The Smaller Players Move In
A few regional brewers have introduced low-carb styles: interestingly, they are almost all from the ranks of the country’s established, or “heritage” breweries: F.X. Matt, Gluek, Latrobe, and Pittsburgh. (Pittsburgh’s IC—Iron City—Light is actually 25 years old, another example of a light beer that fortuitously happened to also be low in carbs.)
“The enthusiasm for this category is just over the top,” said Fred Matt, vice-president of F.X. Matt Brewing Co. of their newly-released Accel. “I think my expectations were higher than was realistic, but now we’re looking at the steady growth that goes with building a new brand.”
F.X. Matt has never had a light beer, so there was no risk of splitting consumers between low cal and low carb choices. “A-B was fortunate to have a separate brand [Michelob] where they could put their low-carb beer,” said Matt. “They’ve really done a very impressive job with Ultra.”
Certainly, Anheuser-Busch has the marketing muscle to support Michelob Ultra, along with the raft of light A-B beers that already have a loyal following.
Carolina Beer and Beverage Co. took another approach and reformulated their low-cal Carolina Light, shaving off the carbs. “We were determined that, if were going to make a low-carb beer, ours would be distinguished by being the lightest of all,” said president John Stritch. At a scant 2 carbs and only 70 calories, Carolina Light indeed holds the record as the lightest light. It may be possible to make lighter beer, but it may not be worth it.
Rolling Rock discontinued Rock Light, its light beer, in favor of Rock Green Light, which is both low carb and low calorie. Rock Green Light has shipped one million cases in less than three months since its launch, a sign of real success.
Even brewpubs have gotten into the act. At Top of the Hill Brewery and Restaurant in Chapel Hill (where my husband is a partner), head brewer John Withey developed a low-carb draft beer to give an alternative for both patrons and brewpub employees who were trying to take off the pounds.
The cheekily-named Kuralt Ultra Low Carb is part of an entire low-carb dining menu. Assistant brewer George Dusek describes it as “alarmingly popular, for the beer that it is.” At 2.7 carbs and around 100 calories, its numbers compete with the larger commercial brands.