What’s better, the original Anheuser-Busch light lager – Natural Light – or Bud Light, the lighter, softer version of the self-proclaimed “King of Beers”? Many light beer fans have wondered whether Bud Light or Natural Light is the better beer. First, let’s get to know these American classics.
Bud Light and Natural Light are simple, classic, American light lagers. They are both low in character and alcohol, although Natural Light has a more fruity sweetness. Because neither of these beers is overly bitter or heavily carbonized, they are very smooth, highly drinkable, and easy to enjoy.
This is far from the tale of two American light lagers. In this article, we’ll closely examine these two American icons. That includes appearance, smell, history, flavor, mouthfeel, calories, brewing process, and alcohol content.
1977 saw several landmark moments in American history. Star Wars hit theaters for the first time. The world’s first personal computer, the Commodore PET, was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll, died in his home.
In 1977, too, Natural Light hit the American beer market.
Natural Light – known as “Natty Light” and “Shore Champagne” – was Anheuser-Busch’s first widely distributed light beer. It was introduced at first to compete with Miller Lite and was aggressively priced to reflect its lower calorie and alcohol content.
Bud Light followed not long after, in 1982, and became Anheuser-Busch’s flagship light beer.
Bud Light and Natural Light are owned and produced by Anheuser-Busch, the largest brewing company in the United States. Anheuser-Busch’s proud American heritage dates back to 1852 when German American brewer George Schneider opened his Bavarian Brewery in St Louis. Eberhard Anheuser, another German-American, later purchased this company. Later, Adolphus Busch, a salesman at the company, bought silent partner William D’Oench’s share, lending his name to the business.
Many of Anheuser-Busch’s American beers are based on the German-American brewing tradition, including Bud Light. Bud Light is a derivative of Budweiser, which was their attempt at producing a light, easy-drinking Bavarian-style beer.
On this front, Bud Light and Natural Light are more similar than they are different.
These light beers are staples of the light American lager market.
Natural Light has a very soft, sweet, grainy flavor and a touch of mild bitterness, which is rare for an American lager. The sweetness in this beer is more syrupy and fruity than hoppy, but overall, Natural Light is not an intensely flavored beer. It won an award at the World Beer Cup in 2008, taking home the bronze medal for Best American-Style Light Lager.
Bud Light shares the typically soft, light flavor profile of most American light lagers. Its crisp, light flavor is reminiscent of faint malt and grains, with minimal sweetness or bitterness. Although Natural Light has a slight bitterness at the tail end, Bud Light has almost no aftertaste.
Neither of these beers has any overwhelming flavor on the palate. They’re about as close to water as you can get in beer form, although Natural Light’s slight edge in the flavor department comes from a subtly more complex palate than Bud Light has.
These beers are very similar in terms of mouth feel.
Bud Light and Natural Light have minimal fizz, fuzz, or tingle to their mouthfeel. They’re best described as thin-bodied, with minimal personality or assertiveness.
One article from Business Insider described Bud Light as “watery and chuggable”, which neatly encapsulates the feeling of drinking an ice-cold Bud Light.
Natural Light has a similarly thin, watery mouthfeel. Either beer would be highly drinkable on a hot day.
Bud Light has a minimal aroma. Upon raising the glass to your nose, you’ll notice faint grains and sweet malt notes. It’s probably closest in smell to the faint whiff you get when cutting into a fresh loaf of brown bread. In this respect, it’s everything you’ve come to expect from an American light lager.
Natural Light shares this grainy cereal aroma and offers a touch of mineral, vaguely metallic tang, and some of its taste’s fruity sweetness. Like Bud Light, the smell is minimal and neatly precedes the taste of this beer.
Light beers are supposed to be low in calories and low in alcohol. With this in mind, we’ll compare the calorific content of these two light beers.
Bud Light has 110 calories per 12 fl. oz. (one can) of beer and 3.1 grams of carbs per serving.
Natural Light offers 95 calories per 12 oz and 3.2 grams of carbs.
Natural Light has the edge over Bud Light with a very low-calorie count.
Natural Light and Bud Light have an ABV of 4.2%, and this low alcohol level is par for the course regarding American light lagers.
Bud Light and Natural Light look almost identical in the glass. Both beers pour clear, pale straw.
Natural Light, however, has a noticeably bigger head than Bud Light. It will pour about three fingers of frothy, foamy white head, dissipating very quickly. Bud Light’s one-finger white head disappears just as fast, giving way to bouncy, fizzy, tiny bubbles.
The packaging for these beers is also very similar. Bud Light often comes with an all-blue label, while Natural Light leans into its all-American heritage by proudly wearing red, white, and blue on the packaging.
What Do Other People Think About Both Beers?
Both of these beers are aimed squarely at ordinary American beer drinkers. What do other people think about these beers?
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Although Bud Light and Natural Light score similarly, Bud Light has a clear, if narrow, lead across the board. The lone exception is on Influenster, where reviewers gave Natural Light a nearly perfect score of 4.7/5.
One Beeradvocate reviewer had this to say about Natural Light:
‘When it is 85 degrees outside, and you are at a BBQ, drinking hazy, juicy 8% DIPAS that are all the rage right now is not prudent. On days like this, I harken back to my northern NE roots and reach for a Natty. There is nothing pretentious about this beer.’Source
Brewing Process & Ingredients
As lagers, both Bud Light and Natural Light are bottom-fermented. During the brewing process, the yeast sinks to the bottom instead of rising to the top. If you want more details about Budweiser’s brewing process, we’ve done a deep dive here.
Because both Natural Light and Bud Light are brewed by Anheuser-Busch, in the same breweries and for a virtually identical market, their brewing process is remarkably similar.
Natural Light has a longer mashing process than other beers, converting more of the carbohydrates in the grains to simple sugars, which have fewer calories. Bud Light is produced similarly.
Bud Light and Natural Light have similar brand images and target markets. Both are sold as all-American light lagers for regular drinkers, eschewing trends and in favor of remaining loyal to their core base.
Bud Light has long appealed to sports fans, particularly those watching the Super Bowl. Bud Light advertisements often air during televised games of American football, catering to those who want an easy-drinking beer to consume while they watch a game with their buddies.
Natural Light, perhaps because it was a little early to the American light beer party, has a less concrete foothold than Bud Light. Natural Light, thanks in no small part to its infamously low price, is a favorite beer among college students who prefer using Natty Light for drinking games.
Perhaps it’s this reputation as the go-to beer for college-aged drinkers that led Natural Light to, in 2021, reveal the world’s most expensive piece of art, the “Da Vinci of Debt”. This artwork was a spiraling whirlwind of diplomas, beating Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” by $20 million, and marked the arrival of Natty Light’s College Debt Relief campaign.
Natty Light also heavily leans into its “underdog” reputation, for example, by supporting the Washington Nationals’ first appearance in the World Series. Just as the underdog baseball team crashed the big-league party, Natural Light introduced “Nationals Light”, a hard seltzer “crashing the seltzer party“.
Natural Light was also the first beer in space, launched via weather balloon to an altitude of over 90,000ft.90,000ft+.
Bud Light vs. Natural Light
Although these American light lagers are very similar, they have a few noticeable differences. Chief among these is Natural Light’s slightly more robust, varied flavor, compared with the relatively subdued, thin flavor of Bud Light. Regardless, either of these bestselling American beers would be the perfect accompaniment to a beer pong game or on your next hot lawnmowing day.