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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.