Miller has announced that it is test marketing three new “craft” brews under the “Lite” label. They include Blonde Ale, Amber and Wheat. I wonder if the Blonde ale will actually be an ale (a top fermented beer) or if Miller is just using the name Blonde Ale because the typical Miller consumer has no clue what the difference between an Ale and a Lageris. I haven’t tasted them but I feel that I can say with some degree of certainty that they will not be better than a Tyranena Three Beaches Honey Blonde, a Sprecher Amber, or a Crop Circle Wheat from the Madison’s Great Dane Those beers are excellent examples of what a craft brewer Honey Ale, Amber, and Wheat Beer should taste like.
This is the newest trend among the “football beer” (a term coined by the incomparable Jeffrey T. Meyer of the Good Beer Show) or “strip club beer” (as coined by frequent Good Beer Show participant/guest Mikey Mason) breweries are creating these fake “craft brews.” You see Miller and Bud know that they cannot compete with the microbrewers when it comes to taste and originality so they are now trying to enter the craft brewery market to trick naive beer drinkers into choosing an inferior product over the thousands of excellent microbrews available across the country. Miller with its Frederick Miller Classic Chocolate Lager and the new Lite beers and Budweiser/AB with their Stone Mill Pale Ale and Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale (which in all honesty are decent tasting) are trying desperately to attract microbrew fans and traditional beer drinkers who want something new. As someone who is very much into craft brewing, watching these brewing behemoths compete is almost laughable. Its like having Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan argue over who has the most class.
That’s not saying that I hate Miller, because I don’t. I like Miller for what it is; a great local business that is a source of civic pride, a provider of jobs, and a brewer of regular beer. I enjoy a High Life after working in the yard or a MGD when I am sitting at Miller Park. Beers like Miller and Bud serve a purpose as a inoffensive, yet boring, beer that is refreshing, inexpensive, appeals to the lowest common denominator, and can be drank in mass quantities. I am just so sick of these big brewers trying to be something that they aren’t. Its like McDonalds trying to introduce a braised short rib and creamy polenta meal to try and compete with a place like Il Mito Enoteca. I appreciate what Miller is trying to do but the simple fact is that Big Brother Beer cannot be original. There are too many people that need to sign off on their ideas. By the time an idea is implemented it has been so watered down by management, professional tasters, and the marketing group that you cannot end up with anything but a boring beer. Craft Brewers on the other hand are people who in all likliehood started off taking a tremendous risk simply for their love of the craft of brewing. They likely make the final decisions themselves or after some friends or employees taste the beer. They use quality ingredients and aren’t afraid to increase the amount of ingredients to actually give the beer flavor and character. None of the Miller executives dumped all of their life savings and took out second mortgages to begin brewing but if you read about most microbreweries, many of them started as a dream with shaky financing, recycled and temperamental equipment and grew because they made an excellent product, not because they have a huge advertising and marketing budget.
This foray into the craft brew market isn’t the first time that Brewers have tried to polish a turd. Remember when “Dry” Beers were all the rage? They were supposed to be lighter, more refreshing, and had none of that “icky beer aftertaste,” completely ignoring that the reason for the crappy taste in your mouth was the crappy product that you just drank. Crack open a nice microbrew like a Cream City Pale ale and the “aftertaste” is a sweet, malty sensation as the floral hop bite falters away. However we beer snobs call it “finish” instead of aftertaste, but I suppose you can only call it finish if it is a plesant experience. Despite all of the marketing and hype, Dry Beers have all but disappeared from the shelves.
Then there were the Ice Beers. It was a clever way for the big brewers to sell a product that had more alcohol without coming out and saying “you can drink fewer beers to get hammered. I was lucky as I was in college when Ice Beers came into prominence. Being a poor college student I enjoyed the privilege of buying 40 ouncers of Schlitz Ice Malt Liquor for under 2 bucks a bottle. Sure you can still find some Ice Beers around, but nowhere near as many as the mid-90s.
Don’t forget about the “Clear” Beers The trend is that one brewery comes out with something that is really just a repackaging of mediocre flavorless beer and all others follow suit. Now there is Miller Chill, which quit honestly is freaking terrible. The first half of the bottle tastes ok but after that it is pure torture. I think Bud also has one now too.
Miller will never become a player in the craft brewing industry and neither with Anheuser-Busch and it is insulting to claim that a beer made by a large corporation could ever be called a “craft” beer. Not only is it insulting, its wrong. A craft brewery (or microbrewery) can only brew a limited amount of beer. The maximum amount of beer a brewery can produce and still be classed as a microbrewery varies by state. Therefore Miller’s beer should not even be allowed to bear the name “Craft Brewed.”