Today’s big news in big beer is Anheuser-Busch’s release of Bud Light Platinum, just in time for some football game that I keep hearing about. The new beer will step out in a tall, sleek blue bottle on the screens of chicken wing-mowing football fans in commercials set to air during Sunday’s Superbowl XLVI. But with 137 calories per bottle (compared to regular Bud’s 145 and Bud Light’s 115), isn’t Anheuser-Busch just reinventing the wheel, shining it up, and then spending fistfuls of money to advertise it? Perhaps, but what does set Bud Light Platinum apart from its other Buddies is a significant increase in alcohol by volume, or ABV.
Platinum weighs in at 6 percent ABV while regular Bud has 5 percent and Bud Light 4.2 percent. What’s in a percentage point though? Well, aside from its obvious ability to get one drunker faster, it supposedly tastes sweeter and fuller-bodied—more like the craft beers that are taking the beer world by storm.
Light beer has been delivering low-ish calorie, alcohol-tinged, skunk-flavored water to the masses since it came on the scene in the 1970s, and even today every other beer sold in America is a light beer. Low-alcohol beer costs less to produce because it requires less raw ingredient (which we’d like to think are hops and barley, but are often rice and corn in the mass-produced brands). And, because it takes two light beers to every one regular beer to feel the effects of alcohol, more units are moved. Which, of course, begs the saying: If it ain’t broke… But big brewing companies like Anheuser-Busch and Coors reported 3-5 percent sales losses the past two years, while the craft beer industry is basking in a 12-16 percent annual growth rate. These are figures significant enough to get the big boys all sudsed up.
Taylor Smack, owner and brewmaster at Blue Mountain Brewery, thinks that the shift is attributable to newly-legal beer drinkers, as opposed to big beer drinkers changing brews. “Every day a Bud drinker dies and a craft beer drinker turns 21. It’s that simple. We’ve passed the tipping point,” said Smack.
So, will Bud Light Platinum satisfy both the light-drinker and the craft-drinker as Anheuser-Busch hopes? And, if so, will it do so for the long haul, or just on game days? While the average football-watching endomorph doesn’t seem concerned with counting calories, light beer is the chosen brewski of NFL viewers in part because of advertising (Bud Light paid $1.2 million to be the NFL’s official drink this year), but also because fans want to ingest mass quantities without getting wasted (craft beers average 6-12 percent ABV) or getting so full that they don’t have room for that seven-layer dip. When games last three to four hours and there’s pre-game and post-game drinking to do, that’s a good thing.
Smack doesn’t think that being a craft-drinker and a light-drinker have to be mutually exclusive though. “I have craft-savvy friends who order the best-of-the-best craft beer when pub-hopping, having an upscale meal, or enjoying cooking at home, but have no problem with a go-to domestic light beer when it comes to extended football watching. Even I tone it down during a big college football Saturday. But people just haven’t quite figured out yet that there are good, lighter-bodied traditional pilsners, wheat beers, and British session ales that fit the bill about as nicely as a light beer,” said Smack.
Having potty-trained a daughter not too long ago, I can’t help but consider the frequency of bathroom breaks a considerable disadvantage of light beers, but I guess that’s what zipper flies and instant replays are for.
The fact of the matter is, the newer generations, especially in a locally-proud town like Charlottesville, are more and more demanding of a genuine, quality product. “Craft beer is real beer; it’s history, and it reflects America’s great and varied immigrant roots. Craft beer tastes better, and it’s a whole food without chemicals, preservatives, or industrial tampering. It’s here to stay,” said Smack. With 1,949 craft breweries currently open in the U.S. and another 915 on their way, they’re the team with the best odds of all.