While your favorite brew might contain additional ingredients, beer is generally made out of grains, spices, yeast, and water.
Although sugar is not included in the list, it’s necessary to produce alcohol.
As such, you may wonder whether there’s any sugar in beer and how much it contains.
This article reviews the sugar content of beer.
To know how much sugar is in beer, you first have to understand how beer is made.
The main ingredients in beer are grains, spices, yeast, and water. Barley and wheat are the most utilized grains, while hops serve as the principal flavoring spice.
The brewing process consists of the following steps (
- Malting. This step allows for the controlled germination of the grain. This is a key step, as germination helps break down stored starch into fermentable sugar — mainly maltose.
- Mashing. Mashing is the process of roasting, milling, and soaking the germinated grains in hot water. The result is a sugar-containing liquid called wort.
- Boiling. During this step, hops or other spices are added. The wort is then briefly cooled and filtrated to eliminate plant residue and debris.
- Fermentation. At this point, yeast is added to the wort to ferment it, which converts sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
- Maturation. This is the last brewing step, during which beer is stored and left to age.
As you can see, sugar is an essential element in beer making.
However, it’s not added as an ingredient. Instead, it comes from the processing of the grains and is then fermented by yeast to produce alcohol.
Sugar is essential in the beer brewing process, but it’s not added as an ingredient. Instead, it comes from the germination of the grains.
Beer gravity refers to the density of the wort relative to water at various stages of fermentation, and it’s mostly determined by sugar content.
A wort that has a high sugar concentration is called a high gravity wort.
As the yeast ferments the wort, its sugar content decreases while its alcohol content increases, which in turn lowers its gravity and results in a beer with a high alcohol content (
Therefore, beers have an initial and final gravity, and the difference between the two indicates the amount of sugar that was converted into alcohol.
Ale vs. lager
Both ales and lagers are different types of beers, and their main difference is the yeast strain used for brewing.
Ale beers are made with the Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains, while lager beers use Saccharomyces pastorianus (
Beer yeasts are highly efficient when it comes to fermenting sugar (
Still, several factors affect yeast’s fermenting efficiency, including brewing temperatures and beer’s rising alcohol content. Once the alcohol content is too high for them to survive, fermentation stops (
While both strains produce alcohol as an end product, ale yeasts have a higher alcohol tolerance than lager yeasts — meaning that they can survive in higher alcohol environments (
Therefore, ales generally have a higher alcohol content and lower sugar content.
Beer gravity reflects the amount of sugar in beer. As yeast ferments sugar, beer’s gravity decreases, and its alcohol content increases. Yeast strains used in ales have a higher alcohol tolerance. Thus, their remaining sugar content tends to be lower.
Sugars are carbs. In fact, sugar is the most basic unit of carbs.
Structurally, carbs are divided into mono-, di-, oligo-, and polysaccharides, depending on whether a compound has 1, 2, 3–10, or more than 10 sugar molecules, respectively (
Beer’s main type of sugar is maltose, which is made out of two glucose molecules. Hence, it’s classified as a disaccharide — a type of simple sugar.
However, maltose and other simple sugars comprise only about 80% of the wort’s fermentable sugar content. In contrast, the remaining 20% consists of oligosaccharides, which the yeast doesn’t ferment (
Still, your body can’t digest oligosaccharides either, so they are considered calorie-free and instead act as prebiotic fibers, or food for your gut bacteria (
Therefore, while beer contains a fair amount of carbs, its sugar content tends to be quite low.
Beer’s sugar content is comprised of 80% fermentable sugars and 20% oligosaccharides. Yeast can’t digest oligosaccharides, but neither can your body. Thus, beer’s final sugar content may still be quite low.
As explained above, beer’s sugar content may vary depending on its initial gravity and the type of yeast strain used to ferment it.
Yet, beer manufacturers may include other sugar-containing ingredients in their recipes, such as honey and corn syrup, to give their beer a distinctive flavor.
Nevertheless, labeling regulations for alcoholic beverages in the United States do not require manufacturers to report the sugar content of their products (10, 11).
While some state the carb content, most only disclose their alcohol content. Thus, determining how much sugar your favorite beer contains may be a difficult task.
Still, the following list includes the sugar and carb contents found in 12 ounces (355 ml) of various types of beer, as well as those of some popular brands (
- Regular beer: 12.8 grams of carbs, 0 grams of sugar
- Light beer: 5.9 grams of carbs, 0.3 grams of sugar
- Low carb beer: 2.6 grams of carbs, 0 grams of sugar
- Non-alcoholic beer: 28.5 grams of carbs, 28.5 grams of sugar
- Miller High Life: 12.2 grams of carbs, 0 grams of sugar
- Miller Lite: 3.2 grams of carbs, 0 grams of sugar
- Coors Banquet: 11.7 grams of carbs, 0 grams of sugar
- Coors Light: 5 grams of carbs, 1 gram of sugar
- Coors Non-alcoholic: 12.2 grams of carbs, 8 grams of sugar
- Heineken: 11.4 grams of carbs, 0 grams of sugar
- Budweiser: 10.6 grams of carbs, 0 grams of sugar
- Bud Light: 4.6 grams of carbs, 0 grams of sugar
- Busch: 6.9 grams of carbs, no sugar reported
- Busch Light: 3.2 grams of carbs, no sugar reported
As you can see, light beers are slightly higher in sugar than regular beers. This may be due to differences in their fermentation process.
Light beers are produced by adding glucoamylase to the wort — an enzyme that breaks down residual carbs and transforms them into fermentable sugars. This reduces both the calorie and alcohol contents of the beer (
Additionally, since none of the wort’s sugar is converted into alcohol in non-alcoholic beers, these have the highest sugar content.
Keep in mind that while beer’s sugar content may be low, regular beers are still a source of carbs, which may affect your blood sugar levels.
Furthermore, even without any reported sugars, beer’s alcohol content is still a significant source of calories.
Regular beers tend to be sugar-free, and light beers report barely 1 gram per can. However, non-alcoholic beers have the highest sugar content of all.
While beer may not have that much sugar after all, it’s an alcoholic drink, and as such, it can lower your blood sugar levels.
Alcohol impairs sugar metabolism by inhibiting gluconeogenesis and glycogenolysis — the body’s production and breakdown of stored sugar, respectively — which are needed to maintain blood sugar balance (
Therefore, its intake may result in hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels, which is why it’s generally recommended to consume it with a carb-containing meal.
However, if consumed along with simple carbs that raise your blood sugar levels too quickly, it may lead to an increased insulin response, resulting again in hypoglycemia (
Additionally, alcohol may interfere with the effectiveness of hypoglycemic medications (
While beer may have a low sugar content, as an alcoholic drink, it may lead to low blood sugar levels.
Sugar is a key element in beer brewing, as it’s the nutrient from which yeast produces alcohol.
While a couple of factors influence yeast’s ability to convert sugar into alcohol, it’s highly efficient at doing so. Therefore, aside from the non-alcoholic types, beer tends to have a low sugar content.
Still, keep in mind that alcoholic beverages may lower your blood sugar levels.
Plus, to avoid negative health effects, you should always drink alcohol in moderation, which is defined as no more than one and two standard drinks per day for women and men, respectively (