Difference Between Dark Beer and Light Beer

When five o’clock rolls around after a long, hard day of work, nothing sounds quite as good as heading home and cracking open a cold one. After all, you’ve earned it. 

But when you get to your fridge, which do you reach for: a pale ale or a stout? Do you even know what those words mean? 

Don’t fret – many people misunderstand the difference between dark beer and light beer. For example, it’s a common misconception that dark beer always has a higher alcohol content than light beer.

While that’s sometimes the case, it’s not because of the color of the beer. 

Today, we’re going to explore the difference in ingredients between dark beer and light beer and discuss their flavors, calories contents, popular brands, and more. Your buddies will think you’re a genius after hearing about what you’ve learned. 

Color

The most distinctive and noticeable difference between light and dark beer is its color. The most straightforward conclusion we can come to just by looking at the two types of beers is that dark beer is darker in color, while light beer has a more golden appearance. 

The color of a beer is impacted by many factors, including its roasting process, the ingredients used, and fermentation. All of the bits and pieces will deliver a unique color for each type of beer. 

Each side of the aisle is categorized into various shades that you can encounter when enjoying either light beer or dark beer. 

Light Beer Colors

A picture of a pale ale in a pint glass on a wooden surface.

As a rule, light beer colors are going to range from a medium shade and get lighter from there. Here are some of the standard colors you’ll see on the light end of the spectrum: 

  • Pale Straw
  • Straw
  • Pale Gold
  • Gold
  • Light Amber

Some may also add more nuanced shades to this list, such as deep gold or copper, but this list gives us a general idea and proposes titles that are actually used when naming beers. 

Dark Beer Colors

A picture of a dark beer in a pint glass with foam on top. White background.

On the flip side, although light beers are generally more popular, dark beer colors are actually more extensive. There is a great color range on this side of the spectrum, allowing for more options: 

  • Medium Amber
  • Deep Amber
  • Amber Brown
  • Brown
  • Ruby Brown
  • Deep Brown 
  • Black

Overall, you can usually categorize any dark beer as amber, brown, or black. Because both light and dark beers include an amber category, some beers may overlap with similar colors and tastes. 

Contrary to popular belief, you can find both light and dark beers in the form of both ales and lagers. However, porters and stout are always dark, while pilsner and IPAs are typically lighter shades. 

Ingredients & Process

A picture of hops coming out of a bag onto a wooden surface.

There is a significant difference in ingredients between dark beer and light beer, and that’s what gives each specific brew its own unique flavor and appearance. 

The beer-making process includes four main ingredients:

  • Grains
  • Yeast
  • Hops
  • Water

The grains for every beer will be different. Beers can use wheat, oats, barley, corn, rye, and rice. These components are used in various combinations and measurements depending on the beer. Each process will look different, but they all contain similar steps.

Dark Beer Ingredients & Process

Because of its usually more robust flavor, dark beer tends to use a more complex combination of ingredients over light beer. At its base, you can expect dark beers to have more barley. To achieve that more intense flavor, dark beer can also use more pungent added tastes such as coffee, chocolate, caramel, and nuts. 

Both light and dark beer go through a roasting process during which grains are heated. However, darker beers roast for longer. The longer you roast and the more you prepare the grains, the darker your beer will be. 

Light Beer Ingredients & Process

While darker beers tend to use barley, lighter beers typically contain more hops. The hops are roasted in short time increments and at lower temperatures, which significantly contributes to their lighter appearance. 

Unlike dark beer, light beer aims for a more delicate, refreshing taste over deep and complex flavors. It’s more likely to use ingredients like fruit or flowers to impact its taste during its processes. 

Flavor 

Because the two types of beers use very different ingredients, there is bound to be a dark beer vs light flavor difference. The changes in roasting time and temperature will also result in various tasting notes. 

You can usually expect a light beer refreshing, light, and easy to drink. Many light beers have a slightly bitter taste due to the hops, and in some cases, you can also taste the yeast. Light beers will also add hints of flowers or fruitiness to them.

On the other hand, dark beers aim to be more intensively flavored with robust tastes and potent ingredients. Many darker shades like stouts will have a nutty, chocolate, or coffee flavor to them. 

Dark beers are also more common among seasonal flavors. When fall and winter roll around, you can find many dark beers sporting fun flavor notes like ginger and pumpkin.

Food Pairings

There is no set rule as to what you can eat with which kind of beer. In fact, come up with the weirdest combination you want, and we’ll encourage it.

However, there is a difference in food pairing with light beer and dark beer that can actually help your food be more enjoyable overall. 

Light beer is generally more popular during the summer months. Its ice-cold refreshing taste helps to combat those hot, sunny days. It also pairs better with lighter foods like chicken, pasta, or even pizza. It’s excellent for barbeques full of pasta salads, fruits, and veggie platters.

Darker beers, while enjoyable at any time of the year, tend to be more popular for the colder months. Their strong flavors and ingredients warm up the body as you drink, and their seasonal flavors really put you in the holiday spirit.

Many people enjoy a rich, dark beer with equally as flavorful dishes such as lobster, grilled meats, smoked dishes, and roasted pork. Dark beer is also great with spicy dishes. 

It’s best to avoid a dark beer with a more bland meal because the beer’s flavor will easily overcome the dish. A good rule of thumb is to pair delicate foods with delicate (or light) beers. 

Popular Brands

Sure, we’ve discussed a lot about the beer-making process, ingredients, and flavors, but we know that now you just want to get your hands on some of the best beer out there. Because their tastes can be so distinctly different, you may find yourself on the light or dark side. 

Light Beer Brands

Light beers are very popular both on the shelf and on tap at your favorite bar. They also tend to be pretty cost-effective against dark beers, and their lighter flavor is often considered more refreshing to some over darker beers. 

The problem becomes: which brands are considered light beers, and which are the best? Let’s start with a quick list of light beer brands that are popular on the alcohol market: 

  • Bud Light
  • Miller Lite
  • Michelob Light
  • Coors Light
  • Sam Adams Light
  • Corona Light
  • Yuengling Light
  • Natural Light
  • Heineken Light

All of these light beers fall right around the same place in terms of the price range, with Natural Light taking its position as the cheapest light beer. They also all have about the same alcohol percentage, so the choice falls to you for which taste you prefer. 

Dark Beer Brands

Since light beer is America’s favorite beer, according to the Washington Post, it’s a little more challenging to recognize a good dark beer brand unless you’re already an aficionado. 

Luckily, the rise in breweries over the years has made it easier for beer-lovers to try new dark flavors and expand their horizon a bit. 

If you’re one of those beer drinkers hoping to spread your wings and venture into the widely unknown area of dark beer, you might try out one of these popular dark beer brands:

  • Guinness
  • Dogfish Head
  • Bell’s Expedition
  • Allagash
  • Keegan Ales
  • Brasserie Dupont
  • Hitachino Nest
  • Grimm
  • Brouwerij Van Steenberge

Many of the brands above have their own unique version of a stout or a dark/brown ale. While these brands are some of the most popular for dark beer, you can find your own favorites locally. 

One of the best ways to try new dark beers is to visit local breweries in your area. Breweries are famous for their tasting flights, where you can try several beers at once. You can then ask the owner where you can buy your favorites and support their business. 

FAQ

Beer is such a fascinating topic, and we could go on all day about from its elaborate scientific makeup to the pure and simple taste. Rather than bore you with more of our ramblings, check out this FAQ section for some interesting topics. 

Is dark beer healthier than light beer? 

There are a few theories concerning the health impacts of different kinds of beers. But is dark beer healthier than light beer? The question earns more than just a yes or no answer.

On the one hand, light beer usually contains fewer calories than dark beer. According to Medical Daily, light beer will probably get you anywhere from 95 to 120 calories per bottle. That’s to be expected, and, in fact, that’s usually one of the big selling points. 

A light beer vs dark beer calorie difference is evident – probably less than 100 more, though – but some experts believe that dark beer may have benefits for heart health. Dark beer is chock full of flavonoids, which are known to have impactful antioxidants that can help prevent blood clots.

It’s the same phenomenon that leads experts to believe that red wine is also good for the heart. The dark color is what lends to these theories. 

Of course, if you’re truly looking for the healthiest lifestyle possible, you probably shouldn’t be looking towards beer at all. Most people drinking beer aren’t doing so to better their health, if we’re honest. 

Is alcohol content higher in dark beer vs light beer? 

Perhaps one of the biggest assumptions that come with the dark beer vs light beer comparison is that dark beer always has a higher alcohol content than light beer. 

This assumption is completely false. In fact, the color of your beer has very little to do with its alcohol percentage. 

The color of your beer, as we discussed earlier, is a direct result of the ingredients used in its processing. It also has to do with the length of the brewing process. 

Overall, most beers that you drink will have an alcohol content between 4% and 7%. Some local breweries may even have a couple in the 8% to 9% range. However, many dark beers can fall into that lower range, like the Guinness Stout, which lands right around 4.2% alongside Bud Light, Coors Light, and other light beers. 

So is alcohol content higher in dark beer vs light beer? Simply put: no, not necessarily. 

Will light beer or dark beer give me a worse hangover?

The Mayo Clinic states that the only sure way to prevent a hangover is to either drink in moderation or do not drink at all. Regardless of the type of alcohol you’re consuming, drinking large amounts can cause things like dehydration, digestive irritation, disturbed sleep, and low blood sure, which all contribute to a hangover. 

That being said, there is some evidence to suggest that drinking light-colored alcohol might help lessen the severity of a hangover. 

Alcohol contains chemicals called congeners, which are linked to hangover causes. Congeners are a result of the fermentation process and help give alcohol its flavor. You can find more congeners in dark liquors, including dark beers, than in light liquors and light beers.

So, drinking a lighter beer may potentially lessen the impact the drink has on you the next morning, but over-indulging in any kind of alcohol will still make you feel awful.

Related: Pale Ale vs IPA