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September 10, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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Low Carb Beers

Smells like beer, tastes like beer

A student drinking a light beer makes a bold statement. That statement is generally either, “I’m the designated driver, can we go already?” or “I don’t really like the taste of beer but I do enjoy going to the bathroom a lot!”

Uniquely, light beer has a poor reputation with both students and beer anoraks. The student body tends to deride it for its lack of alcoholic content while the anoraks lament the general absence of taste.

The whole light beer issue is clouded by the differing definitions used. In New Zealand and Australia, light means lower- to no-alcohol beers. However, in the United States and Canada the term light (or “lite”) means lower carbohydrates rather than lower alcohol.

The style was invented by the Germans, who wanted to call it Diet Beer, but government health authorities were all over that. One of the most recognised beer slogans in the world is Miller Lite’s “tastes great, less filling”. The manly implication here is that you can drink more of the stuff.

This can all create some difficulties. Kiwis drinking Coors Light for the first time tend to be surprised at how hammered (and buff) they get. Conversely, Americans drinking Steinlager Light tend to argue our beers are weak and watery – this from the country which prompted one beer writer to ask the bartender to put his American beer “back in the horse.”

A year ago New Zealand had virtually no lower-carb beers available. However, in this increasingly health-conscious and image-obsessed world of ours there is a growing demand for lower-carb beers and they are starting to pop up on the shelves.

It was time to assemble the beer tasting panel v2.0. This time we had six tasters whose body shapes ranged from the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest upper body” to this generously proportioned writer. The venue was the semi-secret headquarters of this column and a suitably studious ambiance was provided by SummerSlam 2007 (“Woooooooo!”)

First up was the Australian import Pure Blonde (4.6 per cent). Even as the first beer of the night it was a bit watery (albeit “unsalted Perrier water” apparently) and a bit too close to a beer and tonic water shandy. It was gassy, dry and very lightly hopped with “one blade of grass perhaps”. Overall, a disappointing score of 17.

New Zealand’s first commercial lower-carb beer Mac’s Spring Tide (5 per cent) fared better with the comment that “a couple of hops were better than none.” It had some malt body and was relatively spritzy. Easy to drink, Spring Tide got a 20 on the judges’ scorecard.

The champion on the night was the very new Haagen Low-Carb (4 per cent) from Auckland’s Independent Breweries. It smelt the most like beer and tasted the most like beer and so picked up the highest score of 22.

While lower-carb beers are unlikely to find a regular spot in my beer fridge, I’m not exactly their target demographic. I predict strong sales for low-carb beers and a number of new entrants in this category. Personally, I still take “great taste” over “less filling”.

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