Light Beer Is Becoming an Endangered Species

Mainstays like Miller Lite and Bud Light are losing ground to tastier craft beers.

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To the dismay of winemakers across California, light beer may be America’s biggest contribution to the alcoholic beverage landscape. Now that most American of brews is under threat of extinction. Turns out that light beer (or lite, if you prefer the advertising parlance) may not be able to survive in a craft beer-driven marketplace.

Apparently when it comes to beer, consumers value taste more than a lower calorie count, and light beer sales have suffered in an increasingly crowded beer field. Light beer was introduced to America back in 1975, when according to an article in Bloomberg, Miller Brewing Co. began to distribute a low-calorie beer nationwide. The light beer was a hit, because it “tastes great” and/or was “less filling.” But as microbrews and craft beers have entered the marketplace from brewers such as Rogue or Fat Tire or Brooklyn Brewery, beer fans have come to expect more complex flavors than light beer can deliver, and thus, sales have lagged. Many beer drinkers would never dream of ordering a Bud Lite at a bar, opting instead for an import or an artisanal brew or even going so far as to (gasp) order wine or a cocktail.

(MORE: Coors Launches Iced Tea-Flavored Beer)

Yes, it’s not just craft brews that are having an impact on light beer sales. The current cultural fascination with mixology and a long love affair with wine is having an effect on beer sales as well. U.S. beer sales volumes have dropped for three straight years, including a 1.5% decline in 2011, according to to the Beverage Information Group as quoted by Bloomberg.

Not that the light beer brands are going down without a fight. The beer companies have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves to lure consumers back, including Bud Light Platinum with a higher alcohol content, wide-mouthed cans, and sleeker packaging including Coors Light’s specially inked cans that indicate when the beer is cold. In June, Miller Lite is introducing new cans with “more masculine” graphics along with a perforated second opening that will have to be punched out with a tool of the drinker’s choice. While it sounds like a frat boy party trick waiting to happen, the company claims the opening will allow the beer to flow more like a glass.

As the American beer companies battle for a piece of the $50 billion market, perhaps someone should mention to them that while gimmicky packaging is great, making better tasting beer is always an option.

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