Craft alternative to macro-light beer • Craft Beer Restaurant Reference Library


Across American restaurants today, Bud Light and a handful of similar macro-brewed light-lager brands (Miller, Coors, Corona and Amstel) make up a huge chunk of beer sales. If you'd like to liberate your restaurant from this rather boring mass-market standardization, but not hurt your business, there is a right way to go about it.

The decision process we recommend begins with taking a cue from your wine list. It’s always best if your beverage concept is consistent through wine, beer and spirits. Which of the following best describes your establishment?

  1. 1.If you are selling mostly inexpensive, under-$20-per-bottle wine labels (like Yellow Tail, Jacob's Creek, Woodbridge, Ecco Domani, Barefoot, Smoking Loon, etc.), then selling beers like Bud Light, Miller Lite, or Corona would be consistent with your establishment’s beverage style and character. There’s nothing wrong with that. To add craft appeal, you should consider mixing in a couple of lighter-styled craft beers for variety.

  2. 2.If on the other hand your typical wine sales price is over $7/glass and above $20/bottle, then you should really be offering craft beer alternatives to the mass-marketed light beer brands. Otherwise you run the risk of having your beer selection detract from the high-quality, unique image you desire for your restaurant.

Restaurants offering craft-beer alternatives to Bud Light and Corona, etc. achieve several important business objectives. These include:

  1. satisfying customers with great tasting, more intriguing, food-friendly beers;

  2. increasing interest in your beer offerings from the cachet afforded by small local breweries, specialty microbrews, and national craft beer labels;

  3. differentiating your establishment from the competition; and

  4. increasing profit per bottle sold.

The selection process

Today, lighter-styled craft beer alternatives are available in all major markets of the country. You are looking for craft beers that have more delicate hop and malt profiles.  You will want to explore the lighter craft beer styles including:

  1. pale lager/helles lager,

  2. pre-Prohibition lager,

  3. kolsch,

  4. American wheat ale,

  5. crystal weizen,

  6. golden ale,

  7. cream ale, and

  8. lighter blonde ales.

Each of these craft beer styles has a storied history and and is interpreted widely by artisan brewers, both here and abroad. These are year-round workhorse beers that complement a variety of foods. Work with your distributors, local microbreweries, and regional craft breweries to come up with a list of candidate beers.

Selecting the set of beers you will offer is a very important decision and needs to be uniquely yours. It's best to conduct a tasting panel at which all the candidate beers can be evaluated together at one time. Your tasting panel should include a couple of light beer drinkers along with your beverage/bar manager(s) and chef(s). Serve the beers at proper temperature for tasting—not too icy cold.

What to look for

For your Bud Light alternatives you are looking for beers with a fresh taste—crisp, clean and balanced, not too bitter or sweet and without a lingering aftertaste. Due to their styles, you should not expect a lot of taste complexity here. However, they should not be watery or bland, but should have a pleasant touch of fruit, flower, spice, vegetable or mineral. You want light body, not no body. You also need beers that form and hold a nice head. They should be easy to drink with an emphasis on cleanness, balance and food friendliness. Lagers for this use should not taste sweet; ales can have a touch of malt sweetness, but should still finish fairly dry.

The best beers will pair well with multiple items on your food menu, so always have a representative selection of dishes at the tasting for comparisons. Which of the beers are most food friendly? Use that criteria to make the final cut.

At the conclusion of the tasting panel you will have the list of lighter-styled craft beers that is right for your establishment. Since the lighter-style beer category is so popular, carrying at least two lighter-styled craft beers is a good idea. For variety, consider offering beers from more than one style category and/or geographic region. For example, you could offer both a lager and an ale, an American and a European, a local microbrew and one from a state across the country, and so on.

Once your new Bud-Light alternatives are in house, sample them with your wait staff so they can gain enthusiasm for them and can vouch for their taste with customers. Provide some brief training information about where the beers are from, style descriptions, and the foods they would pair well with. Because the beers may also be new to many customers, it really helps to have short written descriptions of taste and food pairing suggestions on your beverage/beer list.


Craft beer alternatives to popular-priced light beer