Time to taste the Miller Lite Brewers Collection. All three are poured in fairly similar, beer-clean glasses.
Miller Lite Amber: Aroma is somewhat sharp, grainy. Head forms well, and lasts. Don't know if I'd go "amber," more like a dark gold, but a nice color. More flavor than Lite, for certain, but hardly overwhelming. A light, malty/grainy flavor, ashy notes, a slightly sour aftertaste, doesn't break particularly clean. Fizzy. Overall impression: too much flavor for a Lite drinker, nowhere near enough flavor -- or distinction -- for a craft drinker. Third out of three, nothing to like here.
Miller Lite Wheat: Cloudy medium yellow; cloudiness is very uniform, most likely protein haze rather than yeast. Nice tightly bubbled head, and good retention. Beer looks quite nice. Whoa! Startling sweet orange nose, like an orange hard candy or gumdrop. (Obviously not a coincidence that the beer they chose to compare it with in the release was Blue Moon.) Dammit. The wheat beer here is, I suspect, not that bad. The body's right -- light-medium, creamy -- and there's a decent tart flip in the release. But that overlaid fakey-tasting orange ruins it. I'm obviously not sure where that's coming from -- could be sweet orange peel, could be essence -- but it's too much, and it's wrong. Tone it down, or make it less sweet, and you could have a winner here. With it, well, it tastes like your dopeass marketing team is running things, and they still don't really understand "craft beer." This makes me remember that before they came up with Miller Chill, the same group was considering a shandy. Sticking fruit in a beer don't make it "craft." Second of three, and that mostly on potential.
Miller Lite Blonde: Slightly ruddy gold color -- actually darker than I would have expected from a "blonde." Head is the worst of the three: big bubbles, not much retention, and hard to resurrect with swirling. Aroma's kind of interesting: some fruity/estery notes, a little malt, maybe some floral hop. Well...not too bad. There's some bitterness in the drink and the finish that spreads through the whole mouth, there's definite structure to this one, and it has -- shock! -- a good aftertaste. I'll probably finish this one with lunch, though I doubt I'd get one when I was out, unless I was faced with nothing but The Usual Suspects, or I wanted to go light on alcohol. If that was the case, I'd be happy to find this available, because it handily tops every big-selling light lager I can think of. First of three, by a large margin...a plausible session drinker.
That's just my opinion, of course, and I -- we -- are hardly the target market. It is worth keeping in mind that Miller is not aiming these at the die-hard craft drinker. The three beers they are compared to in the press release are Blue Moon, Fat Tire, and Bass Ale. Not the first choices of your basic BeerAdvocate, but strong sellers, and if Miller can grab some of that, they'd probably be happy.
Can they? I doubt it. "Miller Lite" and "craft" have a much stronger cognitive disconnect than "Sam Adams" and "Light." The packaging is very generic (though that could change), there's very little story here (the description on the neck ring of "Miller Lite Brewers Collection Amber" reads "AMBER: refreshing amber lager brewed with a distinctive rich finish"), there's none of the cues that casual craft drinkers key on.
If you're going to aim at that group, you've got to think about what they're buying: with Bass, they're buying import prestige; with Fat Tire, they're buying a different look and a quirky name/badge; with Blue Moon, they're buying a very different -- cloudy -- look and taste, and a pretty badge. They're buying flavor, too, don't get me wrong: all three of those beers are very different from mainstream lager (they are, really, if we're being honest). But the other factors are stronger.
The Miller Lite Brewers Collection has none of that, except the slightly different look, the Wheat most of all. It's Miller Lite, it says so right on the label. That's not different. There's no prestige, there's not a big difference in look, and there's no story. I know I sound like a different guy from the one who wrote about authenticity, but I'm talking about a different set of beer drinkers here.
I don't like conspiracy theories. I think most of the wacky shit beer geeks come up with about the evil marketers at the macrobrewers is just that: wacky shit. But I can't help thinking that this represents one of the recurring theories about why macrobrewers try craft-type beers: they do them in a half-assed way, designed to fail, so that they can point to them and say, "See? People don't really like this stuff. They're just buying it because it's small/local/trendy."
The one other time I really got that feeling was when I went to a Miller Reserve tasting back in the mid-1990s. The Miller rep set up her display, carefully arranged the cases of Miller Reserve Amber and Velvet Stout (which were actually pretty decent beers -- better than these), and then just went through the motions, monotone "Like to try Miller Reserve? No? Okay," inflection, and packed up on the stroke so she could get down to the serious business of selling Miller Lite. I never forgot that.
So I can't help feeling that someone or some group at Miller wants to sell craft beer, to make bigger, more characterful beers, and a bigger group sees that as diverting focus from Lite. So they set this whole thing up to prove that craft won't work for Miller.
As far as this goes, they're probably right.