Calories In Beer: Can We Please Stop?

diet-beer
This is one of those things that just drives me crazy: diet beer, low-calorie beer, low carbohydrate beer. That these things are so popular defies logic and common sense and is one of the best examples of just how effective advertising and marketing can be. In today’s Daily Beast there’s yet another list of the unhealthiest beers called the 50 Most Fattening Beers.

Here was their rationale. “The Daily Beast decided to determine which beers may not be the best for the buzz. Specifically, the beers were ranked based on which packed the most calories and carbohydrates for the least amount of alcoholic punch.” More particularly:

To ensure a wide range of beers were considered, we looked at the offerings of the largest 15 domestic breweries and the largest five international breweries based on import volume to the U.S. Our final list was whittled further so that no more than three variations of brews from a single brand of beer was included in the top 50. We used data from the manufacturers when available, using reliable third party databases if necessary.

So they went through this complicated process and applied some weird calculation that took into account calories, carbohydrates and alcohol content to tell you what beers you shouldn’t drink. Why? The calculations, as far as I can tell, seems to actually discourage drinking low-alcohol beers just because their caloric content is the same or more than other higher alcoholic beers. It seems incredibly wrong-headed to me to take into account high alcohol as a positive attribute just because it gives the beer more “punch.”

So using their calculation the worst beer in the world is Leinenkugel Berry Weiss just because it doesn’t have enough alcohol to balance the calories and carbs. In the real world that should be applauded; a full-flavored beer that’s low in alcohol is a great beer. That’s a session beer. It’s what you’ll find in the average British pub.

Looking at the list, it’s pretty hard to see any real patterns. I took the list from the slideshow the Beast has online. As far as I can tell, they’re meant to be in that particular order though it’s hard to see how they arrived at that order. It’s certainly not the reason that I won’t drink some of the beers on this list, which has to do with a far more important factor than this pointless numbers game: flavor. I touched on this before in Read This, Not That

If it’s just calories that are bad, there are plenty of beers that are over 300 and same deal with carbs, too. But so what? None of that really matters because those beers are meant to be sipped and, more importantly, shared. And for most of the beers below 300 calories, the majority are actually pretty close in range. Look over Bob Skilnik’s Does My Butt Look Big in This Beer? — which lists the nutritional values of 2,000 beers — and you’ll see that almost all of them are between 100 and 200 calories. Even in the Beast’s list, the lowest is 120 calories and the highest is 330, but the majority are below 200. In fact, only five are 200 or above. 90% are below 200. And actually three of the high five are just at the edge — 200, 205 and 207 — meaning it’s really more like 96% are in the same narrow range.

So the reality is that there’s not that much difference between most beers in terms of calories, and carbs too for that matter. Since drinking in moderation is the goal, 2-4 beers per day, then you should never choose a beer the beer with the least flavor. And that’s pretty easy to do since most are within a fairly narrow range by the numbers. It’s never enough to sacrifice what the beer tastes like for some meaningless number, be it carbohydrates or calories. And perhaps most importantly, you should never take advice from someone telling you what not to drink, not even me. Decide for yourself what to drink — not what not to drink — and let flavor be your guide.

The Beast’s Worst 50 Beers

KEY: Brewery Beer: calories per 12 oz. / carbohydrates / a.b.v.

  1. Leinenkugel Berry Weiss: 207 / 28 / 4.8%
  2. Grolsch Blonde Lager: 120 / 15.8 / 2.8% (though on the can it clearly states 4% a.b.v.)
  3. New Belgium 1554: 205 / 25 / 5.6%
  4. Sierra Nevada Stout: 225 / 22.3 / 5.8%
  5. Budweiser Budweiser & Clamato Chelada: 186 / 20.3 / 5%
  6. Leinenkugel 1888 Bock: 194 / 18 / 5.1%
  7. Michelob Honey Wheat: 175 / 17.9 / 4.9%
  8. Pilsner Urquell: 156 / 16 / 4.4%
  9. Sam Adams Boston Lager: 160 / 18 / 4.75%
  10. Sam Adams Boston Ale: 160 / 19.9 / 4.94%
  11. MillerCoors Frederick Miller Classic Chocolate Lager: 195 / 18.4 / 5.5%
  12. Leinenkugel Creamy Dark: 170 / 16.8 / 4.9%
  13. Boulevard Brewing Unfiltered Wheat Beer : 155 / 15 / 4.4%
  14. Budweiser American Ale: 182 / 18.1 / 5.3%
  15. Sierra Nevada Kellerweis: 168 / 15.6 / 4.8%
  16. Michelob Irish Red: 196 / 19.2 / 5.7%
  17. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale: 330 / 32.1 / 9.6%
  18. Red Stripe: 153 / 17 / 4.7%
  19. Michelob Pale Ale: 200 / 19.3 / 5.9%
  20. Smithwick’s Ale: 150 / 15 / 4.5%
  21. Yuengling Porter: 150 / 14 / 4.5%
  22. Yuengling Black & Tan: 150 / 14 / 4.5%
  23. Henry Weinhard Classic Dark Lager: 164 / 16 / 5%
  24. Coors Winterfest: 185 / 17.4 / 5.6%
  25. New Belgium Mothership Wit: 155 / 15 / 4.8%
  26. Genesee Brewing Premium Beer: 148 / 13.5 / 4.8%
  27. Anchor Steam Beer: 153 / 16 / 4.9%
  28. Grupo Modelo Corona Extra: 148 / 14 / 4.6%
  29. George Killian’s Irish Red: 162 / 14.8 / 5%
  30. Shiner Bock: 142 / 12.9 / 4.4%
  31. Blue Moon Full Moon Winter Ale: 180 / 15.3 / 5.5%
  32. Redhook Nut Brown Ale: 181 / 16 / 5.6%
  33. Genesee Cream Ale: 162 / 15 / 5.1%
  34. Harp Lager: 153 / 13 / 4.7%
  35. Henry Weinhard Blue Boar: 147 / 13 / 4.6%
  36. Henry Weinhard Summer Ale: 155 / 14.5 / 4.95%
  37. Shiner Blonde: 140 / 12.4 / 4.4%
  38. Shiner Hefeweizen: 174 / 14.3 / 5.4%
  39. Rolling Rock Extra Pale: 142 / 13.2 / 4.6%
  40. New Belgium Fat Tire: 160 / 15 / 5.2%
  41. Aguila: 122 / 10.4 / 3.88%
  42. Genesee Red: 148 / 14 / 4.9%
  43. MillerCoors Miller Genuine Draft: 143 / 13.1 / 4.7%
  44. MillerCoors Miller High Life: 143 / 13.1 / 4.7%
  45. Grupo Modelo Negra Modelo: 165 / 14 / 5.3%
  46. Yuengling Lager: 135 / 12 / 4.4%
  47. Schlitz Beer: 146 / 12.1 / 4.7%
  48. Schaefer Beer: 142 / 12 / 4.6%
  49. Guinness Draught: 125 / 10 / 4%
  50. Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale: 180 / 14.7 / 5.8%

Comments

  1. says

    Except when it comes to seasonal big bombs in the 8, 10 or 12% range. A 750ml of a quad or an imperial stout? Then you are talking something like one of those KFC Double Downs 600 to even 1,000 calories a bottle is possible.

    • Jay Brooks says

      Avery’s The Beast is had the highest calories in Skilnik’s book at 480, with 16.4% a.b.v. and 40.6 carbs. I think it would be pretty hard to reach 1,000. I don’t find it enough to get worked up over if I’m only having a couple of beers. The really big beers I prefer to share, so that’s even less of of a concern. But even if possible, I think my point still stands that the vast majority are not that high, and trading down to a low-calorie beer is just not worth the diminished flavor for very little caloric savings.

      • says

        Not to be a doofus, but I think you made my point. The Beast is described in BoB’s book as a 12 oz serving. A 750 ml bottle is 2.113 times bigger while a 22 oz bomber is 1.833 times bigger. So the bomber of a beer like Avery’s The Beast is 878 calories while a 750 ml of Allagash 11 is 619. There are plenty of beers in the 600 to 1,000 range and, frankly, I just don’t believe there are that many 12 ounces of beer evenings going on out there.

        I think there is a trade down conversation within the good beer range – forget the gak. Consider that Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout is 220 calories while their Expedition stout is 400. Over a life of evenings of good beer, it is a factor. Whether we each consider it as an important factor is another thing.

    • Jay Brooks says

      Thanks for letting me know they corrected that. I made appropriate adjustments and everything stayed roughly the same.

  2. says

    Jay, you’re looking at this from the perspective that beer is just like any other beverage, one that we drink for the pleasure of drinking it. It just happens that beer has alcohol.

    The people who are looking at this list don’t see beer as a beverage, thy see it as a vehicle. The destination of said vehicle is intoxication. I’m surprised MSRP wasn’t included, because if your goal is to get drunk, you’re concerned with the bottom line as much as your waist line.

  3. Sean says

    That is worst attempt at content fill I have seen on a website in a while. It might have made sense if the beers were similar in calories or carbohydrate numbers. But it’s all over the map. And it looks like it was ripped off someone elses list (who did the research) but the context of the original study was lost. Just stupid.

  4. says

    This is the most absurd list of “world’s worst” beers I have ever seen. C’mon, Pilsner Urquell? Bigfoot Ale? Anchor Steam?!!?

    Mario, you are right. They should have included price in their equation.

  5. Steve says

    I’d like to see a list of the Best 50 craft beers under the same premise.

    I enjoyed seeing the list, and even more so the conclusion that Jay reached: there really isn’t that big of a difference among beers of similar alcohol %. When drinking in moderation, choosing one pale ale over another will not have a significant impact on your waistline.

    That being said, I think dubbing calories a ‘meaningless number’ is a bit of a stretch. :)

    • Jay Brooks says

      Steve, I’m probably in the minority on that one, as I have never counted calories or considered it a valid method of being healthy. So while I acknowledge that many people do find them useful, for me they are just that, meaningless. I think calories are simply one way of measuring the food value of a given item, but it’s not the only method and calorie counting ignores too many intangibles for me, like taste or enjoyment. When I start choosing what beer to drink (or food to eat for that matter) based on the number of calories it has, shoot me. ;-)

      • Steve says

        Haha – well we certainly agree on two things: That great beer should be enjoyed by all and that there are much better ways to enjoy a beer than reading it’s nutrition label!

        BTW – love the blog – its one of my favorite parts of my morning routine :)

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