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The Healthiest Domestic and Craft Beers for the Holidays

Dec. 12, 2014
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The holidays are a time to eat, drink, and be merry — often resulting in a few unwanted extra pounds. If you’re a beer lover looking to minimize your weight gain this season, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got a list of the healthiest domestic and craft beers.

This NerdWallet analysis included calorie and carbohydrate counts for 159 beers, but it’s important to note that not all beers can be represented. Since we’re talking about holiday drinking, beers were only included if they’re sold during the holidays. That leaves out seasonal beers, including summer beers that tend to be lighter on carbs and calories. This list is also limited to beer produced and sold in the U.S.

The Healthiest Domestic and Craft Beers For the Holidays

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Some nutritional content is unknown because brewers don’t publish it online or on labels—those beers weren’t included. As far as nutrition is concerned, brewers need only publish alcohol content by volume to comply with federal labeling requirements. Brewers are also required to disclose possible allergens and a statement warning against drinking during pregnancy and operating machinery.

About 85% of beer sales in America are by domestic, or big-name breweries, so we’ll start with those. These household names have been brewing beer for decades, and provide a consistent taste and quality for those who enjoy them. The top domestic brews all come in at 103 calories or less per 12 oz. serving, and 5 grams of carbs or less.

Ten Healthiest Domestic Beers

Rank Brewery Beer Grams of Carbs in 12 Oz. Calories in 12 Oz. Alcohol by volume
1 Budweiser Budweiser Select 55 1.9 55 2.40%
2 MillerCoors Miller 64 2.4 64 2.80%
3 Adolph Coors Aspen Edge 2.6 94 4.10%
4 Anheuser Busch Michelob Ultra 2.6 95 4.10%
5 Anheuser Busch Busch Light 3.2 95 4.10%
6 Anheuser Busch Anheuser Busch Natural Light 3.2 95 4.20%
7 MillerCoors Miller Lite 3.2 96 4.20%
8 Budweiser Budweiser Select 3.1 99 4.30%
9 MillerCoors Milwaukee’s Best Light 3.5 98 4.20%
10 Adolph Coors Keystone Light 5 103 4.13%

These beers, especially the two top-ranked beers, are relatively low in alcohol content and carbohydrates, resulting in their low calorie counts. Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, and alcohol has 7 calories per gram, so a higher volume of either component will raise calorie counts. Other than that, calorie counts are based on calculated estimates rather than true known values, which cannot be known for beer. This is because the fermentation process causes calorie fluctuations even after bottling.

Some beer drinkers are fine with a few more calories if it means a more complex flavor profile. Craft brewing has been steadily rising for at least the past decade, perhaps for just that reason. Currently craft brewing represents 14% of beer sales, but demand is growing and new breweries are popping up all the time. In fact, the Brewers Association found that there were 15% more craft breweries and 22% more microbreweries in 2013 than in 2012.

If you prefer craft brews, but want to keep it on the lighter side this season, we also have a list for you. Additionally, since many on this list are not available nationwide, there are 15 instead of 10 to give most folks a wider variety. Here are the top 15 craft beers on our list, according to calorie and carbohydrate counts:

Fifteen Healthiest Craft Beers

Rank Brewery Beer Carbs in 12 Oz. Calories in 12 Oz. Alcohol by volume
1 D.G. Yuengilng Yuengling Light 6.6 98 3.80%
2 Boston Beer Sam Adams Light 9.6 119 4.05%
3 Flying Dog Brewery Flying Dog In Heat Wheat 10.4 138 4.70%
4 D.G. Yuengilng Yuengling Ale 10 145 5.00%
5 D.G. Yuengilng Yuengling Lager 12 135 4.40%
5 D.G. Yuengilng Yuengling Premium Beer 12 135 4.40%
7 Flying Dog Brewery Flying Dog Old Scratch Amber Ale 10.2 154 5.50%
8 Leinenkugel Leinenkugel Honey Weiss 12 149 4.92%
9 New Belgium New Belgium Sunshine Wheat 13 145 4.80%
10 New Belgium New Belgium Blue Paddle 14 140 4.80%
11 Flying Dog Brewery Flying Dog Doggie Style 11.4 158 4.70%
12 Flying Dog Brewery Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA 10 188 7.10%
13 D.G. Yuengilng Yuengling Porter 14 150 4.50%
14 Leinenkugel Leinenkugel Original 13.9 152 4.67%
15 Deschutes Brewery Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA 10.8 180 5.60%

If you’re a craft beer lover and your beer is not on list, Simply Beer has a chart that estimates beer calories based on carbs and alcohol content. Beer of Tomorrow has a similar chart.

Methods. Beer list from was obtained and checked for correctness, according to brewers’ websites. Beers with incomplete information or that have been discontinued were removed. Beers were ranked based on calorie counts and carbohydrate counts, with fewer carbohydrates and calories correlating to rankings closer to 1. Both ranks were then combined to create an overall Beer Health Score, with the lowest number being the healthiest. In cases of a tie, lower alcohol content beers ranked higher, but in many cases tied beers had same exact alcohol, carb, and calorie counts and ties could not be broken.

Beer bottle image via Shutterstock.

Infographic GIF by Brian Yee.