Bottom Shelf Beer: Which Is The Best Superlight Beer?

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor you don’t have to.




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Last Thursday I turned Meredith the pizza lady's birthday into an excuse to drink too much in the afternoon, because I'm the sort of thoughtful and generous friend who will buy you a belated birthday lunch anyplace your heart desires as long as your heart desires pizza and beer at an old-man bar.

Meredith doesn't drink much beer and she eats pizza for a living, but she's sweet as a peach and pretended to be excited to have her afternoon highjacked in pursuit of my vices. I had a blast and she had a headache and we both had pizza and it was a delightful time cut tragically short by my inability to drink beer for more than 6 or 8 consecutive hours in these, my golden years.

Bottom Shelf research fiancée Emily met us at another bar shortly after the sun finally died out, and she was in a great mood because the last thing she said before she left the house that morning was, "Hey, I have an idea, how about if I go to work and you go get drunk in the afternoon?" So she was ready for a good time, but I couldn't really keep up. I wanted to stay out all night, but I was too tired and bloated, so I just limped home to cover myself in barbecue sauce and glory while I considered the weighty matter of what kind of beer to serve at our wedding.

I'd just go the obvious self-indulgent route and serve my favorite beer, but my beer tastes are pretty fickle and I can't really declare a favorite. I drink Coniston Bluebird Bitter on special occasions, but I don't know how I'd get my hands on a keg or how I'd pay for one even if I did. A pint bottle of Bluebird goes for about $6.00, which gets awful expensive when you multiply it out by the necessary scores of big-drinking friends, family members, and Bottom Shelf readers.

But once we toss out the pricey Christmas-morning beers like Bluebird, money becomes much less of an object. If you go through a friendly bar manager, you can get a keg of, say, Rogue Dead Guy for about $140 around here. So that's what I intended to do, until I considered the implications of serving you animals 6.5% ABV beer in the sun all day. I looked around online and realized that most of the beers I favor are at least 5.7% ABV, which isn't going to keep me and Grandma Irene in top form through the pie-cutting ceremony.

Good beer has gotten a little too strong in the past half-generation or so. Look at Maggie's post on long-haul beers. Too many of our comments started with "Well, it's a little strong for a true session beer, but how about..." For an all-day formal-dress keg event, I would prefer to stick with something under 5 percent, which would be fine if everyone liked drinking 20 Guinnesses in the sun as much as they should.

This brings up another unpleasant matter: Not only can my guests and myself not be trusted to hold it together through a full day of high-spirited beer, some of the attendees like bland beer. The most disheartening part of brew-pub waiter training must be when the boss tells you, "And this is the one you give to people who ask for the one closest to Bud Light." Well, I think there are going to be a lot of those people at my wedding.

So I've started digging through online beer databases for something that will have less hops and less alcohol than I typically prefer, and of course these databases are crawling with standard American macrolagers, which means this is as good a time as any to consider the newish superlight beers from Michelob, Budweiser, and Miller.

These are the beers marketed around their low calorie counts—Mich Ultra (95 calories), Bud Select 55, and MGD 64—which I should have realized also means low alcohol content, since alcohol is so calorie dense. How do you cut half the calories out of a bottle of Miller Genuine Draft? Exactly as you suspect: by cutting half the alcohol.

Mich Ultra, the first of this dubious category, is also the highest in both calories (only 15 per serving less than Bud Light) and also alcohol (a respectable 4.1%). Bud 55 is 2.4 percent ABV and MGD's 2.8. Both of those strike me as a couple smidges too low to be of any use unless they taste excellent, and obviously they don't. I'm not looking to get Grandma Irene wasted, but I do want to get her dancing; under 3.0 percent ABV is ridiculous.

I will say, however, that none of these beers are gross. I mean, how could they be? If you take the relatively inoffensive light beer and water it down significantly, you get an even less offensive—and even less worth drinking—result. MGD 64 is my favorite. It's nearly odorless, but has a nice light malt taste lurking underneath the aggressive carbonation. Mich Ultra was the most mild-mannered, so I guess that makes it the best choice for calorie-counting beer haters. Bud Select 55 is noticeably darker than the other two and also has a more assertive taste, but that taste is not good. Cornmeal and cardboard, though not enough to make it undrinkable.