Dogfish Head made an IPA that is as low-cal and low-carb as a Michelob Ultra. Dubbed Slightly Mighty, the beer is the result of a year-and-a-half of molecular research and a push by Dogfish Head's founder and president Sam Calagione to be healthy-ish. However unlikely it may seem, it is a legitimate IPA both geeks and average folks will dig.
"That’s why I started developing these beers,” says Calagione when I finally get him on the phone between playing games in an ice hockey tournament at Chicago's United Center. “I thought, ‘Well, I’m not going to slow down my drinking. So I better start innovating.’”
Calagione maintains a very active lifestyle, the kind you might not expect for a beer mogul pushing 50. But pounding the high-ABV “extreme” ales that put him on the map, like the 18 percent ABV World Wide Stout, had been getting harder and harder. SeaQuench Ale was the first of his new projects, released in 2016—his vision was to make the most “thirst-quenching” beer ever. Packed with electrolytes like black limes, sour lime juice, and sea salt, its production was aided by a scientist from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. Calagione’s latest vision was Slightly Mighty, which has only 95 calories and 3.6 carbs. Compare that to Michelob Ultra’s 95 calories and 2.5 carbs. (A 12-ounce serving of Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA, on the other hand, has 294 calories.)
While craft breweries tend to loathe the big business “macro” beers, any brewery would want a piece of Michelob Ultra’s remarkable success. It’s one of the few conglomerate-owned factory beers whose sales have trended upward this decade—and a whopping 21 percent in the last year alone—making it the . As noted back in October, “It has become so popular, Ultra has essentially created its own untouchable sub-segment.”
Calagione is acutely aware of this, noting that younger people are more cognizant of living a healthy lifestyle, even while drinking, and a major trend across the the entire alcohol industry at the moment is creating healthy (or healthier) products. That concept usually makes me roll my eyes—booze is inherently poison, and most low-cal beers and spirits taste terrible, because fewer calories generally means less alcohol, and thus less flavor. That’s why Michelob Ultra resembles beer-flavored LaCroix. Calagione realized he needed something that would help maintain flavor. He found it in an all-natural Chinese monk fruit extract.
“It’s almost as expensive per ounce as cocaine,” he says. “Luckily you don’t have to use a lot. If you put just a little in your mouth you’re like, ‘Oh my fucking god that is sweet!'”
Even at 300 times the sweetness of raw sugar, monk fruit extract doesn’t add any calories or carbs. Calagione tells me that it has become “hot shit” in the health and wellness industry of late—it’s seen as a Stevia competitor—but, to his knowledge, no brewery has ever used it before. (Dogfish Head needed to spend $10,000 in lawyer’s fees and four months’ lobbying time to get the FDA to approve its use in this beer.) Even if another brewery wanted to employ the pricey extract, they wouldn’t know the proprietary enzyme technique Dogfish Head engineered to dry out the monk fruit so the beer isn’t sickly sweet.
In fact, Slightly Mighty is bone dry—definitely not a "fruit beer." It has a fragrant hop presence with pleasant tropical notes of pineapple and mango. The body’s palate, however, is more brut champagne-like; likewise, the monk fruit creates a thicker mouthfeel, which makes the beer feel less like your typical thin, "diet" brew. It’s fizzy and quite refreshing, though hardly just hoppy water like many session beers.
Now appearing on draft at Dogfish Head’s Delaware tasting room, in April bottles will also start landing in several states. So will a special “,” which is essentially a cardboard cooler filled with cans of Slightly Mighty, SeaQuench, and SuperEIGHT, another recent brewery innovation made with superfoods like prickly pear and toasted quinoa.
Before heading back for another hockey game, Calagione tells me he’s bullish about Slightly Mighty’s market potential: “We just know there’s a shit ton of drinkers out there that want a lot of flavor but don’t want all those calories and carbs.” Seems like this IPA fits the bill.