Both Heineken and Budweiser are immensely popular lagers that have made their mark in history. Both of them are sold worldwide, and they have a strong foothold in the American market. However, if you have the option, what beer tastes better? Let’s start with a quick answer:
Budweiser is an American lager with a slight herbal-like taste, whereas Heineken is a European pale lager with a stronger herbal taste. Budweiser is low in bitterness and carbonization because of its use of rice in the beer, whereas Heineken has a medium bitterness and carbonization. Heineken has a strong kick and aftertaste, whereas Budweiser is much smoother and more drinkable.
However, that certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. Below, we’ll discuss several aspects of each beer to identify which beer generally tastes better. We’ll discuss the flavor, mouthfeel, calories, alcohol content, and smell of the beers. Finally, we’ll also look at the appearance and the brewing process to see if there are things we do and don’t like. This way you’ll surely know everything there’s to know. Read on!
Let’s first talk about the flavor of both Budweiser and Heineken. In my opinion, this is the part where you’ll immediately notice a difference between the two beers.
First of all, Budweiser is an American lager and if you’re interested in a review of Budweiser by itself then click here. American lagers are made with entirely different ingredients than European lagers (which is what Heineken is). The main difference here is that Budweiser is made with rice, which is typical for an American lager but unthinkable for a European lager.
First of all, the rice gives Budweiser a soft flavor profile. I mean by this is that the beer is incredibly easily drinkable and that the taste won’t put off even the most inexperienced beer drinkers. Budweiser likes to describe the beer as ‘crisp’ due to their addition of rice, and in a way, I would describe the beer in the same way.
Furthermore, the beer is made with the usual barley malt and hops that you’ll find in almost every lager in the world. This still means Budweiser has a low-medium malt flavor, although it’s not all that present. Also, I would never describe Budweiser as a bitter beer, the bitterness in Budweiser is almost non-existent, and in some ways, you could describe the beer as ‘watery’.
All of this also means that the aftertaste of Budweiser disappears almost immediately, and there’s no lingering bitterness or flavor, for that matter.
On the other hand, Heineken doesn’t use rice and opts to go with pure malted barley and hops (read our specific Heineken review here). This results in a beer that’s a lot more bitter. If you’re used to the taste of Budweiser, and you don’t particularly like bitter beers, then Heineken (or European pale lagers in general) will be a bit rough on the taste buds.
The aftertaste is another big difference between these two popular beers. Heineken has a very outspoken aftertaste. It’s bitter; it stays for quite a while after the sip and slowly builds up the more you drink of it. If you’re a beer drinker that likes bitter beers, Heineken will most likely be the better option.
Both beers also represent two different worlds in terms of mouthfeel and carbonization. Budweiser has much less carbonization than Heineken will ever have. By just looking at the two poured beers in a glass, I can see that Budweiser has much fewer bubbles than Heineken.
The result is that Budweiser is much more drinkable (or smooth) but also has much less character than Heineken has. On the other hand, Heineken is much less drinkable (if you’re planning on having a few or would like to drink one quickly), but it has much more character.
With character, I mean that Heineken has both bitterness and carbonization. This results in a powerful ‘kick’ when drinking the beer. You can feel the beer throughout your mouth at the initial sip and when you swallow the beer. Contrary, Budweiser has none of this kick. This is because of both the lack of bitterness and the lack of carbonization.
In my opinion, both beers don’t have a smell that’s very present. I have to pay close attention to both of them to realize how it affects my taste experience. When I do so, I recognize that Heineken does seem to have a more herbal smell and a slightly stronger scent than Budweiser has.
On the other hand, Budweiser has a vague herbal smell, but it’s almost non-existent. It’s pretty close to how the beer taste, which is light and non-offensive.
These days, a relevant question is how many calories are in a beer (and how these calories are divided across different macros).
We found that both Heineken and Budweiser have similar calorie and macro-nutrient contents. This is not that strange, considering both beers have the same amount of alcohol and are still lagers.
Heineken (5%) has 40 Kcal per 3.38fl. Oz (100ml), whereas this is 41 calories for Budweiser (5%). Furthermore, Heineken contains three grams of carbohydrates in that quantity, the same as Budweiser. Heineken has 0.6 grams of protein, whereas Budweiser has 0.3 grams per 3.38fl. Oz.
Both beers have different alcohol percentages in different regions of the world.
In the United States, both Heineken and Budweiser are sold with an ABV of 5%. For Heineken, this has always been the case. Heineken was first imported into the United States immediately after the prohibition, and it was the first foreign beer to reach the American consumer.
Then, Heineken was sold with 5% alcohol in Europe, and therefore the imported beer was the same. This hasn’t changed since.
For Budweiser, the story is slightly different. Budweiser was first invented in 1876, and brewing documents from that time suggest that the beer had more fermentable sugars in the recipe. This led to an alcohol percentage of 5.2%, although this has been adjusted to the regular 5%. When this change happened is unclear.
In the United Kingdom, the story is also different. Budweiser was first brewed with an alcohol content of 4.8% for bottled or canned beer and 4.3% for the draught version. However, in 2017 they adjusted this, and they made sure both versions of the beer had an ABV of 4.5%.
Heineken has had a slightly different approach in the UK market. In the seventies, they introduced their beer with an ABV of 3.5%. The UK generally has a lower ABV, and they wanted to accommodate this market. However, in the early 2000s, the UK consumer had gotten used to higher ABV beer, which is why they replaced the 3.5% with their regular 5% ABV beer.
Another part of the experience of drinking a beer is in the appearance of the beer itself. In this case, I would have to say that I think Heineken has done a much better job.
First, there’s the fact that Budweiser has a brown bottle and Heineken has a green bottle. Most people will agree with me that the green bottle has a more premium feel than a brown bottle ever will have.
Furthermore, there’s the fact that I think the Heineken logo, combined with the red star, looks much more recognizable or clear than the packaging of a Budweiser. Since I’m European, I only recently started paying attention to Budweiser. The first time I bought it, I thought: “they sure have written a bunch of things on this label/can”.
Heineken has marketed itself as a premium beer, and to me, that’s visible in the packaging. Budweiser has marketed itself as a regular American beer, and that’s precisely the feeling I get with their packaging.
Brewing Process & Ingredients
Another significant difference between the two beers is the ingredients used (as we already touched upon earlier). In this blog, we have already discussed the brewing process of Budweiser and its ingredients in detail.
We found that Budweiser is made by adding 30% four-row barley malt and 40% six-row malt with 30% rice and purified water.
Furthermore, the hops made in the United States are the Hallertau, Saaz, and Tettnanger varieties (70% of hops in Budweiser are these variants). The other 30% of hops are European hops and high-alpha and non-Germanic types such as Willamette.
On the other hand, Heineken is made with three ingredients: purified water, malted barley, and European hops (which are most likely Czech Saaz hops). This means Heineken doesn’t use rice at all. Furthermore, Heineken uses only a specific species of hops instead of a complex mix.
Finally, Heineken also only uses hop concentrate (which means they only use the oils they get out of the hops) instead of the actual hops. This gives the beer a more bitter taste, which is a significant difference between the two beers.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that both beers are bottom-fermented, which means they use the same category of yeast (instead of top-fermenting yeast).
So, in essence, both beers are made with natural ingredients, and they’re not artificially flavored or colored, which is a great thing. They’re also made with the same kind of yeast. However, the different ingredients result in another product which is not more than logical.
Another aspect I want to touch upon in this review is the brand image of both beers and, at the same time, what kind of people would generally go for one beer or the other.
As said, Heineken has always marketed itself as a premium beer. Wherever you go in the world, Heineken is sold and understood this way. It’s one of the most valuable beer brands for a reason, and in terms of the brand image, they have done a great job in the past decades.
Budweiser has always marketed itself as an ‘All American’ beer for the masses. This image is also something they’ve struggled with in the United States with the upcoming popularity of craft beers. Instead of trying to fit this trend, they’ve doubled down on their ‘no fuss’ image.
Even though they aren’t the most sold beer in the United States, they’re still the most valuable beer brand, which is admirable in itself. In a way, they own the position of an all-American beer, and it’s a strategy that still seems to work for them.
The only area of the world where Budweiser does have some brand problems in Europe. This is because there’s another beer (also called Budweiser) made in Czech and has the trademark for this name in continental Europe. For this reason, Budweiser is generally sold as Bud in most parts of the European Union (instead of the United Kingdom and Spain).
In conclusion, I would say that Heineken does have a stronger brand image worldwide, but Budweiser is considered a more American beer. Both beers speak to different consumers, and therefore there’s no better or worse option here.