Craft brewery Dogfish Head has created the first light, low-calorie IPA. As in, there’s finally a light beer that tastes like something besides light beer. The new Slightly Mighty Low-Cal IPA measures 4 percent alcohol and 95 calories, putting it on par (nutrition-wise) with Michelob Ultra.
If it seems odd that it’s taken so long for someone to make a low-calorie version of an IPA when the style’s been taking over tap lines and beer aisles for the last decade, it’s because of the calorie-intensive balancing act IPAs require for their fruity, floral hop aromas and flavors. In addition to the grapefruit and pine flavors hops bring to a beer, there’s also an unavoidable bitterness that requires sweet carbohydrates to offset the biting feeling. That’s why—in addition to the higher alcohol—many IPAs, like Bell’s Two Hearted, Sierra Nevada Torpedo, and Ballast Point Sculpin, top 200 calories per bottle with nearly half the carbs (about 20 grams) of a Clif Bar.
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“If you just remove the carbs and keep all the hops,” says Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione, “you get a really unpleasant astringency and a watery beer.”
Calagione, along with R&D brewer Dan Weber and brewmaster Mark Safarick (pictured up top), spent more than a year testing recipes that achieved low-carb status, while still tasting like a great IPA. But the first challenge was simply making a beer with almost no carbohydrates. In an early step of brewing, enzymes break down most—but not all—of the complex carbohydrates from malt into simple, fermentable sugar. The leftover carbs are a welcome addition to most beers, as they do the balancing act with hops, while adding flavor and body.
Dogfish’s R&D lab was able to find an additional enzyme to convert the bulk of the remaining complex carbs to sugars and then pair it with a yeast strain that happily turned that sugar into alcohol. They were still left with that watery, astringent mess when an IPA’s worth of hops were added, so the team next looked for an ingredient that could add body and sweetness. An early, failed effort used smoked malt, which did add sweetness, says Calagione. “But it also tasted like a Band-Aid.”
Eventually, Calagione came across monk fruit, a natural sweetener that adds no calories. “It’s not like adding citrus fruit to an IPA,” says Calagione, “but it adds body to what would be a super dry beer.”
Runner’s World received an early sample of Slightly Mighty and we are happy to report that the monk fruit work does indeed deliver a good, hoppy beer. (Bonus: nothing remotely resembles Band-Aids.) It isn’t as bold as a full-strength IPA with double the calories (calories are delicious, after all), but the tropical fruit flavor of the hops and mild sweetness of the monk fruit deliver a damn tasty beer. It’s still dry for an IPA, but that also makes it significantly more refreshing. Our only complaint is that we have to wait until its April release to get our hands on more.
Slightly Mighty joins Dogfish Head’s bigger push into the market for active lifestyle beer lovers. In 2016, it released SeaQuench, a 4.9-percent sour ale designed to be the world’s most refreshing beer (we’re fans). And later this year, SeaQuench and Slightly Mighty will join SuperEIGHT, 5.3 percent fruit-infused sour, and Namaste White, a 4.8-percent Belgian-style wheat beer, in a variety 12-pack Dogfish Head has dubbed its Activity Box.