Ode to Macrobrews: Natural Light, a.k.a. Natty Light

Natural Light
Mike Bezemek

Suppose you’re walking down the street when a stranger runs up and yells, “I love natural light!”

After moving to a safe distance, you might wonder. Were they talking about open floorplan architecture? Or maybe a light beer associated with college partiers on spring break?

According to a recent report by 24/7 Wall St., Natural Light remains the eighth best-selling beer brand in America. Let that soak in—a typical response after Natty Light spills on a dorm room carpet.

In 2019, AB-InBev shipped 6.7 million barrels of its reduced-calorie lager. This was 0.7 percent less than it shipped in 2018, but still good for 3.24 percent of total U.S. market share. For context, try imagining a yard party with around 2.2 billion cans of Natty.

In this age of double IPAs and tasting-room microbreweries, how do craft beers compare? Of the 25 best-selling beers, only one qualified as craft. Yuengling, at No. 17, which shipped 2 million barrels in 2019, a third less than Natty. Clearly, classic macro-brews won’t be going anywhere fast, other than the empties into recycling bins.

Introduced in 1977, Natural Light was Anheuser-Busch’s first light beer. Weighing in at an impressive 97 calories, the goal was to compete with Miller Lite, which had arrived four years before. Early commercials featured comedian Norm Crosby suggesting the beer be simply called a “Natural.” Typically, the phrase “a natural” is used when referring to someone or something which is effortlessly successful. For whatever reason, this nickname never caught on. Instead, the catchier monikers of Natty Light or just Natty became the defaults.

In its early days, Natty Light was priced about the same as AB’s premium offering, Budweiser. Fortunately, the price trended downward until AB recategorized it as a value brand. Today, it’s a celebrated college beer that’s especially valued for drinking games, in which the penalty is also the reward, and vice versa.

Speaking of reputations, Natty Light claims to be the only beer ever launched into outer space. From a Midwestern farm field, a pair of fans released two Natties tethered to a big-ass helium balloon. For several hours, their craft rose to the lofty altitude of 90,000 feet, in view of the planet’s curvature, before falling back to earth.

Some critics complained it was Natty Light which got to go. Other critics pointed out that the generally accepted boundary for outer space is the Kármán Line, at 330,000 feet. Meanwhile, most supporters probably shrugged and said, “Still cool, bro.”

In October 2018, AB-InBev celebrated the beer’s 41st year by releasing Natty Light in a commemorative 77-pack, but only in College Park, MD. The octagonal box weighed 65 pounds, cost $30, and obviously sold out. Five months later, the box of 77 appeared again, now only sold in South Padre, Texas. This time it was a variety pack with 24 cans of Natty Light, 24 cans of Natural Ice, and 29 cans of a new strawberry-lemonade beer called Naturdays. Sadly, at time of research, no 77-pack sightings had been reported during 2020.

Brewed with barley malt, cereal grains, extracts, and a blend of hops, the flavor has been described by various reviewers on Beer Advocate as “fizzy sweet,” “watery,” “bread,” and “like beer.” Despite holding a less-than-stellar score on that site, a recent review by user Bsimpson91 suggests a key aspect of Natty Light’s persistent appeal:

“Just because people give this beer a bad name is the very reason I’m giving this beer all 5s.”

Thus, we sing the praises of America’s No. 8 beer and heed the message of its official slogan: “Keeping it real and letting things just happen.”

When it comes to dirt-cheap macros, Natty’s kind of a natural.

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