People are gullible. We hear a story that sounds slightly plausible, we have no prior knowledge to refute it, and we unquestioningly accept it as true. Well, I don’t, of course. But other people do. It’s always other people who make mistakes.
The advent of email and internet message boards has made the spread of urban legends so easy and fast that several websites have been launched to disprove all the nonsense that appears in your inbox. Snopes and UrbanLegends are two of the most popular, and if you don’t check them anytime someone forwards you an email with a story that sounds too incredible to be true, you are doing yourself a great disservice. Sometimes the subject of these tall tales is beer, so here’s a handy reference to dispel a few of the myths.
One popular myth is that dark beer is stronger than light-colored beer. My educated guess is that this myth originated with a tiny granule of truth. “Light” beer is just regular lager that has been diluted with water, so in the world of mass-produced lagers beer that is very light in alcohol is lighter in color than normal strength beer. Furthermore, prior to the craft beer revolution most of American beer culture had its roots in German beer culture. Traditionally, the most famous American brewers were all German immigrants (Schlitz, Busch, Coors, Pabst, Stroh, etc.), and the strongest beer in German brewing culture is doppelbock, a very dark beer, so it’s not all that difficult to see where some people have gotten the idea that darker equals stronger.
I hope that most Hopped Up readers have moved past that legend and understand that some stouts have only 4 percent alcohol while some very light-colored Belgian style ales may have 10 percent or more alcohol. It’s the amount of malt used per batch that determines alcohol content, not the color of the malt. Guinness is one of the lowest alcohol beers you can find in your local supermarket.
Even more widespread than the dark/strong myth is the belief that if you buy beer cold at the store and let it get warm, it’s ruined. Some people actually believe that letting beer go from refrigerated to room temperature ruins beer. Nonsense.
Beer is more temperature-sensitive than wine, true. If you keep that six pack around for a few months, it will taste better longer if you keep it refrigerated than if you store it in a cabinet. And temperature extremes are harmful to beer. So don’t go freezing it, or letting it sit in your trunk for several days in 100 degree heat (although a few hours in high heat isn’t much of a threat). But you can let a bottle go from cold to warm back to cold a dozen times without doing any more damage to it than if it had stayed warm the entire time.
Another myth is that drinking light beer helps maintain your girlish figure. Depending on how you drink, that’s not entirely false. But you should at least understand how it may not hold true.
Light beer has fewer calories than normal strength beer, which is only possible because it has less alcohol. Alcohol has calories and you can’t slice 50 or 100 calories out of a beer without lowering the alcohol content of it. So while a standard American lager has around 150 calories and 5 percent ABV, an American light lager has around 100 calories and 4.2 percent ABV. And the newer, super-low-calorie beers advertising 64 or 55 calories have less than 3 percent ABV.
So, if you are the type of person who is going to drink just one beer no matter how much alcohol it has, or if you always drink exactly two beers (or whatever your preferred number may be) then yes, by drinking light beer you will definitely consume fewer calories and that may be important to you. But if you are the type of person who enjoys the effects of alcohol as part of the beer drinking experience (as I think most people are), you will end up drinking a much higher quantity of light beer to feel those same effects than if you drink stronger beer. So your calorie intake from beer is probably going to be nearly the same regardless of the strength. And I’d rather drink one 8 percent ABV beer with flavor than two 4 percent ABV watery beers.
Then again, sometimes I’d rather drink two 4 percent ABV beers with flavor, so I’m glad there’s a growing movement in American craft beer to brew more session beers. A flavorful craft beer with 4 percent alcohol is “light” in terms of calories and alcohol content, but without the TV commercials.
If you know of any other funny claims about beer that I missed in this column, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and co-organizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to email@example.com