Browsing through beer Facebook groups and various forums dedicated to the beverage, on average once every dozen days someone asks a question whose topic is the caloric content of beer. Despite the fact that we all know that alcohol (especially in excess) is not good for health, and beer itself is not one of the diet products, wanting to shed the – nomen omen – beer belly, however, we do not want to completely eliminate our favorite drink from the diet. At this point, I would also like to point out that I do not intend to dwell on the question of whether dry calorie counting makes sense in the face of current knowledge about dietetics and human nutrition.
Is beer fattening?
So will one beer a day negate the effort and hectoliters of sweat poured in the gym? So how much beer can I afford without risking exceeding the caloric limit? What beer has the fewest calories? Answering these questions is not at all easy, as existing resources on the web tend to treat beer as synonymous with a light, heavily fermented Eurolager (so-called lager), and – in fact, outside of American sources – it is hard to find satisfactory information, given the multitude of beer styles and the very existence of kraft beer as a phenomenon. The first off-the-shelf calorie table says that 250 calories will be provided to our body by a half-liter bottle of beer.
Where do the calories in beer come from?
Without going into too much detail, alcohol and carbohydrates, including sugars, are mainly responsible for the energy value of beer. Other nutritional values, such as protein and fat, are negligible components of beer’s energy profile. To most accurately calculate the caloric content of a particular beverage, we would need to know at least:
- amount of alcohol
- initial extract
- final extract (we can also calculate it knowing the two above)
- (optional) amount of post-fermentation additives
As I wrote above, the two main sources of calories in beer are alcohol and carbohydrates. We have the alcohol content listed on the label (note that by law it can be 0.5% higher or lower for beers up to 5.5% ABV and 1% for stronger beers). By calculating the difference between the final extract and the initial extract, we can estimate the amount of residual sugars. However, it should be noted that we have alcohol given by volume, and sugars by weight. Fortunately, there are calculators on the web that do this kind of calculation for us and we don’t have to do the calculations by hand. In short, it can be considered that strong and sweet beers will be the most caloric, while light, dry and unadulterated beers will be the least caloric. However, let’s look at the numbers.
How many calories does non-alcoholic beer have?
Let’s start roughly. Not enough to begrudge yourself beer, but alcohol in general? For people with a predisposition to weight gain, losing weight is a real, constant war with their bodies. I bow to all the warriors. I myself, when I lost more than 40 kilograms in the pre-Kraft era, did not drink beer, and its place was taken by wine, whiskey and vodka. Despite their “empty calorie” content, their advantage is their low glycemic index and sugar levels.
At this point, we still need to determine what non-alcoholic beer is. According to Polish law, we can use this term to describe a beverage with less than 0.5% alcohol content. What about low-alcohol beer? According to the law, there is no such thing (anything above 0.5% is simply beer), while drinks up to 1.2% alcohol must have the full composition listed (just like juices or other soft drinks), so they are conventionally called low-alcohol. Beers above 1.2% are not required to have either macronutrients, calories or even full composition listed on the label. The list of allergens is enough (hence the often laconic information: contains barley malt).
Most non-alcoholic beers available on the Polish market, such as Bavaria, Lech Free or Okocim, contain between 4 and 6 grams of carbohydrates per 100 ml, which, when combined with other energy sources, adds up to between 20 and 30 kcal per 100 ml. This means that in a 330 ml can or bottle of non-alcoholic beer, we will have an average of about 80 kcal, and in a half-liter beer – from 100 to 150 kcal.
In the regional segment, the most favorable is Miłosław Bezalkoholowe IPA produced by Fortuna Brewery, whose half-liter bottle contains just 110 kcal. The non-alcoholic version of the classic Black, on the other hand, will provide as little as 150 kcal in 500 ml.
Special attention should be paid to non-alcoholic beers with added fruit. Their use alone raises the caloric content, as each fruit contains sugar, plus such beers are usually sweetened. Even more deceptive are “specialty” beers, such as ginger beer, which
Entering the segment of beers up to 1.2%, it is worth writing that its most popular representative – Kormoran 1 per 100 – contains only 95 kcal in a 500 ml bottle. We are, of course, talking about the pure, hoppy version – not the fruity one.
How many calories does IPA have?
The easiest way would be to write: it depends. After forty years of beer revolution, IPA has become the default kraft style. The caloric content of the different variants ranges from 220 to as much as 400 kcal in 500 ml.
Putting aside the fact that rarely anyone brews Brut IPAs anymore, this most potent of the IPA sub-styles should theoretically be the least caloric. If we consider Stylish Brut to be attenuated practically completely, with an initial extract of 16.5 Plato, we get more than 8.5% alcohol. This type of beer will provide us with about 315 kcal in 500 ml.
Classic American and West Coast IPA
The classic West Coast IPA is also a fairly heavily fermented variant, but not as much as the aforementioned Brut IPA. Dry, strongly bitter beers in this style are also regaining popularity in a Polish market saturated with sweeter options.
Modern West Coast IPAs typically have between 15 and 16.5 Plato of initial extract and 6 to 7.5% alcohol. There are also versions signed simply as American IPA or Classic American IPA, which are a little less dry.
The estimated caloric content of a 500 ml can of such liquor is just over 300 kcal in 500 ml.
In turn, the value of 288 kcal comes out of calculations on the legendary first widely available IPA in Poland – Atak Chmielu from the Pinta brewery . Admittedly, a different value is given by the MyFitnessPal portal, but there are no sources there.
Poznan’s Golem Brewery, on the other hand, achieved 7% of 16 Plato in its West Coast IPAs – Carouselambra and Meadows of Heaven – which translates to roughly 307 kcal in a half-liter can.
New England IPA, Hazy IPA and Vermont IPA.
Among those most popular IPA varieties on the market, it is very easy to fall into the caloric trap by looking only at the alcohol content. A beer that will be 5% at 15 Plato will be much less caloric than one in which the identical alcohol level was obtained from an extract of 17 or 18. It is essential to pay attention to the accessories as well. Non-fermentable sugars (like lactose and the increasingly popular maltodextrin) or fruit pulps are also sources of calories.
Therefore – without full knowledge of the beer’s composition – we can only assume in good faith that these beverages are made according to tradition, i.e. from water, malt (and, in the case of this style, also unmalted cereal flakes), hops and yeast.
Another issue is beer labeling. New England IPA, Hazy IPA and Vermont IPA are most often used interchangeably, with the latter term rather going out of use. They denote a beer with low bitterness, a powerful hop aroma and a juicy mouthfeel. Increasingly, the terms DDH IPA (double dry-hopped), TDH IPA (triple dry-hopped) or even QDH IPA (quadruple dry-hopped) are also being used to show the enormity of the hops thrown into the aroma.
For the aforementioned group of styles, it will be best to pay attention to the stated initial extract. The calorie content of a typical 16-ounce should not differ much from West Coast, but the already deceptively low-alcohol (5%) Hazy IPA with 18 Plato extract may even have more than 350 kcal.
The real conundrum begins with double IPAs. In this case, we know nothing from the alcohol information alone.
Here we have, on the one hand, very sweet drinks, with 6-6.5% alcohol content obtained from 18 Plato – a beer calorie content in the range of 350 kcal. In the same style, however, from the same extract we also get similarly caloric, yet more dry and alcoholic items, in which more than 8% alcohol has been wrung out of 18 Plato. Nutrient content different, and calorie content similar.
For beers with an extract of up to 20 Plato, the calories in a bottle of beer will go under the magic 400 mark.
In summary, the caloric spread of an IPA beer with the same alcohol content can be as high as almost 150 kcal in 500 ml, depending on the substyle! A seven-percent Brut IPA will have about 250 kcal, while a sweet DDH Double IPA will have about four hundred!
How many calories does a Baltic porter have?
With Baltic porters, fortunately, there is not as much turbulence as with IPAs. Most of the classic representatives of the style known as Poland’s brewing treasure fall within the 18-22 Plato and 8-10% alcohol ranges, with a few exceptions. Their energy value oscillates between 350 and 450 kcal.
There are, of course, more extractive porters on the market. The award-winning Porter Noster from the Black Sheep brewery boasts an extract of 22.5 Plato and about 440 kcal in 500 ml.
Of much heavier caliber are imperial porters – the most caloric in the company – whose calorie totals reach over 500. A minimum of this much also has the legendary Imperium Prunum from Cormorant, but there the energy value of the plums must be added.
A separate category here is extreme beers, such as Fury of Fervor from Harpagan brewery, which contains as much as 12% alcohol from a sky-high 33 Plato. If one is able to drink half a liter of this delicious beverage alone, he will provide the body with as much as…. nearly 666 kcal! However, this is nothing with Cornus Lupus from the Kormoran brewery, in which from 36.6 Plato was obtained only…. 10.1% alk. In 500 ml, this amazingly sweet confection contains…. 740 kcal. That’s three times more than a traditional lager beer!
Imperial Stout (RIS)
The strength and initial extract of an imperial stout are usually slightly higher than that of a Baltic porter, but – as with double IPA – it should be mentioned that we are talking about beers without additives. The classic RIS is 24 Plato, although the range can be from 22 to even over 30 Plato. Beers without sweet additives not included in the extract can have about 400 to 650 kcal in 500 ml.
Classic Lilith from the brewery Golem (24 Plato, 10% alcohol) in 500 ml contains about 475 kcal. However, at a very similar alcohol level (10.5%), Mace of Turborozkosze from Harpagan brewery will provide more than 600 kcal to the body, thanks to the fact that its initial extract is 30 Plato.
Poland’s best-known imperial stout, Male Alpha from the Artezan brewery, has changed over the years. Its first versions were around 550 kcal, while the latest versions were closer to 600 kcal.
For pastry stout beers, there is really no upper limit. If the additives have not been fermented, there is no obligation to count them in the base extract, so it is difficult to judge anything on specific examples. The nutritional totals, and the answer to the question of how many calories beer has, is not obvious. The sweetest of representatives can safely reach the limit of up to 800 kcal per bottle.
Some of the most commonly brewed beers are various sour beers. Among them we can distinguish classic Berliner Weisse, Gose or Polish imitations of Lambic, as well as all sorts of beers with fruit soured in the cauldron or by adding lactic acid, and the hit of 2020 – pastry sour, or sweet and sour beers. Due to the multiplicity of sub-styles, the calorie ranges here are quite wide: from 150 kcal to as much as 400 kcal.
The lightest beers will be those with an extract of about 8 Plato, with no fruit added. Such delicate hoppy sours or traditional gose will rarely exceed 200 kcal per bottle of beer. Those close to the market average, around 300, but in the history of Polish kraft there has also been no shortage of real sour powerhouses, such as Pinta ‘s Theta Acid (approx. 490 kcal at 10.2% alcohol) or the roasted Klofta from the SzałPiw brewery, but when it comes to beers obtained by reverse distillation, there isn’t much data to rely on when examining their caloric content. The basic version had about 670 kcal.
We finally come to pastry sours. These beers are mainly popular in Poland through the Gelato series from Funky Fluid and Deli Store from Pinta.
The first Deli Stores had only 5.6% alcohol at as much as 20 Plato, which meant that the average strength beer provided us with as much as 400 kcal (compared to a pils of the same strength – 245 kcal!). Later versions of Deli Store did have 7.7% alcohol, but at 25 Plato their energy value was 500 kcal per can.
In the case of Gelato, the most popular versions have between 5.5% and 5.8% alcohol obtained from 19 Plato, giving 375 kcal in 500 ml. Double Gelato versions deliver more than 400 kcal in 8% alcohol, while frozen options with much higher calories are still waiting in line. Unfortunately, I do not have data on the non-alcoholic version of Free Gelato. For people on a diet who like this type of beer, however, they will be a good choice.
Knowledge of the caloric content of classic beers is actually the only one that does not fall into the category of this secret. Numerous scientific studies and popular science queries show that traditional light lager, in which alcohol oscillates between 4-5%, contains between 200 and 250 kcal that our body takes in a half-liter bottle.
English styles like Bitter or ESB are extremely unpopular in Poland, but if we can make one, it won’t be to the great detriment of our daily caloric limit. The caloric content of one pint of such a drink will be around 200 kcal.
In the case of beers in Belgian styles, such as dubbel, tripel or quadrupel, the energy value of a bottle will be higher and, as always, depends on the extractivity of the item. It ranges from 300 to as much as 500 kcal.
The most classic and indigenous Polish style is, of course, Grodzisk beer, called Polish champagne, which not only contains very few calories, but also carbohydrates and can successfully replace wine on a reduction diet. Available information tells us that a bottle of Grodzisk beer is only about 200 kcal.
It is important to know that calories are not everything, and the values given in this article are indicative only and do not constitute medical or dietary advice. Rather, they are a curiosity that can be summarized: the more initial extract (Plato), the more calories. To this must be added any sugars and non-fermentable additives. So what kind of beer is worth drinking to gain the least amount of weight? Of course, our Polish treasure – Grodziskie – as well as any heavily fermented, light beers. On the other hand, beware of strong, extractive and sweet beers.
Not only an enjoyer of flavor, beer and travel, cooking with passion, and exploring a world full of culinary adventures. His drive for cooking and experimenting with flavors makes the recipes true culinary journeys for any foodie. Fascinated by the variety of beer styles and flavors from different corners of the globe, he shares his knowledge so that everyone can discover something unique. Following his heart, he embarks on extraordinary journeys that are filled not only with beautiful sights, but also with delicious culinary discoveries.