Beer: alcohol, calories, and carbs

Boxplots of calories by beer style

Which beer style has the most calories? In general: porters. The least: lager, the style of beer with which you are probably most familiar. Budweiser, Miller, Coors, the majority of all mass-market beers are all brewed in the lager style.

These box-plots use data from the web site RealBeer.com. The editors of that site keep a running list of brewers, beers and the alcohol, calories, and carbohydrate content of, at this writing, 229 different beers from 72 different breweries. There are, naturally, many more beers and breweries than this around the world; this data reflects the beers of most interest to readers and users of RealBeer.com. The classification into styles of beer is my attempt, and any mistakes in classification are my own. You should visit RealBeer.com to learn more about beer styles. The RealBeer.com data set is most complete with alcohol values, but there is far less information about calories and carbs, owing to the greater difficulty of obtaining or measuring those values.

Here’s a quick lesson on how to read box plots: the dark, center line is the median, the point at which 50% of the values are above, 50% below. The next two horizontal lines are the quartiles: the top one is the 3rd quartile, which means 25% of the values are above it; the next is the 1st quartile, which means 25% of the values are below it. The top and bottom lines are the 5% and 95%-tiles, with the obvious interpretation. Points beyond these are more extreme values. Box-plots are intended to give you an idea of the spread, variability, and distribution of data.

But the main lesson is: if you are counting calories (and don’t insist on taste), lager beers are your choice. Lager and ales also have the widest ranges of calories, but this may reflect the fact that most of the data are from these two main groups. 44% of the beers listed are ales, 38% lagers, 4% porters, 8% stouts, and 6% wheats. There was also one barley wine, a style noted for its high alcohol content, which I classified into an ale since it is difficult to do statistics with just one data point.

How about alcohol content?

Boxplots of alcohol % by beer style

Pretty much the same story: lagers, having the least calories on average, also have the least alcohol content. The order is much the same, except that porters (this division is somewhat artificial: porters are ales, but of a character distinct enough to merit their own category) move two slots down in the order. Ales and stouts (which are also technically ales) do not differ too much, though stouts beat out them out slightly.

Both stouts and porters are “dark” beers, so this plot both upholds and disproves the common belief that darker beers are stronger in alcohol than light beers. Stouts do have more alcohol than “paler” ales an average, while porters have less.

Boxplots of carbs by beer style

The picture of style by carbs is unsurprisingly the same as style by calories: after all, more carbs, more calories in general. A hearty porter can be a meal all by itself!

It’s also fun to look at the relationship between the three variables. Let’s start with calories and alcohol.

Beers calories by alcohol

This plot shows how Alcohol (the horizontal axis in each panel) and Calories (the vertical axis in each panel) vary together. The green line gives a guess of how the two variables are associated statistically. In order to draw it, we need enough data in each style to do so: at least 4 different data points. There isn’t enough data in wheat beers, for example, which is why there is no line there.
There are enough points in the styles lager and ale, and the relationship is slightly steeper in ales. This means that as alcohol increases there are more calories, same as with lager beers, but the amount of calories increases faster for ales.

Beers carbs by alcohol
This next plot is similar, except it is for alcohol and carbs. Once again, there aren’t really enough data points in styles other than ales or lagers, and again the relationship is steeper for ales.

Lastly, we have the relationship between carbs and calories.

Beers carbs by calories

Not much surprise here: as carbs increase, so too do calories for each style of beer. The steep relationship in ales seems to be mirrored in stouts and wheats, too, but the sample is probably too small to say for sure.

Overall, the fact that in lager beers there is higher chance of having lower alcohol, carbs, or calories is expected. Many mass-market lager beers are designed, marketed, and brewed to have just these characteristics. And of course alcohol has its own calories, so as alcohol increases, so too should the overall number of calories.

Just a small snapshot of some beer statistics. Interested readers should feel free to ask questions and I’ll see if I can answer them.

Comments

Beer: alcohol, calories, and carbs — 11 Comments

  1. Pingback: Realbeer.com Beer Therapy » Blog Archive » A statistician’s view of beer calories and carbs

  2. Junk science I say… First of all, Porters and Stouts are Ales for the most part, as are Wheat beers.

    While processing the data may have been insightful, how the data was collected really makes this a meaningless exercise.

  3. Actually, Scott, in the article I do say that porters and stouts are ales. Wheat beers too.

    But these beers, even though they are all top-fermented, and so are classified as ales, are all brewed differently, use different ingredients (wheat or barely; two-row or single-row barley; a variety of wheat and barely species, etc.), are constructed by different methods, and have different pre- and post-fermenting characteristics like specific gravity, sugar content, alcohol content, and mix of carbohydrate types. And it is a fact that these differences will give different calorie counts etc. It would be shocking if they did not.

    Data collection is always, of course, subject to error. I have taken the measurements as is. But if you have corrections, I am sure the editors of RealBeer.com would welcome them. Me too, because I could use them to improve my statistics.

    Thanks.

  4. While this is interesting, you are right that a study of 2 porters and 3 stouts does not provide a statistically significant sample. Also, including several (5?) non-alcoholic beers in the lager category skews the data.

  5. Quite right, Tom, there are no “significance” claims anywhere here.

    Non-alcoholic beers, all other things being equal, have fewer calories, because, of course, they lack the calories from alcohol. But they still have some, and people do drink them, so the results using them are interesting in that sense. All the alcohol-free beers in the list that I have are lagers, too, so it’s only in that category where their influence is felt.

    But now that I think of your comments, I might go back and redo some of the figures to highlight this class of beer.

    Thanks!

  6. I have to agree with Scott. These statistics are misleading. You don’t have enough data points in your wheat, porter, and stout categories to make it meaningful. The “lager” category should include bock, doppelbock, SA Triple Bock, oktoberfest/maerzen, and others. Those would skew the results much higher in every category than your reliance on standard American lagers and light beers. Within every category, there can be a wide range of alcohol and the other parameters. I could select beers within the categories you chose and show the opposite results from this study.

  7. Another point is that there is a lot of data provided by budmillercoors and their ilk. The rest is sketchy. The realbeer.com list represents a skewed sample, and does not represent the universe of beers, a weighted sampling of each type, or even a random sample. Statistics on a sample like that are close to meaningless. But I realize it’s all you have. I appreciate what you have done, it is interesting, and good work, considering the data you had to work with. But I would not draw any significant conclusions from it.

    Get a bunch of dry Irish stouts like Guinness draught, and you will be down in the “lager” range. Get some Russian imperial stouts and you will blow the porters and everything else out of the water.

  8. Tex,

    I wouldn’t say the stats we have are misleading: they are what they are. You’re perfectly correct to say that the sample of beers we have is limited: it actually does not need to be “random”, but it should be fuller.

    It’s not quite a mistake, it does not skew, to put mass-market lagers into the “lager” category, because they are technically lagers. Of course, it would be better to split out the category separately to have a “mass market” category and and “other lager”, but it’s not a given that the results would be vastly different.

    And like I said before, I was not aiming for statistical “significance”, just trying to see general trends. So the graphs are not actually meaningless, but do show fairly reliable overall tendencies.

    But if you would like to help collect a better and larger sample of beers so that we can re-do the analysis, I’d be more than happy to credit your name on this posting. Let me know.

    Briggs

  9. I’m sure you know what they say about lies, damned lies, and statistics. Your first statement is “Which beer style has the most calories? In general: porters.” Based on this sample, yes. But it is more generally correct to substitute Russian imperial stout, barleywine, old ale, double IPA, and doppelbock for porter.

    I’d LOVE to help you with getting a better and larger sample, Briggs!

  10. does anyone actually know the calories & carbohydrates in genesee na beer. there are very few na beers on the internet & the ones that i see are around 15 carbs as an example ( which is very high) compared to light beer which is 3.5 to 5.0 carbs !! ?? thank you sonny