These are boom times for the better-than-Bud beer-drinker. Last year, sales of craft beer—which I will never try to define, but which all warring factions of whiners and definers seem to agree means, at a bare minimum, "beer made in a less industrial fashion by smaller, independent, more quality-conscious brewers"—reached nearly eight percent of total beers sales by volume.
That doesn't sound like much until you consider that it represents 80 percent growth since 2009; due to production limitations, to say nothing of the generally barbaric public palate, craft beer is never going to be sold by the tanker-truckful at football games and frat parties. First-generation craft behemoths Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada will never combine to sell as much beer as the mangiest mutt in the Anheuser-Busch kennel. But that doesn't mean they—along with such rapidly expanding newer-wave crafties as Lagunitas, Firestone Walker, and Ballast Point, as well nearly 3,000 other small American brewers—don't scare Big Yellow at least a little bit.
The AB-InBev and MillerCoors conglomerates have responded to craft beer nipping somewhere in the middle-distant vicinity of their heels through the classic methods of buying up the competition (as in AB-InBev's acquisition of Goose Island and Blue Point) and rolling out knock-offs (Blue Moon has always been a mass-produced Coors product; Shocktop is Bud's version). But in at least one instance, Anheuser-Busch went the more sporting route of popularizing a whole new category of beer.
Bud Light Lime has been around since 2008; this is the first summer that craft brewers have decided en masse to introduce their own radlers and shandies. (Although Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy debuted in 2007, it didn't have nearly the market impact as BLL). Again, let's avoid a definitional morass and just agree that radlers and shandies are beers augmented by a citrus component, and that the terms are used nearly interchangeably in the American beer world.
Scores of leading craft brewers have rolled out radlers in recent months, and in an elegant twist, Coors Light has reacted with the launch of their Summer Brew radler, which is their answer to craft's answer to Bud Light Lime, which, now that we mention it, can be seen as AB's answer to the popularity of Corona with a wedge of lime. Cool. Let's get smackin'.
Bud Light Lime
Around this time last year, I told you good folk that Bud Light Lime tastes like green Froot Loops soaked in thigh sweat. What a clever line! Which turns out to be a lie! The truth is that this isn't as repugnant as I'd remembered. The thing I'm going to insist on calling the truth, despite a complete lack of evidence, is that Bud has tinkered with the formula since this product's debut. When I revisited the situation last week, I found it to be far less fake than I'd recalled.
It smells like honest-to-Budness beer; no, that's not a pleasant sensation, per se, but the manufacturer is to be commended for showcasing the underlying beer rather than just hiding it beneath a sticky layer of lime candy extract. The flavor is much limier than the smell, with a long citrus middle sandwiched between the hellacious Bud Light start and finish. This is still not a good product, but it is an honest one. This tastes like Bud Light topped with decent lime soda. I don't like it, but it's not the abomination I expected.
Coors Light Summer Brew
I like that they call it "brew." Jaunty! I hate that they package it in deceptive 10-ounce cans just so they can scream about how it has only 100 calories. In Puerto Rico (and surely tons of other places where I have not honeymooned), they sell beer in 10-ounce cans; this is fine, because it's the local standard, and also because beer in a Puerto Rican bar costs half what it does on the mainland. But if I'm paying full price, I want a full beer; Coors Light Summer costs the same as its 12-ounce peers. For shame.
They push this one as a "refreshing blend of Coors Light and natural citrus flavors"—the website's pictogram shows a can of Coors Light plus wedges of orange, lemon, and lime equaling a can of Summer Brew. Despite introducing most of the grove (whither the grapefruit, king of all citrus?), Summer Brew, like Bud Light Lime before it, displays noble yet fatal faith in its shit-beer base. Coors Light isn't very good, ergo neither is Coors Light Summer, but that doesn't mean it's without merits. It is well balanced, which is a trick few high-end radlers can pull off. It tastes like light macro-lager cut with midlevel commercial sour mix, with neither component dominating. The citrus has a slightly tinny, chemical edge, but no more so than most grocery-store lemonades.
The Winner: Coors Light Summer Brew
This was a pretty fair fight. Bud Light Lime gets points for originality and portion size, but Coors Light Summer has better balance and was built on a better light-beer chassis. I won't be drinking much of it unless I find myself at an estranged uncle's convention or something, but hey, that's just me, and I'm sort of a snob about this stuff. If you are a Coors Light drinker or a Sprite drinker, you should give this a whirl.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter@WillGordonAgain.
Art by Sam Woolley.
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