natural light case of beer

Natural Light is one of America’s best-selling light lagers, an easy-drinking staple of warm weather and summer antics. With its low calories and alcohol percentage, it’s a popular choice among college kids and those looking to while away a few hours with old friends. Many wonder when Natural Light first hit American shelves and why. Here’s our abridged version:

Natural Light was first launched in 1977, in direct competition with Miller Lite. Natural Light heavily emphasized the natural process of beer production and was Anheuser-Busch’s first widely distributed light lager. Natural Light was quickly adopted by beer drinkers looking for something both affordable and enjoyable, and remains popular today.

That’s the brief answer to when Natural Light came out and why, but there is plenty more to consider. In this article, we’ll take a close look at how and why Natural Light became a staple of American drinking life, where it was first brewed, and why it’s so popular. 

natural light case of beer

Why Did Natural Light Come Out?

Natural Light, affectionately nicknamed “Natty Light” or “Shore Champagne,” was launched to compete with MillerCoors’ Miller Lite. Unlike other light beers, it did not aggressively target female drinkers by focusing on its low-calorie count of 97 calories per can. Instead, Natural Light’s branding focused heavily on the beer’s natural production methods and easy drinkability. Early ad campaigns emphasized how well the beer paired with athletic activity and hard work. 

An ad from 1977 sees actor Peter Graves of Airplane! fame remind the audience that “when you’re thirsty for a beer or two, but what you’re doing isn’t through, that’s the time to take a natural break.” Another slogan was that Natty Light “won’t fill you up, so it won’t slow you down”.

Natural Light was initially launched to compete with Miller Lite. Anheuser-Busch was unwilling to water down the good name of their flagship beer, Budweiser, by releasing a light version of their bestseller. Instead, their new, clean, easy-drinking beer made from water, barley malt, cereal grains, yeast, and hops, with minimal discernible taste, was dubbed “Natural Light”. 

The American Light Beer Boom

American drinkers quickly embraced light lagers, with their low calories and low alcohol, making them ideal for active, young, and health-conscious drinkers. As the baby boomer generation arrived at the drinking age in droves, the number of young drinkers became the highest in American history. Accordingly, drinking tendencies across the United States reflected the tastes of younger beer enthusiasts: namely, lighter, easier to drink, and perfect for a warm summer’s day. 

Although Natural Light initially competed with Miller Lite and was priced accordingly, the increasing American appetite for light lager brought about a change in Anheuser-Busch’s tactics. Anheuser-Busch relented and released light variations of their other major beers, including Bud Light and Busch Light. Accordingly, Natural Light became the economy-priced edition of Anheuser-Busch’s beer range. Today, Natural Light remains one of the lowest-priced beers in many parts of the country and is a staple of college parties for this very reason. 

Changing Preferences

Natural Light was launched initially in response to market demand for light, easy-drinking lager. However, Anheuser-Busch refused to kowtow to the American craft beer boom, keeping the Natural Light brand unsullied by milk stouts or IPAs. However, in recent years, the shift among American drinkers toward other light drinks, such as alcoholic seltzers, has seen the Natural Light brand expand into those markets. The “beer-reluctant” drinker can now enjoy a Natural Light hard seltzer, ice pop, or even hard lemonade. The notable preference for Natural Light among beer drinkers continued, with Anheuser-Busch explicitly aiming to be the preferred alcohol (not just beer) brand among drinkers aged 21-30 in the United States. 

Who Drinks Natural Light?

Natural Light’s deliberately low flavor profile saw it fall out of favor among serious drinkers amid the American craft beer boom. When heavily hopped IPAs became all the rage among beer enthusiasts, particularly in recent years, Natural Light was no longer a cool, trendy drink. Despite this, Natural Light picked up a bronze medal in the 2008 World Beer Cup in the American-Style Light Lager category, and it remains one of the bestselling beers in the United States, steadfastly occupying a spot in the top ten for beer sales every year. On the other hand, Natural Light was rated on as the worst beer in the world. 

It’s clear that opinions are thoroughly divided when it comes to Natty Light. Ultimately, much of this beer’s success is owed to its low price point and ease of drinkability. Inexperienced, young drinkers typically gravitate towards Natural Light for this very reason. Many Americans have fond memories of drinking Natural Light in their youth or sipping a can of shore champagne on a beach holiday. A combination of nostalgia and a notable preference among younger drinkers for easy-to-drink lagers has kept Natural Light at the forefront of American beer-drinking culture. Its affordability in such large quantities and low strength makes it perfect for drinking plenty of beer when you don’t want to get tipsy: namely, for the drinking games popular among college students. Natural Light is a stalwart of beer pong tables. It is perhaps for this reason that Natural Light is sold in massive 77-beer packs in College Park, Maryland, home to the University of Maryland. Why 77 beers in a package? To commemorate the year the beer was launched, 1977.

Where Was Natural Light First Brewed?

In 1977, Anheuser-Busch was already a nationwide brewing powerhouse. Anheuser-Busch owned and operated many breweries all over the United States at the time, including:

  • St. Louis, Missouri (opened 1852)
  • Newark, New Jersey (opened 1951)
  • Los Angeles, California (opened 1954)
  • Tampa, Florida (opened 1959, now closed)
  • Houston, Texas (opened 1966)
  • Columbus, Ohio (opened 1968)
  • Jacksonville, Florida (opened 1969)
  • Merrimack, New Hampshire (opened 1970)
  • Williamsburg, Virginia (opened 1972)
  • Fairfield, California (opened 1976)

Natural Light would have been brewed at these breweries at the time of its launch. Anheuser-Busch opened further brewing operations in New York, Colorado, and Georgia since, and Natural Light is likely brewed at these locations, too.

The First Beer in Space

Just as Natural Light was the first light beer to bear the Anheuser-Busch brand, it boasts another notable first. What was one small step for man became one giant leap for mankind when Natural Light became the first ever beer in space.

In 2011, the “Aluminum Fullcan”, a helium balloon, carried two cans of Natural Light to an altitude of 90,000 feet. Perhaps this was inspired by a mid-80s ad campaign that featured a can of Natural Light as a spaceship, landing on a planet made entirely of pizza