Light lagers dominate the world beer market. These pilsner-style beers with fewer calories and fewer carbs than regular beers invest in high-dollar marketing campaigns to win the attention of beer lovers.
At the top of this competitive market are Miller Lite and Bud Light. For years, these two brands’ owners have gone after each other on taste, refreshment, and even one’s use of corn syrup, all in an attempt to claim light beer supremacy. But which is really the better light lager?
We examine one of the longest and ugliest rivalries in American Beer History, Bud Light vs. Miller Lite – which is the better beer?
The history of Bud Lite and Miller Lite is American history. The breweries of Anheuser-Busch and Miller chronicle the events that shaped the country; immigrants searching for a new life, the rise of industry and innovation, the lessons of National Prohibition, and the growth, maturity, and consolidation of the American beer industry.
Bud and Miller have a place in all of it, but the development of light beer in the 1970s and 80s focuses on their most popular beers.
Diet beer was first released in the US by a guy named Joseph Owades. Owades was an American biochemist who utilized enzymes to reduce the number of carbs left in the beer. The previously discovered process led to Owades’ work at Rheingold Breweries on a beer first called Gablinger Diet Beer. The beer was poorly received, but Owades shared the recipe with Meister Brau Brewery, who marketed it as Meister Brau Lite before going bankrupt. This allowed Miller Brewing Company to buy the rights, and the formula was again renamed Miller Lite in 1975. The third time’s the charm because Miller Lite quickly grew nationally and created a market for light beer offerings.
With the popular appeal of diets and exercise of the time, other beer makers quickly followed the introduction of Miller Lite with their own light beer versions. Coors Brewing Company resurrected Coors Light from a War Time hiatus in 1975, and Anheuser Busch launched Budweiser Light in 1982. It wouldn’t be long until the brewery remarketed the beer as Bud Light with its sights set on competing head-on with Miller Lite.
Today, Anheuser Busch is owned by Anheuser Busch InBev, and Miller is part of Molson Coors, but the two still jostle for light beer supremacy. This competition has been fierce over the decades and even ended up in court. Notably, when a Bud Light Super Bowl marketing campaign revealed that Miller Lite’s parent company added corn syrup to their fermentation process, Miller Lite claimed fowl. It didn’t matter that Bud Light used rice in their recipe or even that other light beers owned by AB InBev, like Natural Light or Michelob Ultra, also utilized adjuncts in their brewing process. Nevertheless, the ad and subsequent legal battle could be considered dubious rhetoric or brilliant marketing, depending on who you ask.
Brewing & Classification Process
Light lager is a subcategory of American Lagers. These beers are rooted in the tradition of European lager brewing but with an American twist that utilizes adjunct grains, namely rice and corn, to lighten the body and flavor. The key to a light lager is crisp, clean refreshment and the perfect balance of all brewing ingredients.
Additionally, light beers, like Bud Light and Miller Lite, must negotiate the need to be a low calorie beer offering with a marketable and popular beer taste.
Enzymes are introduced to the brew during fermentation to make a light beer. These enzymes aid the brewing yeast by further breaking malt starches into highly fermentable sugars. Without the help of this process, the chosen yeast would not be able to process the larger molecules adequately. The result would be a beer with the same alcohol content but not a low carb beer.
Appropriate light beer aroma is subtle but may have very low notes of grainy malt or hops. Yeast character is expected to be clean, never sulfury. There may be a slight mineral aroma that can be traced to water character or excessive carbonation.
Bready malt and a low herbal hop character that matches the flavor.
Light grainy malt character, but primarily neutral with some mineral-like carbonation.
Light beers are typically very pale straw to lightly golden. Most would just be described as yellow. These beers are highly carbonated but won’t have a lasting foam head like beers brewed with all barley malt will, so you can expect the head to collapse quickly. Light lagers should be very clear.
Yellow to light gold in color, very clear with a thin white head which dissipated in less than 60 seconds.
Very clear, light straw to yellow. White foam that disappears quickly.
The flavor profile of light beers are always low to very low and well-balanced. The malt and hop character should be low. The key for these beers is to be refreshing, not to compete on more taste, though that is a position some will take. Yeast character should be clean and neutral. Hop flavor should be restrained, and bitterness rarely is notable. Finally, the alcohol content is low, and its taste is barely noticeable.
Bready, lightly toasted malt. Low herbal hop flavor. Malty finish.
Neutral malt, light grain. Low hop bitterness and flavor. Balanced.
Mouthfeel describes the texture, weight, and different sensations of a beer that aren’t otherwise from the flavor. This includes the feeling of carbonation and any sensation from the alcohol. The finish of the beer can also be an attribute of mouthfeel. For instance, does the beer finish quickly, or is there a long-lasting sensation that may include other aspects of the beer?
Light beers should be crisp and highly effervescent and typically finish quickly.
It is highly carbonated with a low to medium carbonic bite. No alcohol. Medium body.
Highly carbonated, with low to no alcohol warmth, thin, soft to the low-medium body.
What Do Other People Think About Both Beers?
If you consider yourself a beer connoisseur, it might be difficult to see these popular beers as anything other that lite American Macro lagers, brewed in factories to appeal to the lowest common denominators of beer taste. The independent craft beer industry would very much like you to believe that. Nonetheless, light beer remains popular because it hits the spot in many situations. A cold light beer is refreshing and light on the taste buds, which many craft lagers fail to do. Light beers have their place, which may not be on the review boards of some of these beer-centric sites.
|2.3 / 5
|2.5 / 5
|1.24 / 5
|1.43 / 5
|4.3 / 5
|4.4 / 5
Which Light Beer is Better?
As a craft beer guy, diving into light lagers is fascinating. I encourage any beer lover to taste these beers, whether you’re into Big Beer or craft breweries. Many of us have tasted them against each other, but I made a point to taste them on separate days. It’s easy to parse differences when being compared side by side, but there is some value in choosing to drink one of these beers independently.
I was impressed – YES, IMPRESSED with Bud Light. I liked the malt character and overall balance of the beer. For a light lager that many describe as “thin and watery,” Bud Light has a nice body for the style. The weird part was that the body was almost sticky on the palate. I noted that as I drank it, I continually got the urge to spit. Please let me know if you have an idea of what that could be. It was not a natural part of the beer.
I was excited to drink Miller Lite. As a hop head, I remember Miller Lite having the most hop character from previous side-by-side tastings. Drank on its own, I did not have the same experience. I felt Miller Lite lacked the hop character I remembered and the pilsner malt character I expected. The recipe may have been tweaked since then.
These two beers command a hefty portion of the low calorie beer business. Their market share is indicative of their popularity and mass appeal. Your choice likely hinges on many factors that are personal, but for my money, I’m going to have to go with Bud Light.
I’m as shocked at my choice as you may be. It has more character than Miller Lite. Both are better than Coors Light, but that is another discussion.
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