Americans have always loved their beer. When the Pilgrims set out for the New World nearly 400 years ago, the hold of their ship, the Mayflower, was filled with barrels of beer. Even during Prohibition in the 1920’s and early 1930’s, America’s thirst for alcohol remained strong, funding bootlegging businesses and criminal organizations.
Today, drinking-age Americans consume an average of about 27 gallons of beer annually. According to a 2015 study commissioned by the Beer Institute, the U.S. beer industry adds $252.6 billion to the economy each year, about 1.5% of total gross domestic product. While beer consumption is certainly popular, the United States is also in the midst of an obesity epidemic, and many Americans may be unaware of the additional calories they consume with each beer.
Beer-drinking may play a role in adding inches to many American’s waistlines, but some beers are far more calorie rich than others. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the nutritional information of more than 200 of the country’s most popular beers to identify those with the most calories.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define moderate drinking as no more than two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women. For beer drinkers, what this means in terms of calories can vary dramatically, depending on the beer. Certain light beers, such as Heineken Light, contain as few as 99 calories. Two Sierra Nevada Stouts, on the other hand, contain 450 calories, equal to nearly a quarter of the FDA’s recommended 2,000 calorie daily diet.
While certain beers are especially high in calories, alcohol itself is almost as calorie rich as pure fat. Alcohol contains seven calories per gram, while fat has nine. In comparison, a gram of protein or carbohydrates have only four calories each. This means that while alcohol typically makes up a small share of a beer’s volume, it accounts for half or more of the calories received by the drinker.
Considering the caloric density of alcohol, it may not be surprising that the most calorie-rich beers are also high in alcohol content, while low-calorie beers tend to have a lower alcohol content. Of the six beers reviewed with at least 300 calories, all had greater than 8% alcohol content. Of the 18 beers reviewed with less than 100 calories, all had less than 5% alcohol content — the amount of alcohol in a can of Budweiser or Coors.
Many of the highest calorie beers are also relatively sweet. While little to no sugar is added to most beers, eight of the 25 highest-calorie beers are fruit-flavored, which frequently means large amounts of added sugar.
To identify the beers with the most — and least — calories, 24/7 Wall St reviewed nutritional contents of over 200 beers from a range of sources, including the largest beer distributors in the U.S., news reports, and widely-cited industry observers on the web. Other beverages that are comparable to beer, including malt liquor, hard cider, hard soda, and non-alcoholic beer, were not considered. When available, calorie counts and alcohol by volume came from the brewer’s website. In cases where information on the beer maker’s site was incomplete, nutritional information was provided by CalorieKing, an online food and beverage nutritional content database. Beverages with no nutritional information listed on the manufacturer’s site or CalorieKing were excluded. For similarly branded items of equal caloric value — Michelob ULTRA and Michelob ULTRA Pomegranate, for example — only one item was considered. All calorie counts are calculated to reflect a 12 oz. serving size.
These are the beers with the most calories.