The quest for a good light beer

Lately I’ve become a bit of a wine snob, which despite being very enjoyable and cultured and all that, has plenty of drawbacks – one being the financial expense, the other being alcohol content. When you hit your quarter-life crisis stage like me it can be irresponsible to drink too much, so some compromises need to be made.

So I like having a glass of wine now and then, that’s fine. But I like having a beer now and then as well. That’s why I came up with the genius idea of trying light beer – so I can have the best of both worlds… Smart, right?

Trouble is, I’m also a beer snob. I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of, with all the amazing microbreweries popping up around Victoria creating a huge range of delicious options. The situation presents a challenge, however, when it comes to low-alcohol beers, which are renowned for tasting like watered down versions of something that wasn’t super special in the first place.

So I’ve begun a quest. A quest for a good light beer. Maybe you’ve never ordered a light beer in a bar or restaurant (yes I can hear a pile of blokes scoffing at the suggestion), but I’ve noticed there’s an issue there. Responsible drivers have little choice: Cascade Premium Light… or water.

Cascade Premium Light (2.6%): Displays an uninspiring, cheap taste.

Cascade Premium Light (2.6%): Displays an uninspiring, cheap taste.

Over the past few years Victoria has had so many new boutique microbreweries experimenting with various exotic styles of beers, many of them super hoppy and full-flavoured. Many of us have become accustomed to this gourmet style, so the mainstream light choice, Cascade Premium Light, just doesn’t cut it anymore. 

I want to find a light beer I can enjoy enough as much as a Little Creatures Pale Ale (well nearly as much). I want the option to choose something that I can drink for the sake of flavour and be confident I can drive home afterwards. Or to be able to sample some of that pricey Shiraz and still be conscious enough to fully appreciate it.

So I decided to visit a few specialty beer shops to find out what their options were.

James Boag’s Premium Light: the obvious second choice.

If you walk into a bottle shop, bar or restaurant and ask what selection of light beers they have, you very often get a choice of Cascade Premium Light or James Boag’s Premium Light. I’d say the flavour of Boag’s is probably less offensive than Cascade’s, but there’s nothing too special going on either. It’s definitely got that dreaded watered-down taste.

James Boag's Premium Light (2.9%): Just a 'beer' that's certainly missing something.

James Boag’s Premium Light (2.9%): Just a ‘beer’ that’s certainly missing something.

Prickly Moses Otway Light: The light beer that started it all.

My Quest for a Good Light Beer really started when I was working casually selling the Prickly Moses range from Otway Estate and was quite impressed with this beer. It’s great to drink and doesn’t taste like water. Many people had a taste test of it and decided to include it in their mixed six-pack (check out the rest of the range – they have some great stuff).

Prickly Moses says on its website that most light beers are actually diluted with water (that would explain the watery tastelessness of some of the mass produced ones I guess). These guys reckon they use up to four times the amount of raw ingredients as other light beers… making for a much tastier, full-flavoured option. Awesome.

Prickly Moses Otway Light (2.9%): A 'real' light beer that gets my thumbs up.

Prickly Moses Otway Light (2.9%): A ‘real’ light beer that gets my thumbs up.

Bluetongue Premium Light: Another good choice.

I first discovered Bluetongue beers at a pub in Dinner Plain that had it on tap a few years ago. It’s a boutique brewery situated in Warnervale, NSW, that makes about four different styles of beer, including this quality light option. Bluetongue’s website also stresses that this beer is “brewed to be full in flavour but light in alcohol”.

I’ve found it to be an easy-drinking, delicate option. It’s certainly not as full in flavour as many heavy beers, but the flavour it does have is satisfying enough for my light beer occasions.

Bluetongue Premium Light (2.7%): Another yes from me.

Bluetongue Premium Light (2.7%): A quality choice that gets another yes from me.

Grand Ridge Brewery Almighty Light: “Almighty” is actually not an understatement when it comes to flavour – this one’s a winner!

I coudn’t believe my tastebuds when I first tried a sip of this beer from Mirboo North, Vic. It has a seriously huge flavour compared with the other light beers I’d tried so far. Grand Ridge says it’s brewed this beer “specifically for the Australian palate”, meaning it’s a crisp, full-flavoured pilsener – and I reckon you’d hardly notice the low alcohol content.

Grand Ridge Brewery Almighty Light (2.9%): Almighty in name, almighty in flavour.

Grand Ridge Brewery Almighty Light (2.9%): Almighty in name, almighty in flavour.

Aigua de Moritz: The foreigner without a hint of alcohol.

Aigua de Moritz was the only beer completely free of alcohol I came across in my (hardly comprehensive) light-beer travels. I stumbled upon it in a boutique wine shop in Carlton.

Its website says it comes from Barcelona and is “the only” non-alcoholic beer made from mineral water. Bold claim, I reckon.

The guy in the shop said (with a smirk) it was “like a Corona at the start and like water at the end”. And I guess I agree. Definitely a good choice if you actually want zero alcohol.

6 Aigua de Moritz barcelona

Aigua de Moritz (0.0%): Actually alcohol-free.

Sun Dancer: Oh. my. How do they make it this amazing?

I struck gold when I visited a little shop in Essendon called Prince Wine Store. The guy laughed and looked at me kind of funny when I asked him “what light beers do you have… that are actually good?” We searched the fridges for a while, until he remembered the Sun Dancer.

I’m finding it pretty hard to get the facts straight on Sun Dancer – my bottle said it was from Denmark, but the website says its brewed in Belgium. Either way, it’s an imported European light specialty, and it is incredible. Hoppy, full-flavoured and complex, you’ll hardly notice or care that this beer is low in alcohol.

Definitely my favourite and I’ll be surprised if anything else tops it anytime soon.

Sun Dancer (2.7%): Absolutely incredible.

Sun Dancer (2.7%): Absolutely incredible.

I had a fair bit of fun tasting and comparing all the different light beers I could find in the few boutique stores I visited. This is certainly not a comprehensive list and I am certainly not a beer-reviewing expert (although I have done a fair bit of it in my time).

The main issue I have realised in my travels is just how small the range of light beer is in virtually every bottle shop, bar and restaurant. I suppose there just isn’t the market to carry a huge range of options, and many of these boutique microbreweries and importing companies simply can’t get around to every venue. Shopping online is probably more and more going to be the way to purchase these kind of specialty choices, even though I still love a good browsing trip to the shops.

Although I’ve definitely hit on some great-tasting success so far, let the Quest for a Good Light Beer continue…

What are your suggestions of quality light beers? On what occasions would you drink the stuff? 

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