more attenuative British ale yeast strains (75 to 77%). Dry stouts generally have an alcohol content of 3.2 to 5.5% by volume. To keep the alcohol near the low end of this range, you will have to start with a low gravity and/or finish with a high gravity.

Continued In: Beer - The Light Refreshment Quotient

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