Lagunitas Nails the Low-Cal Craft Beer

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Lagunitas Nails the Low-Cal Craft Beer

That title turned you off, didn’t it? Probably. “Low-calorie beer” is a dirty phrase in the craft beer world. Ditto “light beer” or “skinny beer” or any beer that suggests its construction will somehow harm your body less over the course of an evening. We can have “session beers” because it’s understood that we’re going to drink a lot of them in one sitting, and we’re not necessarily counting calories, we just want to be able to play with power tools or throw hatchets and keep drinking. Session beers have nothing to do with our waist line. But “low-cal beer?” That’s for jocks who drink Mich Ultra in between bench presses at the gym. We’re craft beer connoisseurs; we’re proud of our soft, doughy middles and double chins. We don’t care about the health consequences of the beer we’re drinking. Only the taste. The experience.

But let’s be honest—if there was a great craft beer that also happened to have less calories, we’d drink the hell out of it right? In a perfect world, beer would exist in a realm outside of calories and consequences. It would be an isolated event void of any repercussions. I would be able to drink several 10% adjunct stouts every night and still run a 6-minute mile. I also believe I should be able to watch episodes of Riverdale without my friends making fun of me, but I do not live in a perfect world. I am constantly teased about my obsession with teenage melodramas (RIP Vampire Diaries) and drinking lots of craft beer has the tendency to turn my abs into gnocchi. So, even though it is frowned upon, I am constantly searching for a low-calorie craft beer that still tastes like a craft beer. And honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with that quest. A great beer with less calories is the holy grail—the no consequences situation that exists only in the perfect world I previously discussed. Wouldn’t you want a zero-calorie chocolate chip cookie?

But low-cal craft beer is really hard to find. Most session beers come in at the 150 calorie range, which is certainly better than a barrel-aged stout brewed with donuts and extra gluten, but it’s not exactly Coke Zero. Guinness is often the “healthiest” option at a bar at 125 calories per pint. The industry standard for session IPAs is Founder’s All Day IPA, which comes in at 147 calories. Brooklyn’s ½ Ale is a step in the right direction at 102 calories. Evil Twin’s Bikini Beer might be the lightest craft beer known to man at 81 calories, but it’s only 2.7% ABV and honestly doesn’t have a lot going on. Sufferfest is a brand that was specifically built for athletes. Their Fastest Known Time Pale Ale has 3.5% ABV and only 95 calories. It was also brewed to remove gluten. Which is great. Kudos. But I don’t know what it tastes like because the distribution footprint is pretty small. Take a quick glance at the state of things and you realize that a great (read: tasty) craft beer under 100 calories is like a unicorn. It’s a myth. A legend that little girls whisper about while brushing glitter into each other’s hair.

Or so I thought. Turns out, Lagunitas makes a kickass IPA that’s only 98 calories. DayTime IPA isn’t a new beer, but the recipe has evolved over the years, and now Lagunitas is releasing it in cans for the first time. And if ever there was a beer meant for cans, this is it. Lagunitas is calling it a “fractional” IPA, which I like better than session IPA or light IPA because most of the time I don’t want to admit to myself that I want/need a “light” beer with less calories. But the fact is, DayTime is roughly half the calories of the regular Lagunitas IPA, which comes in at 180 calories per 12 ounce serving. But here’s what sets DayTime apart from the rest of the “light” craft beer crowd: it tastes good. It has roughly the same amount of calories as Mich Ultra, but it tastes like an IPA. Honestly, I think I like DayTime better than Lagunitas’ standard IPA. I know. That’s blasphemy, but there you have it.

DayTime smells absolutely wonderful, with heavy notes ofmango, melon and earthy guava. It pours really light, so light that you’d mistake it for a Miller Lite, and it’s essentially clear, but with a lot of carbonation and a decent head that sticks around. It is thinner than their standard IPA, without much of a malt backbone—that’s the undeniable truth of most session IPAs—but in this case, I’m okay with it. No, there isn’t a lot of sweetness, but there is fruitiness, particularly some bright citrus on the palate, especially lemon and grapefruit. But when I say fruit, I’m talking more about the rind than the pulp. More biting than sweet. There’s a pleasant bitterness on the backend and a really dry finish—almost as dry as some of these Brut IPAs that are popping up. It’s crisp, sure, but there’s also a creaminess to the mouthfeel before the dry finish (I believe Lagunitas used oats in the brewing process).

Is DayTime a perfect beer? No. Is it better than a big boy West Coast IPA? Of course not. But there’s a time and place for everything. Different jobs require different tools. And DayTime IPA is the right tool for the job when I want to pretend like I’m a healthy person who makes good decisions.