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Lite-N Up

In honor of America, a blind tasting of light lagers.

American beer has moved on without us. As we’ve been drinking sour elderberry stouts in our Portland bubble, Budweiser has expanded into Platinum, Select and Black Crown varieties. Meanwhile, Coors cans have two temperature indicators and a weird vent thing, and Miller Lite pours through a vortex.

In honor of the Fourth of July, we decided to reacquaint ourselves with the suds of our younger years, revisiting what most of our countrymen still call "beer." That is, light (or lite) beer.

More than half of American beer is a light lager. Bud Light and Coors Light together account for nearly 40 percent of all beer sold in this country.

Honestly, we had no idea what to expect. Would we recognize Bud, Miller or Coors? Is Bud Light Lime more like kaffir or Key limes? Six WW tasters put the beers through a blind taste test to find out, grading these brews on a 100-point scale.

The lowest-calorie and lowest-alcohol brew in the bunch, Miller 64, actually won on flavor, barely muscling out Bud Light Platinum. Meanwhile, the two craftiest brews in the bunch—Sam Adams Light and locally made 4th Street Brewing Gresham Light—came in last. Rating just above them was another Portland sacred cow: the low-cal version of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

What did we learn? You can't beat corporate America on its own turf.

1. Miller 64 (61.8 points)

Regular Miller Genuine Draft is made with the same ingredients as Miller High Life. The difference? MGD was the first lager put through a process called cold filtering, which, unlike flavor-killing heat pasteurization, allowed it to taste more like kegged beer than competitors. This is the light version of MGD, a scant 64 calories and 2.4 percent alcohol by volume so you can easily pound a sixer all by yourself, just as George Washington intended.

Tasting notes:
“A little more substance that the others, but not too much.”
“Doesn’t linger, which is to its credit.”
“Refreshing. I like it.”

2. Bud Light Platinum (60)

What's platinum about this higher-alcohol version of Bud Light? Well, the bottles are an embarrassing hue of blue, and it's a weighty 6 percent ABV. It's also comparatively tasty.

Tasting notes:

“Sweet. Bright. I like it.”
“Weirdly citric.”
“Very tasty.”

3. Bud Light Lime Straw-ber-rita (58)

This is beer? Well, sorta. A tall boy of this bright-pink strawberry-margarita-flavored Bud Light doesn’t taste like it’s 8 percent ABV. If Mike’s Hard Lemonade tastes a little too bitter for you, grab one of these.

Tasting notes:
“Sweet and fruity. I can tell it’s strong but can’t taste the booze—there’s a time and place for that!”
“Like sugar and regret. Hello, spring break!”
“Tastes like Hi-C. Reminds me of the first time I got drunk on St. Ides Special Brew.”

4. Coors Light (53)

Remember when Burt Reynolds was paid handsomely to bootleg Coors beer from Texas to Georgia? That was regular Coors, back when the Colorado company still refused to pasteurize its product.

Tasting notes:

“The sparkler of beers: Totally inoffensive but equally uninteresting.”
“A little soapy, but I still like it.”
“Perfect for a pitcher and a night of Settlers of Catan.

5. Bud Light Lime (52)

Put some chili powder on the rim and you’ve almost got a Michelada. Algunos de los gringos no les gustó.

Tasting notes:

“There’s a lotta lime in this lager; tastes like Blue Texas.”
“I have had a lot of beer like this in Mexico. If you don’t like this, you’re maybe racist.”
“I’d prefer Tecate with a real lime.”

6. Miller Lite (48.3)

We poured this sample from a regular can. Had it been poured from a vortex bottle, the results may have been very different.

Tasting notes:

“Beer for sad people.”

7. Keystone Light (44.1)

Regular Keystone is only 120 calories and 4.5 percent ABV, so one wonders why anyone needs a 104-calorie, 4.13-percent ABV alternative, and yet here we are.

Tasting notes:

“Sharper initial taste. Kinda makes my teeth feel weird. I did go to the dentist today, so I dunno.”
“Tasteless. Is this water?”
“A bit sharp; also maybe floral?”

8. Bud Light (43)

You heard it here first: America’s best-selling beer is not as good as America’s best-selling beer spiked with lime concentrate.

Tasting notes:

“Dull. Fine. Chalky.”
“Depressingly middle of the road.”
“Supremely uninspiring.”

9. Busch Light (39)

They call Busch Light “sub-premium.” Yup.

Tasting notes:

“Some guy in Gresham drinks a case of this every night.”
“Carbonated boredom.”
“Like dusty air at a rodeo.”

10. PBR Light (33.3)

The little-seen light version of Portland’s standby brew did not impress our panel.

Tasting notes:

“Tastes like the vacuum of space. Does this exist?”
“Well, it’s liquid and fairly cold, so that’s cool.”
“Only tastes like urine if you warm it with your hands. Otherwise, it tastes like tap water.”

11. Gresham Light (19.8)

Local isn’t always better—at least not with light beer. Purchased in a growler from Gresham’s 4th Street Brewing, which is on 4th Street, in Gresham, this light version of a craft ale may have suffered from a lack of focus-group research.

Tasting notes:

“Actually has some hops.”
“Tastes like bread—awful bread.”

12. Sam Adams Light (16)

The most pretentious of the bunch, this snooty Bostonian brew was roundly despised by our all-American tasters. Sam Adams Light: it’s light treason.

Tasting notes:

“What a color! Too skunky.”
“Smells like garbage. Tastes like garbage.”
“Looks like beer. Tastes like garbage.”