Unless you have been living on another planet, you can’t have noticed the incredible rise in the popularity of light beers over the last few decades. There’s probably even some people in space who know of Natural Light, but more of that later.
When it comes to light beers, Bud Light and Natural Light are two of the most popular options on the market. Both are American-style light lagers known for their low calorie and low carb content, making them a popular choice for those who want to enjoy a beer but without the guilt.
It seems you can’t go anywhere or switch the TV on without seeing Bud Light mentioned somewhere. Bud Light isn’t just America’s best selling light beer but it’s actually THE best-selling beer in America today.
Light beers are big business in America, six of the top ten best-selling beers in the US fall into the light beer category and four of those six beers are Anheuser-Busch beers. At the top of the list, Bud Light commands a 15.4% share of the American beer market in 2022.
That’s enough of the numbers game, I’m sure you get it by now, Bud Light is a damn popular beer, or at least a big-selling beer. But where does that leave Natural Light? As the 8th best-selling beer in America is the short and simple answer!
But how else does Natural Light differ from Bud Light? Which beer is better, Bud Light or Natural Light?
Which Came First, Bud Light or Natural Light?
Image courtesy of Anheuser-Busch
It all begins in 1977, a year which saw several landmark moments in the history of America. Star Wars hit our screens for the first time, the world’s first personal computer, the Commodore PET was introduced at the CES show in Chicago and Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll died.
1977 also saw Natural Light hit the American beer market.
Bud Light, Anheuser-Busch’s flagship light beer was to follow five years later in 1982.
Following the Miller Brewing Company’s launch of Miller Lite, a 96-calorie beer that was an instant hit with consumers, the race was on to create the best low calorie beer. American beer drinkers were slowly getting more health conscious and demanding beers which were light in calories and carbs while still being refreshing and full-flavored.
Anheuser-Busch’s response was to launch Natural Light, a 97-calorie beer (today Natty Light comes in at 95 cals) their first low calorie beer to compete with Miller Lite’s success.
In 2008, Natural Light won a bronze award at the World Beer Cup, and in 2011, it became the first beer in space when it was launched from the Earth via a helium balloon known as the “The Aluminum Fullcan” into the “Nattosphere”.
Bud Light was first sold as Budweiser Light in 1982 but in 1984 was rebranded as Bud Light. A low cal version of Anheuser-Busch’s most famous brand, the King of Beers, Budweiser, Bud Light is Anheuser-Busch’s attempt at producing a light, easy-drinking Bavarian-style beer.
Bud Light has since become one of the best-selling beers in the United States. Bud Light is known for its crisp, clean taste and light, refreshing finish. It has a relatively low alcohol content, typically around 4.2% by volume, which makes it a popular choice for social drinking and casual occasions.
So if both beers are produced by Anheuser-Busch, America’s largest brewing company, as low calorie light beers, why does Bud Light consistently rate as the top-selling beer in the United States while Natural Light lingers around the number 8 position?
Bud Light vs Natural Light – The Key Differences
To compare these two Anheuser-Busch’s American beers there are several factors we can use, the calorie and carb content, the ABV (alcohol content), the ingredients and brewing methods, the cost and the marketing of each brand.
Calories and Carb Count
Light beers are supposed to be low in calories and carbs. There’s an almost unwritten rule that a light beer should come in around 100 calories per 12 oz bottle.
Bud Light comes in at 110 calories per serving while Natural Light falls just under that 100 calorie mark with just 95 calories a bottle. It’s not a major difference especially when you consider the “full fat” version of Budweiser only has 145 calories per bottle.
If you are trying to lose weight, the difference in calories won’t have too significant an effect on your weight loss success, unless of course you are drinking 20 bottles a day (if you are drinking 20 bottles a day however, I think weight gain is going to be the least of your worries!).
When it comes to carbs there’s a much bigger difference. Natural Light has less than half the amount of carbs when compared to Bud Light, with only 3.2 grams of carbs per a 12-ounce Natural Light compared to the 6.6 grams of Bud Light.
For weight loss and general health benefits, again, not a significant difference, unless of course you are following one of these strict low or no carb diets.
Bud Light however has just introduced a no-carb version, Bud Light Next, which boasts only 80 calories but simply zero carbs and 0 grams of fat.
Alcohol By Volume
Both Bud Light and Natural Light have the same ABV of 4.2%, which is par for the course when talking about American light beers. Like most mass-market beers, both Bud Light and Natural Light are brewed to be easy-drinking beers. Unless you are a real lightweight type of beer drinker you can probably handle a few of these beers in one session and still be able to walk in a straight line.
Bud Light have introduced two new varieties, though with different alcohol levels. Bud Light Next, the previously mentioned zero carb Bud Light, has an ABV of only 4% while Bud Light Platinum bumps up the ABV to 6% (it makes you ask – can Bud Light Platinum really be considered a light beer with such a high ABV, especially when you consider the calorie count has also shot up to 170 calories per serving. Is this just a case of using the popularity of the Bud Light brand to sell a premium beer?).
Although Bud Light is often dismissed as a bad beer, Bud Light can be crisp and refreshing. With the lower ABV of 4% it’s an easily sessionable beer, but many would be hard-pressed to describe it’s flavor notes beyond a cold beer.
One of the things that sets Bud Light apart from other light beers is its use of rice in the brewing process. Rice helps to give the beer its distinctive flavor and aroma, and it also helps to keep the beer light and refreshing. Bud Light is also brewed with a blend of two-row and six-row barley malt, which helps to give it a balanced, slightly sweet taste.
Bud Light has a taste of mild readiness along with some other malty flavors. It has quite a carbonated mouthfeel, although some would describe it as watery.
Although very similar with a light flavor profile, Natural Light has a slightly more complex palate than Bud Light. Natural Light has a very soft, sweet and almost grainy flavor, which comes from the use of fillers or adjuncts such as cereal grain in the recipe. Natural Light often has a faint skunkiness, although this is a flavor note Anheuser-Busch would never advertise.
When drunk from a can you can often detect metallic notes.
Although neither of the beers have an overwhelming flavor on the palate (they’re about as close to water as you can get in a beer), Natural Light slightly edges it in the flavor department with a subtle and more complex palate.
That doesn’t mean Natural Light is a better beer, as it depends on what you look for in a light beer. If you are just looking for a clean, crisp and refreshing go-to-beer then Bud Light is the way to go. Natural Light has a slight bitterness at the end which some light beer fans may prefer, while Bud Light has no noticeable aftertaste.
Bud Light vs Natural Light Ingredients
Some of the main differences between Natural Light and Bud Light are the ingredients and brewing process.
Natural Light is brewed with a blend of corn and barley malt, which gives it a slightly sweeter taste than Bud Light. Natural Light is brewed with filler ingredients which aren’t typically found in beer such as cereal grains.
Until recently it also used a high fructose corn syrup but we won’t mention that in light of the Coors vs Anheuser-Busch litigation over recent Super Bowl adverts.
Bud Light, by comparison, is brewed with only 4 listed ingredients – water, barley, hops and rice. The types of hops or the strain of yeast in the recipe aren’t released to the public but obviously they have a large impact on the end result.
Both Natural Light and Bud Light employ a longer mashing period than many other beers which converts more of the carbohydrates in the grain into simple sugars for fewer calories.
Bud Light vs Natural Light – The Cost factor
Natural Light, when it was first introduced in 1977, was aggressively priced to compete with the ever successful Miller Lite beer. Although Bud Light was introduced at a similar price point, the price of Natural Light continued to drop and it became a popular beer for college students and the younger generation.
A beer pong game just wasn’t the same with a few tins of “Natty” on the side as we called it.
Bud Light tends to retail for around $10 for a six-pack, while Natural Light can often be found around the $5.50 price mark .
The overwhelming reason for the cheaper price point and being able to consistently price itself below many of it’s competitors is often put down to the ingredient list of Natural Light, specifically the filler ingredients which can be substantially less expensive than malts.
So if Natural Light is less expensive, has a slightly more complex flavor palate, is lower (only just) in calories and carbs, and actually came out first, then why does it trail so far behind Bud Light? Marketing, and one of the most successful marketing campaigns ever for a beer, is the main reason.
Bud Light – A Marketing Success Story
It was quite a simple premise, when American beer drinkers started demanding more low-cal or “light” beers – simply take one of the most recognisable beer brands in the world, Budweiser, and produce a light version of it.
Bud Light is marketed as a premium light beer, Natural Light is marketed as an affordable option for college students and young adults. The beer is often sold in large cans or bottles, and it is known for its low price point.
One of the most successful marketing campaigns for Bud Light is its association with the NFL and the Super Bowl. Bud Light has been an official sponsor of the NFL for many years, and the company has used this partnership to create memorable advertising campaigns that are designed to appeal to football fans.
Some of the most popular Bud Light commercials feature NFL players and coaches, and they often incorporate humor and lightheartedness to appeal to a wide audience.
In addition to its association with the NFL, Bud Light also sponsors other sporting events and music festivals. The company has partnered with the NHL, MLB, and NBA, among others, to promote its brand and reach a wider audience. Bud Light has also sponsored music festivals such as Lollapalooza and South by Southwest, where it has set up branded tents and bars to serve its beer to festival-goers.
On the other hand, Natural Light is marketed as an affordable option for college students and young adults. The beer is often sold in large cans or bottles at a low cost, which makes it a popular choice for parties and other social events.
Natural Light’s marketing strategy is focused on reaching college students and young adults through social media and other digital channels.
One of the most successful marketing campaigns for Natural Light is its “Natty Rush” promotion, which encourages consumers to share photos and videos of themselves drinking the beer on social media. The company has also partnered with popular social media influencers and YouTube stars to promote the brand and reach a wider audience.
Natural Light has also used humor and lightheartedness in its advertising campaigns to appeal to young consumers. Some of the most popular commercials for Natural Light feature college students and other young adults enjoying the beer in a variety of social settings.
Popular nicknames for Natural Light aimed at the youth marketing include Natty Light, Natty or even Shore Champagne in reference to it’s popularity at Spring Break beach parties. less flattering references include “Fratty Light”.
Bud Light vs Natural Light – Which Is the Better Beer? – Final Thoughts
Both Bud Light and Natural Light have distinct marketing strategies that help to differentiate them from each other. Bud Light is marketed as a premium light beer that is associated with sports events and other social occasions, while Natural Light is marketed as an affordable option for college students and young adults.
If you are in a college bar or frat house, then for sure you are more likely to be drinking Natural Light. But in most regular bars in major cities across the United States, and internationally too, you are more likely to see Bud Light stocked as the light beer option.
The Bud Light brand name is also used for a range of Bud Light seltzers, flavored beers such as Bud Light Lime-a-Rita or even a Clamato tomato cocktail beer seltzer Bud Light Chelado.
There’s not much to choose between the two beers; they are both light, mildly flavored, low ABV sessionable beers with a crisp and refreshing taste perfect for a hot summer’s day.
Although Natural Light may have a slightly more complex flavor palate, if you want a beer where the hops or malts shine through, you are better off sticking with your pilsners, kolschs or even an IPA.