If you are like me, with a passion for good beer but bothered by increasing waistline that only seems to increase with increasing age, it is difficult to keep drinking beer. I have tried switching to beer alternatives, single malt for example. But whiskey is not really a beer substitute. I tried switching to low calorie light beers but they taste like beer flavored soda, not good. So, I set out to find great tasting beer with relatively low calories and here is what I found.
As The Beer Wench has pointed out, “all you really need to know is that sugar content and calories in beer directly correlates to its alcohol content.” However, in my limited search experience, I found limited data to validate this claim. To test whether this is really the case, I downloaded alcohol, calories, and carb data for the Top 250 Beers rated by beer drinkers and compiled by RealBeer.com.
Of the two hundred beers, 135 had information on total calories and 87 had information on carbohydrates content per 20 oz. volume. I found that there is a highly significant correlation between calories and carbohydrates (Spearman’s rho=0.74, P<2.592e-16), which may seem obvious. Interestingly, I realized that the non-alcoholic beers have high carbs even though they have lower total calories (blue dots in top left figure). I also compared the calories and carbs to alcohol by volume (%ABV). I found that ABV is also significantly correlated to calories as well as carbs (Spearman’s rho=0.86 and 0.51, P<2.2e-16 and 3.853e-07, respectively). Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot was a clear outlier in both comparisons. Also with Sam Adams’ Triple Bock, has with very high ABV and therefore, very high calories and carbs (top right figure). If you do not want your waistline to increase exponentially, you may want to stay away from both these beers. So, The Beer Wench (@thebeerwench) was right: all you need to know is the ABV. The data suggests you should avoid higher ABV for lower calories.
These results created a moral dilemma: should one sacrifice taste for calories? More importantly, does this mean no craft beer? That would really be terrible! Fortunately, there are many great tasting craft beers with low calories but finding the right one is very challenging. I really did not have time to analyze data on all craft beers, hence I chose to work with BeerAdvocate’s Top 250 Beers. Each of these beers is rated by 150-12,000 people. A “Weighted Rating (WR)” score is generated for each beer “using a Bayesian estimate that pulls data from millions of member ratings (not hand-picked) and normalizes scores based on the number of ratings for each beer.” If that is complicated, don’t worry. The point is, I had 250 of the best beers and my job was to pick the “cream of the crop.”
I was curious to see what styles of beer are most popular among Americans. I found that ales were the more popular than lagers. People liked American ales the most followed by Belgian/French, English, German, and Scottish ales in that order. Surprisingly, lager does not seem to be please the palettes of this group of beer afficionados! Among the ales IPA and Stouts were highly rated, which is awesome because I love both. I was surprised to see that several of the American Wild Ales (AWA) were also rated high. I have tried very few of them. A few porters were also highly rated.
I decided to look at the distribution of ABV for all the 250 beers in the dataset. I was very surprised to find that the median ABV was 9.0! This raised a strong possibility that the survey may be highly skewed towards high-alcohol beers. To test this, I compared number of votes casted per beer to its alcohol content. I found that beers with moderate ABV (~7.5%) received the most votes. This means many more people tried beer with moderate ABV than beer with high ABV but those who tried high ABV beers also rated them highly.
Anyway, it does not look like the data is biased so I decided to split the Top 250 Beers by their styles and focused on IPA, AWA, stouts, and porters. In the subsequent figures, purple indicates higher scores and yellow indicates lower scores. Ideally, you would want to find beer with yellow color for “%Alcohol” column and with blue color for “Rating” column. For example, Maple Bacon Coffee seems to be the best Porter for the calorie counters (6.3% ABV with 4.4 WR). Whereas the calorie-concerned may go with slightly higher rated Everett (7.5% ABV with 4.49 WR). Although, Twilight of the Idols is not that bad (7.5% ABV, 4.29 WR), you may want to avoid Collaboration Series: Rue D’ Floyd (14.4% ABV). Similarly, among the Stouts, Founder’s Breakfast and Péché Mortel (Imperial Stout Au Cafe) have the least calories ( (8.3% and 9.5% ABV and 4.51 and 4.38 WR respectively). I am thrilled that one of my most favorite beer, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale (7% ABV and 4.27 WR), is among the highly rated low-calorie IPA 🙂
I am really excited that each of these lists have several beers that are highly rated but have relatively lower calories. I am certainly going to try them in months to come and I hope that this list serves you well in finding your favorite beer as well.