Heineken announced today that it is set to launch its Heineken Premium Light brand nationwide after a “successful” test launch in four states last year. For years they resisted this and in fact that was the reason Amstel Light was created. For the big beer business, light beer is only the category that has shown much growth in recent years. Since our economy is built on naked growth without regard to consequences, the last few years have seen the introduction of such useless products as Corona Light, Rolling Rock Light, Sam Adams Light and Edison Light.
What nobody ever talks about, especially not in the media, is the fact that the caloric difference between a regular beer and a light beer is virtually insignificant. Not to pick on them — the numbers are about the same for all brands — but a 12 ounce bottle of Budweiser is 145 calories while Bud Light is 110 calories. That’s a difference of 35 calories, which is the caloric content of an average size orange. Big freaking deal. The way light beers are advertised you’d think light beer had almost no calories. Even if you had an entire six-pack you’d only “save” 210 calories, or a little less than a cheese omlette. An entire category of goods — light beer — has been built on nothing. The dietary benefits are all but illusory but the propaganda machine called advertising pounded home the opposite message for years and years. And the viewing audience, with a gullibility that knows no limits, swallowed it without question. So ask most people if light beer is healthier or better for you and they’ll reply with a confident “yes.” But that’s just a magnificent success by advertising of convincing people of something that’s simply not true or at best, is greatly exaggerated. Every time I see someone drinking a light beer I can’t help thinking “another duped fool.” Of course, most people who drink light beer probably don’t care about how bad it tastes because it’s unlikely they can taste the difference.
Ironically, the man who invented light beer, Joe Owades, passed away last month in Sonoma County. He created light beer for Rheingold Breweries in the 1960s and they marketed it as a diet beer. It failed. He then took the recipe to his next job with the Meister Brau brewery where they did reasonably well with it. In 1972, Miller Brewing bought Meister Brau and released Miller Lite, which neither tasted great nor was less filling. But as they say, the rest is history. I’d met Joe a couple of times. He was a nice man, and I’m certainly sorry about his death, but the hard truth is he was no friend of the craft beer industry. He believed that ale yeast was defective. Of course, the majority of craft beer is ale. So according to Joe, most craft beer is defective. Now to my knowledge he never explained how a naturally occurring living organism like yeast could be defective but such was his disdain for beer not mass produced.
But Joe’s legacy is one, I believe, that has helped to ruin people’s taste for flavorful beers. By selling people a more watered down product, the popularity of light beer fools people into believing that it is a healthy product that is good for them. But like most, if not all, mass-produced beers it is loaded with chemicals. As Garret Oliver put it, mass produced beers are “highly engineered food product[s], the equivalent of Wonder Bread, Twinkies, and Kraft slices.” So the end result is that people’s perception is that light beer, virtually unflavored, is the taste of health, diet and trendiness. So actual real craft beer that has few, if any, added chemicals and is loaded with flavors is perceived as unhealthy, fat-creating and by extension uncool. This certainly won’t give craft beer’s paltry 3.5% market share much of a chance to rise.
So while I think regular Heineken is undrinkable swill, a Heineken Light will almost certainly be even worse, which is frankly quite hard to believe. That Heineken is perceived as a “premium” beer is yet another amazing coup for the propagandists. The millions they’ll spend to convince clueless America that Heineken Light is a really good idea will no doubt succeed in further damaging the quest to increase the demand for better beer.