Colorado brewers roll out lighter option

Call it the new generation of light beers
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Call it the new generation of light beers: Reflecting a national trend centered around healthy living, Colorado breweries including Oskar Blues, Ska, Odell and New Belgium have begun rolling out low-calorie, low-carb brews targeted at consumers with active lifestyles.

“Both in hardcore craft drinkers and craft-curious people, the lighter option is seeing a little bit of a resurgence,” says Aaron Baker, senior marketing manager for Oskar Blues, whose new One-y IPA has 4% alcohol by volume and 100 calories per 12-ounce can, as opposed to the 6.5% ABV and 150 calories in its flagship Dale’s Pale Ale.

“We were definitely seeing calls for that [lighter option], and younger drinkers are very health-conscious,” Baker says. “That was part of the reasoning behind it, but also it was just an exciting thing to try out. We wanted to see if we could nail it.”

In a similar move, Durango’s Ska Brewing in April released Aggrolite, a 4.2% ABV IPA with 99 calories in a 12-ounce can. Ska President and co-founder Dave Thibodeau says the brewery experimented with an enzyme called glucoamylase and various combinations of aromatic hops to create a true IPA experience in a lower-alcohol beer. The brewery has seen sales of Aggrolite increase every month since its release, fueled in part by warm-weather months and the outdoor activities they facilitate.

The low-calorie IPA, in particular, is a trend that’s growing nationally, with everyone from Deschutes Brewery in Oregon to California’s Firestone Walker getting in on the buzz. In Colorado, Odell’s Good Behavior, Avery’s Pacer IPA and WeldWerks’ Fit Bits all weigh in around 4% ABV and 100 calories per can. There’s even a nonalcoholic IPA from Denver-based Grüvi, which offers a large selection of nonalcoholic beer and wine.

“If you watch the beverage alcohol market over time, every generation typically wants to drink, but they want to drink differently,” says Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association in Boulder. “So we had light beer, then you saw low-carb beers, and now we’re seeing seltzer and low-alcohol IPA and hard kombucha. Every generation’s going to want different attributes, and a low-cal IPA may be one of the things that checks the attributes of the next generation of 21-plus drinkers.”

Brewers say that unlike many other beer trends, the low-alcohol movement seems to have staying power—and it’s expanding their market reach to younger drinkers and those who used to reach for a Bud Light or Michelob Ultra. In some ways it’s the opposite of the early days of the craft-beer movement, when bigger almost always meant better.

“For years, we were being super aggressive with the ABV and making the biggest, most outrageous beer we could,” Oskar Blues’ Baker says. “But it’s a great challenge, too, to create well-crafted lighter beers. I think lower ABV is here to stay, and I think the health-conscious beer drinker is here to stay as well, and we’ll continue to look at those things and experiment with them.”

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