Bud’s new brew: a blue-bottled oxymoron

by Jason Foster

You’ve probably seen the TV ads, and you might’ve come across its splashy cobalt blue bottles in the liquor store: it’s Bud Light Platinum, Labatt’s latest kick at creating a “revolutionary” new beer.

Well, it’s certainly new, I’ll give them that. But revolutionary? Sorry — not falling for that one.

I have both a series of smaller gripes and then one big, massive bone to pick with Labatt here. So let’s start with the smaller stuff — like the tag line in their ad: “Some call it revolutionary. We call it Platinum.”

Seriously? It’s a pale lager, guys — maybe a so-called premium lager, but even if that were true, we have hundreds of those. You’re hardly breaking new ground here. Maybe we can just chalk that up to an over-zealous marketing department and let it go?

But they also claim Platinum is “triple-filtered” — implying that it’s somehow cleaner and more refreshing than other beer. Except for the inconvenient fact that ALL beer is filtered the same way — pushed through a series of plates to filter out yeast, small particulates, protein and other things. “Triple-filtered” likely just means it went through three filters. Whoopee.

Normally I might let that ride as well. After all, Molson claims a “micro-carbonated” beer (which just means less carbonation), and both companies have spent years trying to impress us with their new processes — ice beer, dry beer, cold-filtered, ice-filtered, triple-hopped, etc. — all of which are meaningless marketing hooks.

I could even have forgiven (barely) the decision to package Bud Light Platinum in cobalt blue bottles, even though any beer lover knows it’s a dumb idea. Beer is very susceptible to “skunking”: when it comes in contact with light, a photo-chemical reaction occurs causing the aroma and flavour to resemble the smell of skunk. Yummy, right? Brown bottles filter out most of the wavelengths that spark the reaction, but blue (or green or clear) bottles don’t, meaning the beer will skunk much more easily. So, not a wise move, but not uncommon either (hello, Corona!).

But the biggest problem here is fundamental to the beer. Straight from the label, Bud Light Platinum is “6% alcohol/volume. Strong beer with a light, easy-drinking taste.”

Yup, six per cent alcohol. And the name again? Oh, right — Bud Light Platinum.

Labatt is trying to sell a higher-alcohol beer as a light beer, and that’s when my head explodes as a beer aficionado. “Light beer” is very clearly defined: first brewed in the 1970s, it’s a light lager with less alcohol (usually around four per cent) and fewer calories.

So Bud Light Platinum is an oxymoron in a bottle.

The reason this drives me nuts is that the corporate brewers have been messing with style names for eons. Alexander Keith’s IPA ceased being an ale (let alone a bitter one) decades ago. These days, the term “pale ale” is used to promote beer ranging from light, sweet blond ales to dark copper lagers. And that pilsner you’re drinking? Unless it’s from a craft brewery, odds are it has no resemblance whatsoever to a bohemian pilsner.

Bud Light Platinum is just a particularly blatant example. Really, nothing’s more straightforward than the label “light beer” — and they’ve stomped the concept in one swoop.

So, why do it? Easy: to cash in on the Bud Light name, the single most powerful brand in the beer industry right now. There are no laws to stop them, but just because they can doesn’t mean they should.

Finally, the beer itself: it pours a pale straw colour with a huge flurry of carbonation bubbles, while a soda-like head rises aggressively and then dissipates into nothingness just as quickly, leaving no residual ring of foam. The aroma is sweet. It’s very light-bodied. Some sugary sweetness dominates the flavour, and it evaporates from the palate almost instantly — there’s not much flavour at all beyond a generic sweetness, really. It reminded me eerily of ginger ale, and it even presents a lot like ginger ale — in colour, the lack of head, and in the flavour. Very odd.

I will say there’s absolutely no hint that the beer is six per cent alcohol — it’s light without any presence of alcohol warming, which I suspect is intentional. So at least one part of their bottle label is accurate: it’s a strong beer with a light, easy-drinking taste. Had they called it Budweiser Platinum, I would’ve nodded briefly and moved on.

Clearly, this beer isn’t marketed at people like me. They’re obviously aiming for a younger crowd who want a little more alcohol buzz without moving much beyond the taste of Bud Light.

So I guess in their world, the name would make sense. Just not in mine.