In (semi) Praise of Light Beer
This month column was written by Bob's friend
I'm old enough to remember (and is my friend Bob) when light beer,
an American invention, took hold in 1975. That's when Miller Brewing
Co. became the first to distribute a low-calorie beer nationwide. Fast
forward to today and two of the top three best-selling beers in the
U.S. are all light beers, Belgium-based Anheuser’s Bud Light and
MillerCoors’ Coors Light.
I was a fan of those beers then but not now. Like many consumers,
I've turned to more exciting alternatives. Need proof? Well, U.S. beer
sales volumes have dropped for three straight years, including a 1.5
percent decline in 2011. Coors Light is the only Top 5 U.S. beer still
growing, albeit very slowly. On the other hand, craft beer, has and
continues to experience unprecedented growth.
Miller Lite, my one time favorite, has always sought broad appeal, with
early television ads featuring athletes pitching the brew as“Everything
You always Wanted in a Beer. And Less.” I loved it when New York
Yankees baseball legends George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin
endlessly argued over whether it was better to say the beer “tastes
great” or was “less filling”.
By the mid-2000s, craft beer’s rise made it obviously harder for light
beers to make a case for taste. They tried anyway. In 2008, Miller Lite
brought back the “Great Taste, Less Filling”idea in its advertising amid
falling sales. Anheuser-Busch went with the tagline “Drinkability,” a
brewer’s term used to describe beer that goes down easy.
The following year, Miller Lite advertised itself as“triple hops brewed for
great pilsner taste,” as more Americans discovered more heavily
hopped craft beers. Miller followed that up with its“Taste Greatness”
campaign. No surprise, sales didn’t recover. "Triple hops" - are they
Coors Light has grown while largely staying away from taste claims,
focusing instead on what it calls “Rocky Mountain Cold refreshment.”
Coors Light used special ink on cans to show when the beer was at its
optimal temperature. If you can't sell taste because you don't have
any, then crazy can promotion isn't that bad an idea.
In general, the macro-light beer industry also has attempted to juice
sales with packaging innovations, such as wide-mouth screw top cans,
aluminum bottles and wide-mouthed vented cans. Now Anheuser is
turning to higher alcohol content with very recent introduction of Bud
Light Platinum, featuring 6 percent alcohol, compared with 4.2 percent
for regular Bud Light.
Miller Lite, trying to get back in the game, will ship new cans by Labor
Day that have darker, more masculine blue graphics. Other cans will
have a perforated second opening that will have to be punched out
with a tool of the drinker’s choice, because, according to Miller,
millennial guys “like to tinker,” The opening will allegedly allow the beer
to flow more like a glass.
Miller Lite focused on its buddy theme after research revealed that
sociability was high on beer drinkers’ minds. Their new campaign
reportedly will go beyond Bud Light’s more generic “here we go”
advertising, by focusing on close friends, not just acquaintances.
So the light beers fight on, gaining a few to the fold but losing even
more to their craft brewing brothers. If that pathway is true and one
causes the other, then maybe the whole concept of a macro brewery
light lager isn't as bad as many beer fans proclaim. Perhaps light beer
a stepping stone to the beer world; if it inexorably leads the drinker to
the world of craft beer as it once did for me then we're all better off for
the Miller Lites of the world.
Hey Bob, bet you never thought I'd say something nice about light
beer. And of course, many thanks for letting me write this month's
|BeerNexus proudly presents
"the ombudsman of beer"
Bob and Friends Speak of Beer......
My thanks to Doug for this month's
column. See you next time to
"speak about beer".
|Want to be a "friend of Bob" and write a guest
column? Just e-mail your article to Bob HERE.