Thursday, February 14, 2008

Miller Lite Brewers Collection tasting

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.

14 comments:

Steven said...

"The wheat beer here is, I suspect, not that bad."

LOL!! Now that's authentic! ;-)

Mark Tichenor said...

I agree with your take on the business end, Lew. In addition, by not hitting the craft market, and introducing "funny beer" to the Lite drinkers, Miller will have to build themselves market awarentess from the ground up. It'll cost millions of advertising dollars to build the top-of-mind awareness to sell Lite beer drinkers on these beers.

I think that's why these efforts by the majors always fall short. They try to conquer a brand new category that really doesn't exist until they commit the money necessary to build it, which they're never willing to do.

A year, tops, then these new Miller Lite offerings will be a brief footnote in beverage history.

Anonymous said...

Great job Lou maybe we should put you on the payroll and you will not sell your soul to the wolves at the door cannot not think of anything the marketing and brand team would listen to than some fat man in philly talking about lite beers ...Wonering how you tasted these beers when they have not been released in this market yet,maybe you purchased them at your beer of the month club...

Lew Bryson said...

Anony,
Put me on whose payroll?

You really don't make any sense. There's no wolf at the door, and the only one who's getting my soul is God Almighty.

I tasted sample bottles Miller Brewing sent to me. They e-mailed me out of the blue and asked if I'd like to try them. I thought it was an interesting idea, and I did want to try them, so I said yes.

They arrived, I tasted them. I didn't care for two of them. That's what I wrote.

Any other questions?

Anonymous said...

Honestly, at this point I feel that the biggest thing that craft brewers and homebrewers have to fear from The Bigs isn't these half-baked products. It's the hops shortage. The bigs not only have the buying power to grab more of the hops supply, and contract to guarantee themselves supply that the smaller players just can't do, they also can drive the market by demanding more of the high-alpha hops, putting those of us who want the lower-yielding, lower-alpha hops at a disadvantage. At least until demand drives up the prices on the noble hops to the point that they become more competitive for the hops farmers to keep growing.

Anonymous said...

One might expect as much. When can we expect an equal bashing for the horrid array of Michelob Ultra Fruit Beers?

Lew Bryson said...

I haven't even seen a bottle of the Mich Ultra fruit stuff, and that's not really the same kind of thing. The Lites are light beers aimed at a craft-type market, a different kind of idea, at least, so I did the tasting. Mich Ultra fruits? It's light beer, period. I don't like Ultra at all, and I've said so a number of places, so I doubt I'm going to like the fruit.

sam k said...

I have to wonder if the identical stats on each version of Craft Lite indicates nothing more than flavoring added post-fermentation. Maybe that's why the goofy orange flavor? I'll definitely give the blonde a shot for the heck of it (if it ever makes it out of Bawlmer!).

Lew Bryson said...

The identical stats made me wonder if it's just adroit adjustment of the high-gravity brewing system: add water till you've got it just where you want it.

Wish they would have had the guts to do a light-calorie Bavarian hef instead of a Blue Moon wannabe.

Anonymous said...

The collection is not craft beer... they are light beers with a craft style taste. When in comparison to a Bud Light or Coors light- the Brewers Collection beers have more flavor and are low in calories. Miller created the light beer category back in the 70s and people doubted Miller Lite- which is now the #2 selling beer in the country. Mainstream light beer drinkers account for 85% of beer sales... while craft style beers are becoming increasingly popular. Light beer drinkers are willing to try the full calorie beers- but if you are not a craft beer drinker, they fill you up. So naturally, it only made sense from a business standpoint. The Brewers Collection is actually doing very successful in the 10 weeks it's been on the market- it has done better than the last 10 AB new beers put on the market COMBINED and the beers will be available nationwide by September (with new labels). I promise you, we're not going anywhere... :-)

Lew Bryson said...

Now there's one Anonymous commenter who I'd really like to know the identity of...

Whoever you are, if "The collection is not craft beer... they are light beers with a craft style taste", why is the tagline for the collection "Craft beer. Done Lite."? That sounds like you're positioning them as craft beers. But what do I know, I'm trying to actually read the words Miller put on these beers.

The new label is a good sign that Miller is taking these beers seriously. But I don't understand this reasoning (I never have): "Light beer drinkers are willing to try the full calorie beers- but if you are not a craft beer drinker, they fill you up." Why? Aren't they exactly the same volume as light beer? I often find lighter beers more filling because of their higher carbonation levels. If this is code for "Light beer is lower in alcohol," which I think we all know it is, why not say so?

Hey, we'll wait and see, okay? Thanks for stopping by; next time, leave a card!

Anonymous said...

I am not the original "Anon" poster, but I just wanted to add my two cents. Light beers have lower calories, thus making them "less-filling", volume aside. It takes less energy to burn lower calorie beers, ie. two 100-something Brewers Collection beers vs. one 250 full-calorie beer. I know I'm stating the obvious here, but just thought it should be said :)

aaronmcnees said...

i like all kinds of beers, but if you do the math, its easier to get drunk off of light beers simply because they have less calories. duh. sure, the fuller, darker, mouth watering beers have more flavor- but down here in texas it was 107 degrees- i want a beer thats light and clean that i can drink volumes of.
i recently tried busch light and was amazingly suprised at how much better it tatste than bush.

Lew Bryson said...

Aaron,

When it's that hot... everything else is out the window. Do what you like. But not long ago I rode 12 miles of bike trails in 101 degree heat, and came back to a keg of a lighter-bodied, still hoppy pilsner, and that went down real good. I also go to rye and ginger ale with a ton of ice and lemon in the heat. There's lots you can do without giving up flavor; no one says you have to drink heavy beers in the heat.