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Light beer controversy

The Story

Ahhh, light beer. Diet-conscious drinkers love this new, lower-calorie option. But the first light beer to appear in Canada, Labatt's Special Lite, is now at the centre of a Supreme Court battle. The federal government says the definition of "light beer" must not only be low-cal, but it should also only have 2.5 per cent alcohol. Labatt's Special Lite has 4 per cent. In this 1979 report from The National, Labatt's says the government regulations are unconstitutional. 

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: June 2, 1979
Reporter: Stuart Langford
Duration: 1:44

Did You know?

• Light beer was the brainchild of the Meister Brau Brewing company of Chicago. In 1967, Meister Brau developed the new product and launched it to the local market. But it wasn't until 1972, when the Miller Brewing Company took over Meister Brau and released a revamped Lite Beer, that light beer really took off. Miller's marketing campaign cleverly pitched the beer as "Everything you always wanted in a beer. And less."

• In 1973, Labatt brought its light Cool Spring brand to test markets. Addressing skeptical beer drinkers, Cool Spring print copy read, "Who's going to drink it? Maybe it's for you." In 1977, Labatt later renamed "Cool Spring" "Special Lite" and switched its tagline to read: "It's here."

• In December 1979, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 6-3 in favour of Labatt and found that all of the Food and Drugs Act's regulations concerning the brewing of beer were invalid.

• Light beer has remained a staple in the Canadian beer industry since the 1970s, appealing to a calorie-conscious market. Popular major light brands today (2004) include Labatt Blue Light, Labatt Lite, Molson Canadian Light and Molson Ex Light.

• Today's Canadian light beer tends to contain approximately 100 calories per bottle (this varies depending on the brand), while a regular beer runs closer to 150 calories per bottle. Light beer has around four per cent alcohol, while regular Canadian beer has around five per cent.

• According to a 2004 Maclean's magazine article, light beer is a lot more popular in the United States. Approximately 50 per cent of beer sold in the United States is light, whereas light beer comprises less than 20 per cent of Canadian beer sales.



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