In almost every alcoholic beverage drinker’s journey, at some point, we’re exposed to beer, and, whether we realize it or not, that first beer is likely a low ABV beer. For me, it was Rolling Rock Extra Pale. Typically, beers in this category fall somewhere around the 4% ABV range. Some may have the words “light” or “pale” or the more grammatically incorrect “lite” in their title. For the most part, only the cheap, American lagers in this category were widely accessible and available when those of us now of drinking age were just starting to cut our teeth on beer.
Fast-forward to today, when the beer market is flooded with “imperial” this, “barrel-aged” that, and every other notion of drinking extravagance. Maybe it’s a symptom of this gluttony. Or maybe we’re all just getting old and can’t drink like we used to, but for every 10% pastry stout, it’s just as easy to find a low-ABV patio pounder.
Low ABV beers, those that we are going to define as less than 4% alcohol by volume, are having a moment in the craft scene. Unlike the drinking days of yore, the low-ABV beer options are endless, from IPAs to sours and fruited beers to straight-forward lagers. After gathering a couple of my thirstiest friends and tasting through a dozen of the most popular low-ABV ales on the market, these are the best beers that will only get you a little buzzed.
Sweetwater Guide Beer
For lager lovers and anyone who doesn’t want to veer too far from the low-ABV lagers guzzled by the masses, enter Sweetwater’s Guide Beer. This hoppy pilsner checked a lot of the boxes: It’s bright, clear, and blends fresh doughy malt flavors with a light herbal hop notes to create a clean, crisp beer. Aesthetically, the map overlay on the can lets you know this is a beer that is brewed for adventure and, at 4% ABV on the dot, it’s a beer you can drink in multiples. A side benefit, Sweetwater gives back 11% of the profit from this beer to help outdoors guides who are no longer able to pursue their life’s work. So, yeah, it might also conjure up warm, fuzzy do-good feelings while you drink it.
For years, I’d only associated Ninkasi Brewing with IPAs. When my initial research into low-ABV craft beers revealed its low-alcohol offering named Brightberry, I was excited to give it a try. Clocking in at 4% ABV, Brightberry is a simple sour wheat ale brewed with raspberry and lime. It pours a ruby red color with a slight pink head. The fresh bready aromas from the wheat malt base blend nicely with red raspberry flavor, a hint of lime, and an herbal hop finish to create a super drinkable brew. While nothing about this beer is standout, when you’re looking for a fruity, crisp patio-sipper, it gets the job done.
This beer wasn’t new to me, but it’d been a few years since it graced my fridge, so I was excited to try it. It tasted just like 2015. Which is a good thing, because it means this beer is consistent! Westbrook’s Gose is the kind of beer you’d want on a hot summer day. It’s sour, salty, and thirst-quenching and at 4% ABV is another day-drinker worth trying. A side note, Westbrook also brought out a key-lime pie flavored version of their gose which we also tasted. It’s tartness was more subdued and the strong flavors of lime melded well with it’s salty nature. In the end, though, Westbrook’s original gose, with it’s more potent sour-salty combo, won over our taste buds.
Reuben's Brews Tart Cherry Weisse
This beer is for the rosé ale lovers out there. It’s tart, dry, and bright, with tons of cherry flavor and a clean, crisp finish. While not meant to be a rosé ale, Reuben’s Brews could’ve fooled us with the light, fruity, rosé wine-like character of this beer. It’s meager 3.2% ABV means it’s also highly poundable, and dare I say, dangerously so. Because who am I kidding, I can rosé all day with the best of them!
Funk Factory Geuzeria Meerts
Last on the list, but certainly not least, Funk Factory Geuzeria’s Meerts is worth mentioning for those looking for a higher-end, unique, beer while still staying in the low ABV range. At 4.0% ABV, this was the most flavorfully complex of the beers sampled. This is most likely attributed to Meerts origins as a wild, spontaneous fermented beer, which in this presents as a balance of lemon tartness and rustic earthy flavors. It might sound complex, but this funky brew is still extremely approachable, even for those new to the genre.