Serious Eats: Drinks
Bottom Shelf Beer: Bud Light Platinum vs. Bud Light
On Saturday afternoon, while the rest of you were high-living at your respective International Serious Eats Day festivals, Bottom Shelf research director Emily and I were biking all over Boston to compile evidence in our case against fast food fish sandwiches (the full report is probably around here somewhere). I hope you all enjoyed yourselves. We did manage to duck into the Boston party for a couple of quick minutes between Popeye's and Wendy's, and it was great to meet some SE'ers and whiskey-scrub some of the tartar sauce off my tongue.
But we weren't able to get into the full swing of things. It was the early stages of Em's first bike ride since November and I had to work later that night, so we couldn't drink enough to be optimally social. Anyone have any good stories of drunken charm or sober idiocy from the Boston event? How about the others? Did you fine fellows in NYC honor your obligation to get a little bit creepy on the editors? I hear the cereal columnist is pretty much single and very much pretty. Did she have to beat anyone down with a pillowcase full of Grape-Nuts?
But enough about your lechery and more about my fried fish. My beef isn't so much with the taste but rather with the very concept. I like to eat fish because it tastes pretty good, but also because in its naked or barely dressed state it's a healthier alternative to the walking animals. I made scantily clad salmon sandwiches Friday night; they were near to great, but they would have been even better if I'd used a little more lemon or a lot more lamb. That's just the way it goes, and I'm okay with the arrangement—as long as I get to go to bed feeling all smug and healthy. If you're going to batter and fry a thing, the thing might as well be a chicken leg.
I believe in having a balanced diet in the big picture, but I don't like trying to bother balancing a single meal, or even a single day. When I decide it's time to enjoy myself, I get deep-fried beef or pudding-crusted pork chops or whatever else my tongue desires. The rest of the time I make do with cucumber-cabbage soup and bide my time till the sun shines again.
By this accounting system, light beer is the same thing as fried fish: Depending on your lifestyle, it's either a half-assed indulgence or a half-assed health kick. I'll drink light beer when it's handed to me, but otherwise I base my beer choices on several different criteria, none of which involve calories. I'll get the cheap one or the good one or the high ABV one or the weird one, but I'll never get the one that wants a pat on the head for sparing me half an apple's worth of calories.
All that said, I've had one hell of a lot of Bud Light in the past couple of years. My favorite happy hour place is Bleecker Street Bar in New York, where happy hour lasts from noon to 8:00 pm seven days a week. That's right, there are 56 happy hours in a Bleecker week. The draft specials are (or were) 24 ounces of Bud, Bud Light, and Yuengling for $4.50. I don't much care for any of those beers—I really want to like Yuengling, but it just never took—so I usually ordered the Bud, since it was only one syllable.
But then I met Emily, who started joining me for Sunday happy hours the summer before last. She always ordered Bud Light bottles, because on Sunday afternoons she often lacks the focus and dedication necessary to drink 24 ounces of beer before it drops a couple degrees below keg temperature. So that left me drinking not only the heavier beer but also twice as much of it per round. I'd be fine with that now, but in the early days of our courtship I was self-conscious enough to meet her 1/10th of the way to restraint by switching to 24-ounce Bud Light, since I wasn't sure she did beer math the same way I did and I was afraid she might judge me.
Now there's a new Anheuser-Busch product called Bud Light Platinum. The angle here is that it has fewer calories than Budweiser (though barely, at 137 per bottle to Bud's 145; Bud Light has 110) but higher alcohol (6%, compared to Bud's 5 and Bud Light's 4.2). It's a pretty neat trick to increase alcohol while decreasing calories, so this seemed worth investigating.
I blind-tasted Bud Light Platinum and Bud Light, and I was surprised how easy it was to tell the difference. The Platinum is better. It's a simple and clean, and while it doesn't have any particular strengths, it manages to shed some of Bud Light's telltale weaknesses. Bud Light is just so damn Bud Light, you know? The Platinum has a little bit more malt sweetness and a tiny hop kick at the end, which isn't heaven but also isn't the typical Bud Light taste of cheap grain and stale paper. Bud Light always tastes old to me.
The one catch is that Bud Light Platinum set me back $7.40 for a 6-pack at the same store that charged $6.15 for Bud Light. I'm ready to call Platinum my favorite Bud product—I didn't include the original in the blind-tasting, but the quality difference from Light to Platinum was more pronounced than I remember it being from Budweiser to Light—but the "Is it worth it?" math gets complicated depending on your priorities. Platinum tastes the best and has the highest ABV, but it's also more expensive. Bud Light tastes like Bud Light, but it has the fewest calories. Budweiser is in the middle of alcohol content and flavor, and tied for best price. A difficult choice that's going to yield mediocre results no matter which side you pick. Delightful.
Final verdict: Next time someone holds a Bud gun to your head, run. If they catch you, get the Platinum.