"I put on too many pounds this October," moaned longtime pal Bernice. "Most of the calories were from beer, I'm afraid," she added. "The Oktoberfests killed me." Bernice and her husband Frank are avid Oktoberfest participants. Every fall, they drive hours to attend the beer-swilling festivals all over Southern California. But the steins are catching up with her. I suggested light beer. She grimaced. "That's not beer." I set out to prove her wrong. The next day I wandered the alcohol aisle of Trader Joe's. A salesman pointed out two brands. "We don't have a lot to offer in light beers," he said. Snatching up the two six-packs they did have, I headed around the corner to Beverages, & More. They offered a larger selection. As I jostled 11 six-packs of light beer into the shopping cart, a salesman asked me what I was doing. "Oh, I would love to taste beer for work," he replied. "I know when I took a home-brewing class years ago that we tasted some of the brews only a tiny bit colder than room temperature. The man leading the class said that the bad flavors could be masked when the beer is chilled on ice."
I steered my overflowing cart to the car and headed home. That evening, with husband Patrick, who shares Bernice's love of the dark, heavy beers, I invited over a few friends. Sarah, Theresa, and John all are regular light-beer drinkers. I had left the beers in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, following the suggestion of the Beverages, & More salesman.
I secretly popped open the first bottle, Coors Light ( $5.49), and passed around a tasting glass. "This screams Coors Light," immediately spouted Theresa. I burst into laughter at her knowing taste buds. "It's flat and icky," she continued.
"One of my favorite light beers," replied John.
"It has to be freezing cold to be refreshing," added Sarah. I began to worry about getting a consensus on anything.
The next two bottles tasted like sour cider: Rolling Rock's Rock Green Light ( $5.99 ), which has 83 calories and 2.4 grams of carbs, and Aspen Edge ( $5.99 ), which has 2.6 grams of carbohydrates. "Too sweet. I want my beer a little more bitter than this," added Theresa. "The Aspen Edge tastes like rotten hops," noticed Patrick. We set them both aside as losers.
Next swig was 95-calorie Michelob Ultra ( $5.49 ). The store label said, "The first beer with very low carbohydrates (1/2 of what popular light beers have)." "Thin on taste," noted Patrick.
"I like the lighter flavor," argued Sarah. "You can drink a lot of it and not feel full and heavy."
"Tastes like water," said John.
It was clear that there was a philosophical rift among my testers. Some thought light beer should be thin and refreshing and not have a lot of actual beer taste in it. Others -- well, Patrick -- thought it should taste like a full-bodied beer with fewer calories and carbs.
Next the cap came flying off of Beck's Premier Light ( $7.49 ), only 64 calories and 3.9 carbs. "I would not have known that was a light beer. It tastes like a quality beer," said John.
"Too heavy and dark for me," Theresa added.
"You guys are on drugs," Patrick exclaimed. "Regular Beck's is good beer, but this stuff is watery and tasteless."
We termed the next two "frat house beers." Budweiser Select ( $5.49 ), with 99 calories and 3.2 carbs, "smells and tastes like a drunken party, like flat keg beer spilled on a fraternity house carpet," said Sarah.
"I kind of like it," joshed ex-Greek John. "I acquired my beer taste drinking cheap keg beer." Frat house beer number two, Miller Lite ( $5.49 ), has 96 calories and 3.2 grams of carbs and featured that same all-American cheap sour beer taste. But at least it had a more full-bodied taste and more carbonation. "I like cheap American beers because I am an American," John proudly stated. I knew Bernice would never drink it, so I set it aside.
Corona Light ( $7.49 ) was a crowd pleaser. A 12-ounce bottle had 105 calories and five grams of carbs. "If you like that slightly skunky taste and smell of regular Corona," said Theresa, "then you will like this beer. It tastes just like the regular Corona; you'd never know it was the light version."
Amstel Light ( $7.49 ), 95 calories and five grams of carbs, sparked more disagreement. "I could drink four or five of these; it has a decent light flavor," noticed John.
"See, I would rather drink one quality full-bodied beer, then four light beers," stated Patrick the purist. "This Amstel has a stagnant water smell to it."
"This makes me feel full and bloated," said Sarah.
"Sour acidic taste," Theresa chimed in.
Words were flying again about the 124 calories of Sam Adams Light ( $6.99 ). "If I want to sneak in some light beer at one of my parties," explained Theresa, "I'll buy Sam Adams Light, because the guys can never tell the difference."
"I think it's too dark and heavy for a light beer, though," complained Sarah. "People who want a light beer want something that's refreshing along with an afternoon barbecue. They are not going to want something so heavy as this."
"I think you guys just don't like beer," replied Patrick. "This is the first one that I would actually buy. It has a nice microbrew taste -- it's a keeper."
We finished up with the two brands from Trader Joe's. Coastal Light ( $3.99 ), 95 calories and 3.9 carbs, carried a citrus smell and taste. "It's not a bad taste, but it doesn't taste like beer, more like wine or a malt beverage," said Sarah.
"Strangely thin and bitter," complained Patrick.
The 107 calories and 4.9 carbs in Rialto Light ( $3.99 ) fared even worse.
"I'm thinking more like medicine, like Alka-Seltzer," replied Sarah.
"It's a diluted honey taste," added John.
The consensus of the evening was to buy Sam Adams Light for beer-loving Bernice. For true light beer lovers, Michelob Ultra, Coors Light, Miller Lite, and Corona were the picks.