Lower alcohol (and lower calorie) summer beers you'll actually want to drink

Move over, watery light beer. From IPAs to hoppy pilsners to fruit-infused beers, consider adding one of these refreshing lower ABV craft-style beers to your backyard barbecue as summer heats up.
Image: A man carries cold pints of lager
In the warmer months, people sometimes look to get in a solid workout and have a little reward at the end with a light, cold beer.Image Source / Getty Images
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By Amanda Loudin

Rick Kranias loves nothing better than summer grilling and finding the perfect beer to complement it. He’s a self-described beer geek and part of the fun is learning about and trying new, seasonal options each year. He mixes and matches them with the tastes of summer, or simply enjoys one after a hot workout or an hour spent mowing the lawn.

Lucky for Maryland-based Kranias, there’s never been a better time to discover new beer options — the sky is the limit these days. This is especially true in summer, when fruits sometimes infuse and lighten up the offerings, or brewers make special, limited release versions of their heavier winter beers.

Michael Echeveste, beverage manager for the Yard House line of restaurants — which claims to have the world’s largest selection of draft beers — says there are several summer beer trends worth noting right now. “There’s a lot of emphasis on lower calorie, lower carb beer,” he says. “Alongside that, we’re seeing demand for lower- and sometimes no-alcohol options.”

In the warmer months, people sometimes look to get in a solid workout and have a little reward at the end with a light, cold beer. “There used to be a gap in the offerings in this regard,” Echeveste says. “But now we’re seeing that need addressed. There are a lot of options in this area now and I only expect that to expand.”

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The other summer trend is coordinating easily approachable beer with traditional summer foods. “Pilsner beers are actually making a comeback in this space,” says Echeveste. “This is not your father’s pilsner, but something a little hoppy that has a craft element to it.”

Speaking of hoppy beers, many people take breaks from today’s popular IPAs in the summer, but Kranias sees them as perfect pairings to a steak on the grill. “I like to drink a New England style, unfiltered IPA with a steak,” he says.

Because he’s Maryland based, Kranias also takes part in his share of crab feasts in summer. “The only way to go with crabs is a Maryland Natty Boh,” he says. “It’s a basic lager and it doesn’t compete with the flavor of the crabs or the Old Bay seasoning. It’s just the right thing to do.” (For an even lower-alcohol choice from the same brewery, reach for National Bohemian's new Day Beer, which clocks in at 110 calories with a 3.8 ABV.)

Other summer foods have natural beer pairings as well. Tacos? Turn to a Mexican, lime-infused option, or one of the innovative pepper-infused beers on the market. Seafood on the grill? Consider something with a bit of citrus and a little bit of sea salt for a beachside vibe.

Grab one of these summer six packs

As to hanging out and spending an hour on the patio or deck with a beer, just about everyone can find a fun, lower-alcohol beer to fit the bill. When it comes to refreshing, out-of-the-box options, especially of the fruit-infused variety, brewers have become incredibly creative. There’s something for everyone, and you might want to consider out-of-the-box options like these:

  • Shiner Light Blonde: Brewed in Austin, Tx, this award-winning beer checks in at a mere 99 calories without sacrificing flavor.
  • Harpoon Rec. League: A Boston favorite, Rec. League comes in at 120 calories and 3.8 percent alcohol, with a light, juicy/citrusy flavor that goes down smoothly.
  • Great Divide Roadie Grapefruit Radler: With roots in the cycling community, this might be the perfect post-ride beer. As the name implies, the brew incorporates natural grapefruit puree that results in an easy-drinking ale with a 4.2 ABV.
  • Lagunitas Daytime: Based in California, this lighter IPA comes in at only 98 calories, hitting on what Echeveste identified as an expanding summer trend of low-calorie options that still deliver big flavor.
  • Deschutes Brewery Da Shootz: This popular Oregon-based brewery delivers exactly what Echeveste considers one of the next-generation pilsners. Infused with citrus and at a low alcohol volume, this refreshing beer is aimed at that post-workout crowd, coming in again at a low 99 calories.
  • Firestone Walker Brewing Company Rosalie: Can’t decide between wine or beer? This California-based company delivers that sweet spot (with a 5 percent ABV).
Firestone Walker Brewing Company's Rosalie is a unique blend of beer and wine.Firestone Walker Brewing Company

With so many summer-forward varieties of beer available today, you may find yourself hosting plenty of cookouts to give them all a try. “It’s all about finding the right beer at the right moment,” says Echeveste. “They can add a crisp, lovely presence to the season.”

Traveling to new places? You might want to consider local options when stopping in new restaurants or breweries. This is the approach Kranias takes each year. “One of my all-time favorites is Saranac Brewery, which I pick up in the Adirondacks every summer,” he says. “Trying local beers is a great way to expand your horizons.”

Don't miss: 4 make-ahead batch cocktail recipes for summer

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