Rock music blares through the dingy bar. Coeds squirm toward a bartender lining up long-neck domestics—Miller Lites, Coors Lights, Budweisers. My friend Kev inches forward, flanked by a business casual entourage of former fraternity brothers. It’s their annual reunion, and he invited me to join.
With a sneaky look, Kev shouts in the bartender’s ear. Moments later, eight silver Natty Lights, tabs ajar, rest in front of us. Kev grins as he passes out these glimmering, condensation-drenched vessels. Half of his crew nostalgically cheer, while the rest involuntarily groan.
Natural—“Natty”—even “Nasty” Light, as some call it, is favored by dorm residents, campus “Greeks,” spring breakers, and other thirsty consumers who sacrifice quality in pursuit of maximum quantity. With such a niche clientèle, one might think it rare to encounter Natural Light drinkers outside their natural college habitat. However, a keen observer can spot these clean-cut young males striding through gas station florescence with 24-cases of Natty, like business men rushing through airport terminals. Meanwhile, the young female of the species, typically clad in yoga pants, may be observed in grocery store aisles, pushing shopping carts filled with Natty on Friday afternoons during their post-class, pre-party migration.
Having neither a long nor illustrious history, Natty Light was introduced by Anheuser-Busch in 1977 as their first reduced-calorie beer. Among its few claims to fame, Natty Light received a Bronze Award for American-Style Light Lager at the 2008 World Beer Cup. It’s a highly discerning competition that awards only the top three beers judged in each of 90+ categories—less than 300 total awards—every two years. Curiously—and perhaps in homage to Natty Light’s victory—the WBC retired the light lager category after the ’08 competition.
Natty’s uneventful time-line is mirrored by its minimalistic logo, which combines the beer’s name, a miniature AB icon, and two futuristic boomerangs. These curious symbols suggest that hurling one Natty Light into a backyard of inebriated partiers will result in two Natty Lights being flung back in your general direction. In fact, in 2011, a pair of industrious explorers received a research grant from Natural Light to test a similar theory.
Possibly taking inspiration from events that overshadowed the beer’s 1977 release—specifically the Voyager I & II launches and the blockbuster film Star Wars—two fans launched a Natty Light into space. Suspended by ropes from a balloon, one full and one empty can lifted off from a farm field in the Midwest. They rose for two hours into what the amateur scientists renamed the “Natmosphere,” reaching an altitude of 90,000 feet, where stars twinkled above the curvature of the Earth. Sadly, instead of achieving escape velocity, the balloon popped and the cans plummeted to the ground in a matter of minutes. This experiment proved something many beer-drinkers have long known (especially those who have had a Natty in their refrigerator for months following a party): It can be really fucking difficult to get rid of Natty Light.
In the dingy bar, we ceremoniously clink cans. After taking a gulp, one fraternity brother dramatically gags, like a cat with a hairball. I put the Natty to my lips and let the cold beer flow like a watery memory from the past. Brewed with American and import hops, plus a blend of malted barley and corn adjunct, it’s similar to other American light lagers, such as Busch Light. Thus, Natty doesn’t so much strike the palate as wash past with a bubbly blandness pierced by the tiniest echo of beer-related flavor.
But, ultimately, drinking Natty is less about beer and more a rite of passage—an experience Natural Light describes as “always keeping it real and letting things just happen.” Because when “the real you is with your real friends, that’s when the fun starts.” Real words from a real beer that is as light in wisdom as it is in taste. But whatever it lacks in flavor and philosophy, it more than makes up for with personality.
Self-billed as “A Natural Choice,” this slogan is often paired with an attractive bleach-blond in a blue halter top that barely contains two surgically enhanced breasts. But certainly no enhancement was needed, or used, in the brewing of Natural Light.