Miller High Life Light has 4.2 percent alcohol by volume and 110 calories, according to the brewer. At www.MillerCoors.com the MillerCoors company provides nutrition information on more than 80 beers either made or imported by MillerCoors LLC. The rest of this article describes the beer chemistry and beer math that goes into calculating alcohol -- actually ethanol -- and calorie content of beer. Information provided on other beers puts High Life Light in context.
The Sumerians had recipes for beer 6,000 years ago. Briefly, barley is sprouted, heated to stop the germination, mixed with yeast and water, and fermented. Wheat, rice or corn can be used with barley or instead of it. Of the two major types of beer, ales use a yeast variety that floats to the top, and lagers use a bottom-fermenting yeast. Hops add bitterness. Miller High Life Light is a lager-style beer.
Sprouting the grain converts much of the grain starches to sugars. The grain is crushed and mixed with hot water to extract all the soluble content. This liquid "wort" is then boiled with hops added, cooled, and fermented with yeast. Lagers such as Miller High Life are fermented at cooler temperatures than ales. Lagers tend to be light in color, more carbonated than ales, and contain about 5 percent alcohol by volume.
Miller High Life Light is not made by adding water to Miller High Life. If that were true, the percent decreases would be the same for alcohol content, carbohydrate content and calories. Instead, ethanol is lower by 11 percent, carbohydrates by 47 percent and calories by 23 percent. The trick to making light beer is to use less grain but have a higher proportion of the grain processed to fermentable sugars, resulting in a slightly lower alcohol content and a much lower residual carbohydrates content.
Beer Math - Alcohol
Because alcohol is less dense than water, a beer that is 4.2 percent alcohol by volume, such as Miller High Life Light, is 3.36 percent alcohol by weight. Weight matters because alcohol calories are determined from grams of alcohol. Percent volume divided by 1.25 yields percent weight. A 12-ounce can of beer weighs 360 grams. Thus, Miller High Life Light will contain 12.1 grams of ethanol.
Beer Math - Calories
Calories measure how much usable energy is in a food or beverage. One gram of ethanol yields seven calories. One gram of carbohydrates, i.e, sugars and starches, yields four calories. Miller High Life Light has 12.1 grams of ethanol, hence 84.6 calories. According to the MillerCoors website, this beer also has 7.0 grams of carbohydrates that were not fermented to alcohol, contributing 28 calories. The combination totals 112.6 calories, although MillerCoors lists it as 110 calories. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which regulates beer labeling, rounding down is allowed as long as the amount is within the specified tolerances.
Miller High Life Light vs. Other Beers
Miller High Life Light clocks in at 4.2 percent alcohol and 110 calories. Miller High Life is 4.7 percent and 143, respectively. Miller Lite comes in at 4.2 and 96; MGD 64 has 2.8 percent alcohol and only 64 calories; Sharp's, the Miller no-alcohol beer, comes in at zero ethanol and 58 calories. Winter ales tend to be big and sweet -- the Blue Moon Winter Ale has 5.52 percent alcohol and 180 calories.