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Best low-calorie beers: Guilt-free brews for athletes reviewed

Can low-calorie, low-alcohol beers taste as good as their alcoholic counterparts? We find out...

Best low-calorie beers

Trying to cut down on empty calories and keep your nutrition in tip top shape? A pint or large glass of red down your local probably isn’t going to help you, but there is another to enjoy a well-earned drink.

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Low-alcohol beverages have seen a lot of growth in recent years, which means there’s now a large selection of low-calorie beers for you to choose from. The rise in popularity means the selection is quite varied, too, and you’ll find dark, hoppy low-alcohol beers as well as lighter options.

One thing to note about non-alcoholic or low-calorie beers is that they’re unlikely to ever taste exactly like your normal beer of choice. They may be similar, but there’s always going to be something different.

Many of the beers we’ve tested here have a slightly unusual aftertaste, which seems to be a consistent theme with this type of drink, but it did tend to ease off after you’ve drunk some more.

Best low-calorie beers

Shipyard American Low Tide Pale Ale

Shipyard American Low Tide

If you were to judge a glass of Shipyard Low Tide Pale by smell and appearance alone, you’d be hard pushed to find any discernible differences with a standard pale ale. It smells and looks up to the job, with fruity aromas coming through strongly.

Ultimately though, in this humble tester’s opinion, it smells better than it tastes. That’s not to say it tastes bad. It’s actually quite pleasant when you first take a sip but, as with a lot of low-alcohol beers, you’re left with a slight aftertaste that is reminiscent of soda water.

Nutritionally, it doesn’t quite compare with some of the other beers on test here with 85 calories and 13.9g of sugar per 500ml (56 calories and 9g of sugar per 330ml).

Erdinger Alkoholfrei

Erdinger low alcohol beer

Erdinger’s Alkoholfrei wheat beer has a cloudy, deep orange colour much like its alcoholic counterparts, and it smells like them too. It has a good head on it when poured and a tasty, complex flavour that elicits malty, hoppy notes and a hint of banana and spice. It perhaps doesn’t have the depth of the real thing, but it’s not a bad attempt.

Interestingly, Erdinger call this one an isotonic drink due to its nutritional make-up. With 26.5g of carbohydrates, 18g of sugar and 125 calories per 500ml bottle (17.49g of carbohydrates, 11.88g of sugar and 82 calories per 330ml), it certainly has the potential to replace your bodies supplies, but we wonder if this is what you’re really looking for in a low-calorie, non-alcoholic beer.

Perhaps more useful is the 50% of your recommended amount of folic acid and 26% of vitamin B12 (per 500ml), which are both vital in helping your nervous system and digestive system do their job, as well as assisting your body create red blood cells.

Lucky Saint Unfiltered Lager

Lucy Saint low calorie beer

Lucky Saint is a brewery that’s dedicated to making low-alcohol, low-calorie beers, and this Unfiltered Lager is at the forefront of that. It has a similar look and smell to most premium lagers, with just the right amount of fizz (many low-alcohol beers can overdo it on the bubbles).

But how does it taste? Well, not too bad actually. It has a pleasantly subtle flavour and avoids the powerful aftertaste present on some of the other beers in this list. In fact, it’s probably the closest you get to a decent lager or pilsner. The ingredients list is nice and short (water, barley, yeast, hops), while 53 calories per 330ml is in line with most of the other low-calorie beers here. A lowly 0.33g of sugar is good to see, though.

Brooklyn Special Effects

Brooklyn Special Effects low alcohol beer

Brooklyn Special Effects has been developed to deliver a strong hoppy flavour, and it certainly does that. This dark beer delivers quite the punch and will suit people who like their beer to be hoppy with a bitter edge. There’s a lingering taste as we’ve found with many of these low-calorie beers, but it’s shrouded in hops, rather than being a purely chemically taste.

For all that flavour, though, you’re paying for it in the nutritional stakes. A 330ml bottle contains 95 calories and 9.5g of sugar, which puts it at the top end of the scale compared to the other beers here.

Zero Five

Zero Five low calorie beer
  • From £1.50 (330ml)
  • 0.5% alcohol volume

Light in both colour and smell, the Zero Five low alcohol pale ale is meant to be full of flavour, but we’re not sure that really computed in the real world. It’s meant to have notes of lemon, peach and apricot but, while it came through in the smell, it wasn’t so obvious in the taste, which we felt left a little to be desired.

Nutrition wise, Zero Five offers an impressively low calorie count of 26 calories (330ml) and contains just 0.3g of sugar (330ml), which makes it a great option if you really want to watch your intake.

Athletic Brewing Upside Dawn Golden Ale

Athletic Brewing Upside Dawn Golden Ale
  • From £10.99 (6x355ml)
  • 0.5% alcohol volume

This is the first of two beers on this list from Athletic Brewing and we have to admit, both made a good impression on us. The brewery’s Upside Dawn Golden Ale comes out a nice golden colour, as the name would suggest, and carries a decent head on it.

It looks exactly like I’d expect a golden ale to look, smells like it should and the taste gets it reasonably close to the real thing too, with earthy, malty and hoppy tones coming through. The aftertaste is okay, but there does seem to be a soda water tinge to it, which you notice less as you drink more. Each 355ml can delivers a reasonable 50 calories and 5g of sugar.

Brewdog Punk AF

Brewdog Punk AF low alcohol beer

Brewdog’s Punk AF offering is likely to be one of the most well-known options on this list and is just one of several low alcohol beers that the company produces. It has a pale colour, smells like a normal Brewdog lager and carries a similarly crisp taste. In fact, it’s pretty close to an alcoholic version and would be a good choice for easy drinking, when you’re not looking for something too hoppy or overpowering.

That said, it does carry the familiar low alcohol aftertaste that leaves you feeling like you’ve been drinking beer-flavoured soda water. Admittedly, this does fade over time. Nutritionally, Brewdog’s Punk AF sits in the middle of the pack, with each 330ml can containing 49 calories and 6g of sugar.

Athletic Brewing Run Wild IPA

Athletic Brewing Run Wild low calorie beer
  • From £10.99 (6x355ml)
  • 0.5% alcohol volume

When poured into a glass, Athletic Brewing’s Run Wild IPA has a deep golden colour and features an impressive head akin to what you’d expect from any other IPA. It emits strong fruity aromas with a clear hint of citrus and the taste has a reasonable amount of depth to it, with a mix of malt, hops and some subtle citrus flavour coming through.

Like many of the beers here, there is the slight suggestion of an unusual aftertaste, but nothing too noticeable, and it disappears after you’ve had one or two. Each 355ml can carries 70 calories and 4.6g of sugar, which is reasonable, but several others here undercut it.

Interestingly, at the time of writing Athletic Brewing is running a Strava challenge to complete 140.6 miles of activity in one week (16-22 August 2021) in order to have the chance to win entry into Ironman Barcelona, which the brand is sponsoring.

Brewdog Nanny State

Brewdog Nanny State beer

The hipster’s beer brand of choice low-alcohol number looks and smells like some of your typical IPAs, with a dark ruby colour and a strong, sweet malty aroma. It tastes surprisingly good (if understandably lacking a little depth), resulting in a hoppy, citrusy and smoky craft beer taste. Thankfully, any suggestion of an unpleasant aftertaste is short-lived.

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With just under 20 calories and 0.3g of sugar per 330ml, it’s hardly going to do any damage at all and would be a good option if you’re looking for a darker low-alcohol beer without a nutritional penalty.