It’s often said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. But, if we were to propose a third guarantee, it might very well be that American drinkers will go heavy on light. That is, light beers from big mass-market brewers.
Despite the emergence of complex, flavorful craft lagers and the like in recent years, light beers from brewing giants continue to dominate industry sales. Perhaps surprisingly, in the several years of doing our We Asked series, we’ve discovered that many lovers of the ubiquitous category happen to be small, independent brewers. It was this adoration that impelled us to reach out to the group for their thoughts on the best examples.
Sure, these global beer brands aren’t going to fill the glasses or Instagram feeds of hardcore beer enthusiasts — certainly not as often as a hazy, heavily hopped double IPA or sugar-induced pastry stout, anyway — but as we stated during a blind tasting back in 2018, their strengths lie in being cheap, consistent, and constructed for easy, lengthy drinking sessions. And, in being everywhere. For many of us, they also hold a certain nostalgic or sentimental value, taking us back to a special person or time or place. Comforting crushers, you might say.
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Many contend that mass-produced American beers are indistinguishable from one another. But, is that really the case? After reading through these picks from our panel of experts, you might think twice before carelessly reaching for the first label adorned with the word “light.”
So, what are the finest widely available light beers available right now? Below, 23 brewers around the country share their go-to picks.
The Best Macro Light Beers, According to Brewers:
- Miller High Life
- National Bohemian
- Coors Banquet
- Reissdorf Kölsch
- Sapporo Premium Beer
- Modelo Especial
- Presidente Light
- Busch Light
- Michelob Light
- Miller Lite
- Pabst Blue Ribbon
- Montucky Cold Snacks
“Miller High Life, out of a bottle, is hands down the best macro lager available. And I’m not just saying that because I’m from Milwaukee! There is a reason brewers can be seen drinking it behind their tables at beer festivals. It’s crisp and crushable, but also has more flavor than many others in the field. The addition of corn in the grist adds a smoothness to the mouthfeel and perceived sweetness that is so well balanced by hop bitterness. The magic of it all is that at the end of the day, it still just tastes like beer. You don’t need to think about it to enjoy the High Life.” —Kyle Vetter, founder, 1840 Brewing Company, Milwaukee, Wis.
“I would have to choose Miller High Life. This choice is a bit nostalgic and goes all the way back to my college days, when High Life was a fancy splurge. And then later, during my days living in Milwaukee, where I was introduced to pony bottles to accompany my Bloody Mary. I have always found it to have just enough flavor to keep things interesting, but it’s always so crisp and easy to drink as my bottle or can is generally gone by the time I blink.” —Eric Tennant, founder and head brewer, Benchtop Brewing Company, Norfolk, Va.
“Definitely National Bohemian. Partially because Natty Boh is more of a local brand, having roots in Baltimore, and partially because if I’m drinking light macro beer, I want something as slammable as possible that won’t offend my palate.” —Earl Holman, co-founder, Crooked Crab Brewing, Odenton, Md.
“As a Maryland brewery owner, many in my state are partial to Natty Boh. But let’s be clear: Natty Boh is NOT a Maryland beer. Among my brewing peers, Miller High Life also has a huge following here. I have no issue with living the High Life. But it’s not my favorite. For me, when I need a crisp ol’ reliable, I head straight for the Yellow Bellies. The Rocky Mountain Kool-Aids. The Golden Bois. Yes, I prefer Coors Banquet. I cut my teeth learning to love beer and beer culture in the shadow of the Front Range, and every little stubby buddy I crack takes me straight back again.” —Brendan O’Leary, co-founder, True Respite Brewing Company, Rockville, Md.
“As for domestics, my favorite is the Coors Banquet. Incredibly clean and balanced. I used to be a High Life guy and still am a fan of it, but the Banquet is just a better flavor, and more flavor!” —Sam Kazmer, president, Elsewhere Brewing, Atlanta
“Coors Banquet is my go-to macro beer, for sure. Crisp, light-bodied, dependable, refreshing: What more could you ask for? It doesn’t get much better than cracking open a fresh Banquet after a long hike, except maybe enjoying an Abomination lager!” —Joshua Arno, co-owner and brewer, Abomination Brewing Company, North Haven, Conn.
“I’m going to have to pick Coors Banquet. I recently learned that not only is Coors the largest brewery facility in the U.S.A., but the company also malts its own grains on site. Banquet is exactly what you expect: crisp and refreshing with little flavor, so very light on the palate. If it’s hot outside, this will do the trick!” —Judy Neff, founder and brewer, Checkerspot Brewing Company, Baltimore
“We’ve been crushing a lot of Moosehead lately. It feels more balanced and less sweet than other macros. Maybe even more of a hop presence, pushing it slightly away from bland yellow fizz. Definitely an all-day drinker.” —Cheyne Tessier, co-founder and brewer, Origin Beer Project, Cranston, R.I.
“Every Tuesday, I sit in the same barstool at my favorite bar and listen to Chris Blevins play some absolutely devastating songs. A bartender named Greg cracks a Pacifico for me when I walk through the door, and it’s on a coaster before I’ve even found my seat. I usually have been fishing for the previous two hours on the stretch of river that runs through town, so I drain half the bottle in the first swig. I think my favorite macro beer is all about memories and setting. Pacifico has been my fishing and honky-tonk ritual beer for most of the decade. I see the yellow label and sip the beer while a cache of shows, fish, and folks attached to moments that are attached to the Pacificos drank in those moments tumble their way out of the blurry past. And Pacifico, being the most balanced and clean of all macro beer, doesn’t distract me from this memory waltz and instead acts as a mediator through it. A selfless companion of sorts. And being from the middle of the country, my adjunct of choice will always be corn.” —Jake Miller, co-founder, Heirloom Rustic Ales, Tulsa, Okla.
“My love for true German kölsch started with my father, and his in the 1970s when my grandfather was stationed in Germany. My first beer job was managing a college bottle shop, and my dad’s first and only request was that we import a case of Reissdorf. At that point, the only kölsch I had had was a great local one: Mother Earth’s Endless River. So when the bright red and metallic gold bottles of Reissdorf came in, I was hooked. It took me 10 years in the brewing industry to really appreciate how well balanced, clean, and absolutely crushable Reissdorf is. And now, every spare tank that opens up I push for a kölsch, hoping to perfect the style one day. Hope you’re having one up in heaven, Butch!” —Nick Rowe, director of production and sales, Booneshine Brewing Company, Boone, N.C.
“As a young sprout growing up in the ‘80s, I shared a white Hamm’s fishnet jersey with my brothers — so, this could be the indoctrination speaking — but I think Hamm’s is the best macro lager. With Hamm’s, it’s partly more about what it lacks than what it delivers. All too often, the behemoths of macro lager contain telltale aromas that are imparted by the choice of yeast, specifically green apple candies and banana Runts. I love it when lager yeast takes a back seat and only lifts up the other ingredients. In Hamm’s case, you are greeted with a waft of balled-up Wonder Bread from the malt and a smooth and luscious mouthfeel from the corn syrup (which the can promises is not high-fructose). They may have thrown one single hop in the kettle as it is not a bitter beer, but at least it smells like the barley it comes from and not the candy-like fermentation byproducts the others in its class produce.” —John Marti, owner and head brewer, Lowercase Brewing, Seattle
“When it comes to macro lager, Hamm’s fires on all cylinders for me: clean and easy to drink, nostalgic old beer can vibe, and the northern lake-driven marketing speaks to my soul. Beer from the land of sky blue waters.” —Matt Moon, owner and head brewer, Another Moon Brewing, Hudson, N.Y.
“Hamm’s. It’s clean and crisp, with the character and quality of a Miller High Life but at a lower carbonation that makes it far less filling.” —CJ Golobish, head brewer, Liability Brewing Co., Greenville, S.C.
“If we had to choose one macro beer as our favorite and that we still drink on occasion, that’s going to be Sapporo Premium. There’s just something about this Japanese lager’s crispy, carbonic bite that flows so well with the rice adjunct and mellow bitterness from the Sorachi Ace hops. It’s one of those beers that just hits the spot in the hot, humid weather here in Texas. Melissa [Mendez, head brewer and wife] and I have had it in Japan and in the U.S., and the level of consistency is fantastic and admirable. Gold star for Sapporo!” —Steve Mendez, owner, Project Halo Brewing, Fulshear, Texas
“Modelo Especial might just be my favorite macro light beer. It has a fresh, crisp taste and always brings me back to days at the beach whenever I add a lime and have one with a good meal. It has a nice, slightly bitter finish that pairs well with almost any food and it always feels festive breaking through that gold foil on the bottle.” —Luke Kemper, owner, Swamp Head Brewery, Gainesville, Fla.
“Modelo is the best macro light beer. It’s remarkably versatile and is a staple in my fridge at home. It’s much sweeter than other offerings of its ilk, and I’d normally consider that a fault. However, this sweetness offers enough support to lift the beer with a squeeze of lime, a rim dressed in salt and Tajín, or a few dashes of Tapatío in the can. When the weather gets nice, I like to spend time around our fire pit with a group of pals. We’ll usually cook some skirt steak over the fire while eating on some ceviché, and Modelo is typically the liquid appendage to this experience.” —Garrett Crowell, owner and brewer, Yokefellow Brewery, Johnson City, Texas
“My favorite macro light beer would have to be Modelo Especial, but as it’s served at La Perla, an awesome, family-owned cantina in East Austin. La Perla is the source of the world-famous ‘Ar-Modelo,’ a simple drink made with Modelo, fresh lime juice, salt, and hot sauce. The ladies of Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ and I went to La Perla (with their mom!) after a wonderful Tacos of Texas event at our brewery one night. We played the jukebox, danced, and drank Ar-Modelos all evening!” —Amy Cartwright, founder and president, Independence Brewing Co., Austin, Texas
“Presidente Light! That shit hits when you can find it.” —Robyn G. Weise, assistant brewer, Wild East Brewing, Brooklyn
“I love the profile Busch Light has for a macro. It’s definitely nostalgic. Also, it’s a great beer to add a little salt on top of the can.” —Alex Rich, brewer, Xul Beer Company, Knoxville, Tenn.
“Michelob Light. Not Ultra. No adjuncts, good protein structure, foams like a real beer. Runner-up would be Miller Lite. Mild DMS comes across like beer flavor in an ultra-light body, and no weird esters like in Ultra.” —Mikey Lenane, co-founder, Return Brewing, Hudson, N.Y.
“Miller Lite, and it’s not even a debate.” —Randy Booth, head brewer, Twin Barns Brewing Co., Meredith, N.H.
“After spending the day navigating the intricacies of a wide variety of craft beer, it’s nice to just slam a few crispy lagers that are simple, refreshing, and consistent. And for me, that’s usually PBR. I think a lot of folks think brewers are slamming IPA when they’re off, but in reality, I’ve got a fridge full of PBR and Cold Snacks.” —Marshall Jones, brewer, Oddstory Brewing Co., Chattanooga, Tenn.
“You can find Montucky Cold Snacks everywhere, including sporting events. It’s a crushable lager with simple notes in the malt and hops that make for an excellent companion to many meals and hangouts.” —KT Wiles, brewer, Blackberry Farm Brewery, Maryville, Tenn.