Dockside is Rising Tide Brewing’s light lager. Photos by Carla Jean Lauter

Five years ago, I sat at a prestigious beer bar on the coast of California, and was enjoying something sticky and double dry-hopped when I overheard a fragment of a conversation between a patron who had just walked in and the bartender. The patron had asked, nonchalantly, for a “Bud or a Bud Light,” thinking that, because this was an establishment that poured beer, it would most certainly be on tap.

At that time, the odds were in his favor – and beers from the largest macro breweries were, and still are, nearly ubiquitous at local watering holes, sports bars and clubs. But specialty craft beer bars such as this one often made a political stance against having these beers on tap. This could be, in part, due to the relative dominance of big beer companies on tap compared to craft (i.e. to give the little guys a break). But more often than not, if there was no Budweiser or Coors on tap, it meant the bar refused to serve it on principle, in protest of their mob-like business tactics, use of ingredients perceived to be inferior (corn, rice) or just to stick it to “the man.”

That was the case for this bar, which served no products from Budweiser or Coors. The mundane request for a Bud caused the bartender’s posture to stiffen. The server paused, then deadpanned, “We don’t serve that here,” in a way that reminded me of the tense moments of a Western immediately preceding a gunfight. The patron sighed, left and could be heard quietly muttering under his breath.

The American Light Lager at NU Brewery in New Gloucester

Back in Maine, the memory of that exchange came to me a few weeks ago as I listened to a server at a new brewery tasting room – NU Brewery in New Gloucester – get asked the same question but with a slightly different bent.

“What do you have that’s like a Budweiser?”

Depending on where you ask this question, you still might get a bit of a scoff or a subtle eye roll from a server, but I’ve noticed that craft brewers are now more likely to have a legitimate answer. The default response (aside from abject refusal) used to be to steer the drinker toward someone’s “flagship” pale ale. The difference between the flavors of a thin, crisp-bodied light lager and a hop-forward pale ale, however, are quite vast. I’ve seen many light lager drinkers recoil at the hops from the mildest of pale ales, and I don’t blame them; it’s far from a good analog.

For breweries, the choices are limited to what the brewer makes. The answer to a customer like this might be to offer whatever’s on tap, but this often can lead to the customer leaving a half-finished pint of the mildest pale ale behind. For other breweries, there’s been a bit of a movement to cater toward those drinkers – and even attempt to attract them as loyal customers.

At NU Brewing, which opened this month, there’s a beer on tap specifically designed to appeal to the American macrobrewery beer drinker. The American Light Lager is a light yellow beer that’s clear, refreshing and, well, light. It reminds me of the aforementioned macro beers but with a slightly less harsh character. One of Bath Brewing Co.’s most popular beers is its Long Reach Lager, also designed to appeal to drinkers who’ve ordered the same beer for years. Even Rising Tide in Portland has extended its line to include a delicious light lager called Dockside that tastes familiar and refreshing, but carries a little bit more depth and enjoyment.

Look around the next time you’re visiting Maine breweries, and you might see more light lagers start to pop up. In a way this signals that there are many segmented audiences who all want different things out of their beer – and brewers are beginning to notice the macro-loving group. The craft beer drinking world doesn’t share universal tastes, and those who grew up drinking macro beer shouldn’t be excluded.

If this audience wants to branch out into craft beer and support local businesses, it makes sense to give them something that’s familiar, and many have chosen to open the door to them by including these beer styles. And as far as I can see, this strategy is working. As I hung out at NU Brewery, I noticed customer after customer asking for the American Light Lager, and everyone finished what they ordered.

Carla Jean Lauter is a freelance beer writer and blogger who lives in Lisbon. Follow her beer adventures at:

Twitter: beerbabe

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