22 May Big Lug Canteen’s Dïat Pils: A Beer for All Seasons That’s Both Lo-cal and Local
One of the trends in beer is to lo-cal or even no alcohol beers. Younger drinkers are flocking to spirits instead of craft beer, in part because they believe it to be lower in calories. To combat this movement, session beers have become much more common and more popular – we’ve written about this trend before (link is here).
However, session beers aren’t necessarily lower in calories. In some cases, brewers halt fermentation early or use a yeast strain that doesn’t ferment all the sugar. This leaves a low ABV beer (session), but the carbs are no lower than in a higher alcohol beer. However, other craft brewers are producing beers that are low in calories – and these do usually have lower alcohol. In sum: all lo-cal beers are sessions, but not all session beers are low calorie.
Examples of low-calorie craft beers include the DayTime IPA from Lagunitas (98 calories), the SeaQuench Ale from Dogfish Head (140 calories), the Go-To IPA from Stone (135 calories), and the Westbrook Gose (120 calories). These are lower in calories than most craft beers, where the average IPA goes off at about 175 calories/pint. Stouts will be higher, about 225 calories/pint, with imperial stouts up at about 300 or more. Some styles of beer will naturally have fewer calories, like hefeweizens that may have 150-175 cals/pint.
You may have noticed that the examples I gave were for nationally distributed beers. Local examples are much rarer, and even rarer given that many breweries don’t test beers for caloric content. It isn’t hard to find a local brewery that has a session beer or two, but as we discussed above, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are lower in calories. So, as we enter into the active months of summer, wouldn’t it be nice to have a tasty, lo-cal and local beer? Enter Big Lug Brewing and their Dïat Pils.
I talked to Head Brewer Scott Ellis about the raison d’etre for Dïat Pils and the particulars of the beer. It’s got a good story and is a very interesting beer from foam to the bottom of the pint.
The Reason. Big Lug had been thinking about doing a lower calorie beer for some time, induced to a certain degree by where their taprooms and restaurants are located. Of the four current Big Lug/Liter House/Half Liter locations, two are on golf courses and two are on the Monon Trail. Big Lug Country Pub in Pendleton is in the old clubhouse for the Fall Creek Golf Club, while Big Lug on the Prairie is on the Prairie View Golf Course in Carmel.
The original Big Lug Canteen backs up to the Monon Trail at 86th Street and Westfield Blvd, and Liter House/Half Liter are on that same Monon Trail, just further south at 53rd and Winthrop. Golf can be considered exercise in some cases, and it is usually a summer/warm weather activity. Meanwhile, almost activities on the Monon are healthy, with people walking and biking all the time. With all this vigorous activity around, considering a healthier beer was a good thought.
That, along with the move to healthier beers in general, made Big Lug owner Eddie Sahm and head brewer Scott Ellis think seriously about doing a lo-cal beer. Scott told me, “So this was as much a response to the low cal movement as it was to a demand for a light beer that you could take out on the golf course with you. Not to mention our two beer gardens book-ending a large section of the Monon Trail up here on the north side. There are a lot of bikers/runners/walkers that frequent Big Lug Canteen and Liter House/Half Liter and we wanted something that those folks could latch on to.”
Scott added that the beer is also a tongue-in-cheek penance for a couple of the things tied to Big Lug. The original Big Lug was William Howard Taft, the largest president in our country’s history, and in addition to this Scott mentioned that Big Lug/Liter House/Half Liter, “don’t always serve the healthiest food in the world, so we figured a “healthy” beer would sort of make up for that…” But as a caveat, he says, “We’re not saying our beer wouldn’t help you lose weight, but drinking beer to lose weight makes us giggle.”
The Name and the Can. “Dïat” translates from the German as “diet,” and by style the beer is a Leichtbier, a lighter version of a typical German pale lager. These beers are normally lower in calories, but as the BJCP style guide states, “still interesting to drink.” Therefore, Dïat isn’t really a pilsner, especially since it uses Hallertau Blanc hops instead of Saaz hops, but those technicalities shouldn’t stand in the way of a good name.
Dïat Pils is a play-on-words for “diet pills.” One is a controlled substance that can help you lose weight if used properly, while the other sold in the drugstore remedy aisle and the only thing it will help you lighten is your wallet. Under Scott’s tutelage, I’m coming to the conclusion that there are always layers to the Big Lug names. For another example, their Goat Ranch Helles Lager is also named for the golf course aspect of the locations. Goat ranch is a slang term for a poorly kept up golf course, not to suggest that either of the courses associated with Big Lug locations are goat ranches, it’s just a bit of a tongue in cheek reference.
In similar fashion, the Dïat Pils artwork and can reference other things. The color scheme is a throwback to Tab Soda, (which Scott calls the worst diet soda in history). The bicycle on the label denotes the connection to activities for the low calorie beer, which is a straight up allusion to the reason for the beer, but Scott said that the tag line again swings back to another play on words, “A Lite Beer For A Heavy State” with Indiana being a highly obese state and also it being a beer for when you might be dieting or working out and don’t want to be heavy.
The beer. Dïat Pils is made with German pilsner malt and a bit of acidulated malt to adjust the pH. The hops for bittering and dry hopping are Hallertau Blanc. Other than that, the interesting aspect of the beer is that it is dried out by using amylogucosidase to increase fermentable sugars – like we talked about in brut IPAs (here). This gives the beer a crisp, dry finish. It makes it drinkable, and gets rid of the sugar that might increase the carbs and calories.
Interestingly, Dïat Pils is truly sessionable, coming in at 3.7% ABV, even with the use of the enzyme to increase fermentable sugar levels. Usually when a brewer uses this enzyme, the ABV goes up, but here it is controlled by using a low original gravity to prevent both high carb levels and the chance for higher alcohol. In the final analysis, they ended up with a beer that was dry, low calorie, and low ABV. Just how low you ask? Big Lug had Dïat Pils tested and the numbers are thus: 2.4 grams carbs/12 oz., 3.7% ABV, and just 92 calories/12 oz.
The Results. Scott told me that the public has been catching on to this beer. The beer has been selling well, especially on the warmer days, and if we ever get a summer, it could well be smash hit. This success has been achieved without a dedicated marketing campaign (one is in development as we speak). Scott said, “Like with any new beer it takes some time for people to trust the flavor and consistency and spend money for it on a regular basis. We believe this product has the ability to be a repeatable and delicious option for a lot of people.”
He concluded with, “We expect increasing sales at our two brewery locations and the golf courses as the spring and summer progress. Look for more of a push to outside accounts and liquor stores in the near future. It is gaining some traction, especially in craft beer bars where lower ABV options are not readily available on the local scene and currently no one is making a lite beer locally.”
The Conclusion. The low calorie beer is a growing trend, and Big Lug is on the vanguard of this movement. A lighter beer that is still tasty and made in the style of a true craft beer. What’s not to like?