Busch vs Busch Light: Tasting the Lighter Side of Beer

Trying to make your mind up between Busch and Busch Light? It can be quite confusing as they are both very similar beers – they are both brewed by Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company, the largest brewer in the USA, and they are both ranked among the most popular beers in the US.

Busch was originally called Busch Bavarian beer and was first launched in 1955 – the name was later changed to Busch beer in 1979. As a low-cost beer, Busch sits alongside other well-known Anheuser-Busch mass-produced beers such as Budweiser.

Busch Light was introduced later in 1989 as one of the economy low-calorie beer brands from Anheuser-Busch after other brands such as Budweiser jumped on the light beer trend. Other top light-calorie beers include Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Bud Light Lime, and Bud Light Platinum (a no-carb beer), with other brands such as Coors Light, Keystone Light, and Miller Lite being key players in the light beer industry.

Both Busch and Busch Light are great value beers, but are they any good?

The History of the Busch and Busch Light Brands

Kevin Harvick's No. 4 Busch Light Ford at Richmond International Raceway in 2017
Image Courtesy of Wiki Commons

There’s not a great deal of history to tell here (unlike the story of Miller High Life and Miller Lite brands) as even the older of the two beers only goes back as far as 1955.

Released as Anheuser-Busch’s first post-prohibition new brand, Busch Bavarian beer debuted in 1955. The official launch slogan was “Clear and bright as Mountain Air”. Many would argue the alpine references were an early attempt to compete with Anheuser-Busch’s main rival Coors Banquet who had staked their claim to the American lager market in the small mining town of Golden.

Coors Rocky Mountain pure water-brewed beer was already a favorite beverage of gold miners and other blue-collar beer drinkers. Logistically, the Busch brand is meant to be a sub-premium alternative to the company’s biggest beer brand Budweiser.

In 1979, the brand recipe was tweaked a little to become lighter and sweeter and the name was shortened to the Busch beer that we know it as today, with the tag abbreviated to “head for the mountains.”

Busch Light Draft was to follow a decade later in 1989 as a lower-priced substitute for the incredibly successful Bud Light. It was five years later that Anheuser-Busch dropped the “Draft” from the name. It’s believed the company introduced Busch Light after pressure from fans of the original Busch beer who wanted a light beer offering. The light beer craze in the 70s and 80s saw many of the major beer brands offering light versions of their flagship beers.

Today both of these beers regularly feature in the top ten best-selling beers in the USA. Busch Light has held on to the ninth position for the last few years, while its older sibling Busch stands right behind it at number ten.

Busch vs Busch Light Side by Side

 BuschBusch Light
First Released19551989
Carbs6.9 g3.2 g

The Classification of Busch and Busch Light

Both Busch and Busch Light use bottom-fermenting yeasts at cooler temperatures which makes them lagers in the classification of beer.

According to the Beer Judgement Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines, the original beer, Busch, falls into the standard American lager category. Busch meets the requirements of an SRM color between 2 and 3.5 (it hits 2), an IBU of between 8 and 18 (unclassified), and alcohol by volume of 4.2 % to 5.3% (Busch has a 4.3 percent ABV).

Although neither Busch nor Busch Light disclose their level of bitterness in IBUs, we can assume they are pretty light due to them both being pale lagers.

With an ABV of just 4.1%, Busch Light just falls into the subcategory of American Light Beer, which requires an ABV to be between 2.8% and 4.2%. An SRM of 2 again keeps it in its category (the recommended SRM is 2 – 3).

Busch vs Busch Light – The Flavor Profiles

While neither of these beers has the particularly strong flavors you will find in craft beers, they both have a similar flavor profile which is crisp, balanced, and pleasant. Being adjunct beers they both have hints of corn but there is a difference in taste to each beer.

Busch Beer

Busch, as a classic American lager, presents a flavor profile that combines malty sweetness and subtle hop bitterness. It has a smooth and well-rounded classic taste with balanced beer characteristics. The dominant malt taste brings a pleasant sweetness to the forefront, providing a solid foundation for the beer.

This sweetness is complemented by the gentle hop bitterness that adds complexity and depth to the balanced flavor. The hops used in Busch lend a subtle herbal and floral note, enhancing the overall taste experience. The result is a beer that is neither overly sweet nor too bitter, striking a harmonious balance that appeals to individual tastes of a more robust flavor and a heavier beer.

The lager is dominated by the barley malts which just seem to wash over your tongue. With a smooth taste, you will notice those hints of corn along with a faint taste of crackers. The hops can also add a lemon flavor, although one of the common beer flaws many complain about (especially in cheap beers) is a skunky aftertaste which can feel unpleasant.

Busch Light

On the other hand, Busch Light offers a lighter and more delicate flavor profile. It maintains a mild malt presence but with less intensity compared to regular beers like Busch. The maltiness in Busch Light low-cal beer delivers a subtle grainy and slightly sweet character without overpowering the taste buds.

The hop bitterness in Busch Light is also toned down, providing just a hint of bitterness that adds a touch of crisp taste to the beer. A light-bodied beer like Busch Light allows the flavors to be more subdued and refreshing, making it an easy-drinking option for those who prefer a milder taste in a well-made bargain light beer.

Main Criticisms of Busch and Busch Light

Some beer snobs flicking through this post may be thinking “This guy never tasted these beers!”, but I have just tried to put forward all the positives of these sub-premium beers. Cheap beers like Busch rarely have a good reputation in the beer industry, with many arguing the adjuncts which are added are more to do with keeping costs down than adding to the overall lager flavor. Light beers in particular can often be accused of tasting about as close to water as you can get.

Some people have found Busch has a metallic taste to it, as is often found in the cheaper beers, although Busch Light seems to suffer less from this complaint. A beer can often pick up a metallic flavor from various factors including exposure to unconditioned metals or poor ingredients which may have been badly handled. Most would suspect that Busch’s metallic flavor comes from old or mishandled malts.

Unfortunately, some have found that the level of off-flavor lingers through to the very end of the beer, which can leave an unpleasant aftertaste of what would otherwise have been a very serviceable beer.

Contrary to the off-flavors of Busch, the Busch Light has a clean taste suggesting a superior brew. This could also be down to the lengthier brewing process of the Busch Light, which allows for more of the off-flavors to “brew” out.

Busch vs Busch Light Brewing Process

Both Busch and Busch Light are brewed using high-quality ingredients and undergo a meticulous brewing process. The brewing process begins with malted barley, water, yeast, hops, and adjuncts such as rice or corn. The ingredients are carefully combined, allowing the natural fermentation process to occur.

Busch undergoes a shorter brewing period compared to Busch Light, resulting in a fuller and more robust flavor. In the case of Busch Light, the brewing process is modified to produce a lighter beer with reduced calorie content while maintaining a distinct taste. The addition of certain enzymes to Busch Light during fermentation helps to reduce the beer’s carbohydrate content.

Busch vs Busch Light – Aroma

In terms of aroma, both Busch and Busch Light are not particularly aromatic beers. They exhibit a light grain aroma, with subtle hints of cereal and bread from the malt. The hop aroma in Busch has a robust element of corn which dominates the character of the beer. There are also scents of malty graininess and sweetness which after a while can begin to smell a little skunky.

Busch Light, as you would expect, has much more subdued aromas. There is much less of a corn aroma or corn scent to the nose of the beer. Busch Light is far cleaner smelling with just a soft malt aroma and an almost totally neutral scent.

Busch vs Busch Light – The Mouthfeel

The mouthfeel of Busch and Busch Light also contributes to their flavor profiles. Busch has a fuller body with a slightly thicker texture, providing a more substantial and satisfying mouthfeel. It coats the palate with a smooth and creamy sensation, adding to the overall enjoyment of the beer.

In contrast, Busch Light has a lighter body and a crisper mouthfeel. It feels more refreshing and effervescent on the tongue, with a lighter texture that lends itself to easy drinking.

Busch vs Busch Light Appearance

Both Busch and Busch Light have a pale golden-yellow color to the beer with a white foamy head. The Busch has the slightly deeper hue of the two beers, which can be quite evident if you should place them in glasses next two each other.

In both beers, the foamy head dissipates quite quickly leaving very little or no lacing on the glass.

Busch vs Busch Light Alcohol Content

Standard beers tend to have more alcohol measured by ABV than light beers and this is the case with Busch and Busch Light.

Busch Light has an ABV of 4.1% with its bigger brother, Busch, having an ABV of 4.3%. Although the difference is negligible at just 0.2% it can make Busch Light seem more drinkable especially when chugging a six-pack rather than just the odd bottle or two.

Busch vs Busch Light – The Calories

Both Busch Light and Busch beer are relatively low-cal options when compared to the beer industry average of 156 cals per 12 oz bottle. Even Busch, the full-fat version, only has 114 cals, and that drops even lower with Busch Light to 95 calories per can compared to the average of 104 of many other light beers.

Carbs is where there’s a key difference, with Busch having over double the carb content at 6.9g of carbs when compared to the 3.2g of Busch Light. To put this into context, most keto diets don’t allow for more than 20g of carbs per day, so one Busch beer would use up almost a third of your RDA of carbs. With Busch Light, it’s not even a quarter of your daily carb allowance, which may mean you can enjoy another can without feeling too guilty.

The Marketing of Busch vs Busch Light

Understanding the target demographics of Busch and Busch Light helps shed light on their popularity and market positioning. Busch, with its richer flavor and slightly higher alcohol content, tends to attract individuals who appreciate a classic American lager experience. It resonates with beer enthusiasts who prefer a more substantial beer to savor on various occasions.

Busch Light, with its lighter profile and lower calories, appeals to a broader range of beer drinkers, including those who prioritize a lower-calorie option, individuals looking for a refreshing drink during outdoor activities, and those who simply prefer a milder beer taste.

Both Busch and Busch Light have carved out a significant place in American beer culture. Busch is often associated with outdoor activities, particularly camping, fishing, and other recreational pursuits. It has become a staple at tailgating parties and barbecues, embodying a sense of camaraderie and adventure.

Busch Light, on the other hand, has gained popularity as a party beer, frequently enjoyed at social gatherings and sporting events. It has become synonymous with a more laid-back and easygoing drinking experience.

Busch as a brand has a retro feel to it (in a similar way to “Natty Light” – another Anheuser-Busch sub-premium brand), and has been continuously marketed to appeal to outdoorsy, budget-conscious consumers.

Both Busch beers have similar marketing and advertising campaigns which usually feature outdoor activities.

As a nature-aware beer brand, Busch sponsors Ducks Unlimited, which is a private organization that preserves wetlands and is also associated with the National Forest Foundation, a non-profit making partner of the US Forest Services.

Busch vs Busch Light: Final Call

In the battle of Busch vs Busch Light, there is no clear winner. Each beer offers a unique experience tailored to different preferences and occasions. Whether you gravitate towards the rich and robust flavors of Busch or prefer the lighter and crisper taste of Busch Light, Anheuser-Busch has crafted two beers that cater to a wide range of beer enthusiasts.

The major difference between the two beers is the alcohol content and the calorie value of each beer. But with only 19 calories between the two beers, choosing Busch Light won’t make too significant a difference when trying to stay in shape. Instead, concentrate on which flavor you prefer. Even the ABV only varies by 0.2 %, so drinking Busch rather than Busch Light won’t have you rolling about more on the next camping trip.

So, next time you find yourself at a gathering or contemplating your next beer purchase, take a moment to consider whether you crave the full-bodied character of Busch or the refreshing lightness of Busch Light. Cheers to enjoying the perfect beer for any occasion!

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