Heineken is one of the world’s leading beer brands. It’s sold worldwide, with a strong foothold in the USA and overseas, especially in Europe. Heineken, and its light lager variant, Heineken Light, are pretty similar beers, as you’d expect. Given a choice, which beer tastes better? Let’s start with a quick answer:

Heineken is a European pale lager with a clean, crisp taste and the classic herby hop character of most European lagers. Heineken Light is lighter on the palate, with a thinner mouthfeel and a more floral than herbaceous taste. Heineken and Heineken Light have a reasonably strong kick and aftertaste it for a lager.

However, this is far from the entire story regarding Heineken and its lighter brother! In this article, we’re looking at the history of the brewery, their brewing process, and how Heineken differs from Heineken Light. Key factors like taste, smell, color, calories, and alcohol content will be considered. You’ll be a verifiable Heineken expert when you’re done reading. 

Stefan, the founder of Beveragebeaver.com, holding a can of Heineken
Yes, we do taste the beers we write about


Heineken was first brewed in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in the mid-nineteenth century. Heineken began using bottom-fermenting yeast in 1869, five years after Gerard Adriaan Heineken first purchased the De Hooiberg brewery.

Gerard Heineken’s son, Henry Pierre Heineken, managed the company from 1917 to 1940, developing various techniques to maintain stringent quality while mass-producing their lager. Heineken aggressively pursued the export market in the US following the end of the first world war and remains one of the biggest selling imported beers in the United States to this day.

Today, Heineken is the second largest brewing company, behind only America’s Anheuser-Busch. Their flagship beer – which simply bears the brand name – is a pale lager.

Heineken Premium Light (often simply known as Heineken Light) was specially brewed for the American market. It was developed in 2004, following a decades-long trend in the US of drinkers consuming lower-calorie beers. In Heineken’s 2006 Annual Report, they described the introduction of their light beer as “the most important innovation in the actual beer since the Heineken brand was born in 1873”.


Of course, the first thing most beer drinkers want to know is how their beer tastes. 

Heineken’s flagship beer is a European lager. We’ve done an in-depth analysis of what kind of beer Heineken is here. Heineken is made using pure malted barley and hops, giving it a particular character and taste. 

Heineken has a malt-forward flavor, with hints of nuttiness and crisp citrus. The citrus notes are probably closer to lemon rind than lemon juice, with the characteristic bitterness of a European lager rather than juicy lemonade sweetness. The aftertaste is that of bitter European hops. Heineken has a little toasted caramel sweetness and plenty of bold, bitter aftertaste to wash it all down. 

Heineken Light is wheatier, perhaps because it is not brewed with 100% malt and includes glucose. There’s a mild herby bitterness, although not as much as Heineken, and a much drier finish. It’s far from the super crisp, dry finish of a Japanese beer, for example, but it does not linger nearly as long as Heineken’s. Heineken Light is pretty much as described: a lighter version of Heineken.


Heineken has plenty of character to its mouthfeel and has a solid fizzy kick, tickling the tongue and tantalizing the senses with every sip. You’ll feel it from the first sip to the swallow, and the beer’s aftertaste will linger for a few moments after your sip is done.

Heineken has plenty of “bite” to its carbonization, but it’s still pretty light and easy to drink. 

Heineken Light has a crisper, cleaner mouthfeel, and it’s still effervescent enough to be noticeable on the tongue, but it has less body than Heineken. Heineken Light is probably better suited to a hot day or a long drinking session than full-strength Heineken because it’s a more drinkable beer,  although both beers are relatively light in the grand scheme.


Neither Heineken nor Heineken Light has much aroma to speak of. Heineken has a little more on the nose than Heineken Light, with a touch of grassy herbs. 


Considering that we’re comparing Heineken to its lighter version, the calories on offer are a vital consideration.

Heineken has 142 calories per 12oz can. On the other hand, Heineken Light has considerably less at 99 calories per 12oz. 

Heineken has 11 grams of carbs per 12oz and 2 grams of protein. 

Heineken Light has 7 grams of carbs and 1 gram of protein.

Alcohol Content

As you’d expect, Heineken Light is lower in alcohol percentage than Heineken. Heineken is sold at an ABV of 5% in the United States and Europe. Heineken Light has a comparatively low ABV of only 3.3%. 


Heineken and Heineken Light come in gorgeous green bottles adorned with the brand’s signature red star. 

Heineken and Heineken Light are similar-looking beers when poured into a glass. Both are clear, light, and golden, with about a finger of white head that dissipates into some pretty attractive effervescence in the glass. The head retention on both beers is fairly minimal, as you’d expect from a lager.

What Do Other People Think About Both Beers?

Of course, how other drinkers feel about these beers is paramount. The scores are rated on a scale from 1-5.

PlatformHeinekenHeineken Light
Average Score3.282.98

Heineken is rated above Heineken Light across the board. On average, it scored 10% higher than Heineken Light, establishing a clear lead. 

One Ratebeer user had this to say about Heineken Light:

Crystal clear, light golden colored body; tiny carbonation bubbles galore; head is decent if rather thin in the long run, white and dense; big patches of foam cling to the glass. Strong aroma of cereal grains; baked wheat and cracker; slightly herbal. The taste is wheat-forward; grainy; mild bitterness; a slight metallic flavor. Medium-light body; smooth and creamy; grain warmth; mainly dry finish. This actually is a decent light beer, relatively flavorful with a nice body to it.


Brewing Process & Ingredients

Heineken is made with three ingredients: purified water, malted barley, and European hops, most likely Czech Saaz hops.

Heineken also exclusively uses hop concentrate. That is to say, they only use the oils extracted from the hops rather than the actual hop flowers themselves. This is what gives Heineken its characteristically bitter taste.

Heineken is bottom-fermented, made with natural ingredients, and neither artificially flavored nor colored.

Heineken Light is brewed a little differently. The altered Heineken Light recipe includes glucose and actual hops instead of simply including hop concentrate. Hop concentrate is included in the Heineken Light recipe, however. Heineken’s inclusion of real hops and glucose is likely to counteract the comparative loss of flavor compared to the higher ABV of full-strength Heineken.

Brand Image

Heineken has long marketed itself as a premium beer. It has a long-standing history as a premium European lager and has sold itself this way worldwide. Their expansion into the United States in the inter-war period served to reinforce this reputation.

Heineken further cements its premium reputation by sponsoring several major sporting events. Most notable among these is the UEFA Champions League, which sees Europe’s elite soccer teams from across the continent competing against one another.

Heineken has a long-standing association with the Champions League, dating back to 2005, generally leaning into the world game’s reputation, describing Heineken as “enjoyed together around the world.” Just as the Champions League represents the creme de la creme of European football, so does Heineken position itself as the creme de la creme of European lagers.

Although Heineken Lager is consumed worldwide, Heineken Light is brewed only for the United States market. Heineken Light does not compete directly with most American mass-produced light beers like Coors or Bud Light, as Heineken is still branded as a premium beer in the US.

However, Heineken Light is a concession to the American appetite for light beer, and just as Heineken has a strong branding as the premium imported beer compared to Budweiser or Miller, so too is Heineken Light sold as the premium imported light beer. 

Heineken vs Heineken Light

Overall, Heineken and Heineken Light are similar beers. 

If you like Heineken and other European-style lagers but want something you can enjoy while watching Barcelona play Real Madrid and drive home after, Heineken Light might just be for you. Its lower alcohol content and calories make it a great option for those who prefer lighter beers, as evident in its strong performance in the American market. However, if you want the full premium European lager experience, Heineken remains one of the market leaders.