Miller vs. Bud: Could light beer really taste good?

I REALLY WANTED to like the Miller Lite.

I truly wanted to sip the glass of fizzy yellow suds and declare, “I love this stuff!”

It would have been a complete betrayal of my beer-drinking principles, my long-held conviction that light beer is for people who don’t like the taste of beer. But under the circumstances . . .

The circumstances being Nicole, a 6-foot blonde, and Mia, a jaw-dropping brunette, who placed two glasses of light beer in front of me the other night at Chickie’s & Pete’s on the Boulevard and asked me to choose my favorite. Beer, that is.

As this was Miller’s ongoing Taste Challenge promotion, the beers in front of me were, of course, Lite and its mortal foe, Bud Light.

One of ’em – Nicole, Mia, it’s hard to believe, but I couldn’t keep them straight – poured me the beer, smiled and told me to, “See it . . . smell it . . . taste it . . .”

Gulp. I paused.

An hour earlier, a few blocks south in Mayfair, I was saturating myself at Friday the Firkinteenth, the quirky cask ale fest at the Grey Lodge. It’s a frantic event in which hundreds of beer-lovers jam a 1950s-style neighborhood tavern and suck down kegs (also known as firkins) of cellar-temperature ales. We ‘re talking extreme beer, here – over-the-top hops, caramel-like malt, coffee porter, black-as-ink stout.

Two things about the Grey Lodge firkin bash: there are no fizzy yellow beers and, with all due respect to the ladies who love real ale, there are no drop-dead-gorgeous, 6-foot models.

So you might say that by the time I arrived at Chickie’s & Pete’s, my palate was diluted, but I was still thirsty.

Which is the whole point of this peculiar form of beer sales, known at Miller as “experiential marketing.”

Get some good-looking girls, send them to a young, testosterone-juiced bar and start pouring your beer. Guys who have been loyal to their favorite brand since Britney was a virgin will switch on a dime.

Gavin Wolfe, an area sales manager for Miller’s Philly distributor, Muller Inc., marveled at the scene. Smiling at Mia, he said, “You can get anyone to change beers. All it takes is a free key chain. [Customers] think it’s a piece of gold.”

This is the sad but true reality of about 95 percent of all beer consumed in America. Most drinkers don’t think about what they’re guzzling; hell, given the ubiquity of light beer, they don’t even taste it. We drink Brand X because of TV commercials, because of the Coors twins or the Budweiser lizard, because of some flashy NASCAR celebrity.

You drink a specific brand, as Michael Shea, a Miller marketing manager noted, because you “go to a party and all they have is Bud Light. You just kind of fall in line, that’s what you get used to . . .

“You fall into something that’s either trendy or you’re comfortable drinking. You’re not really looking at the substance of the product.”

Naturally Miller, the nation’s No. 2 beermaker, believes that if people would just taste their beer, they’d give up their Bud in a second. I, on the other hand, believe that if people would just taste their beer, they’d wonder why they ‘ve been blowing their money on crappy lager for so long and switch to a handcrafted ale made right in their own hometown.

To its credit, though, Miller is at least using a bit more than cleavage and key chains to promote its product. Even if it lasts only a minute, the Miller Taste Challenge is an opportunity to interrupt all the mindless guzzling with a simple public service announcement:

Taste your beer!

“People don’t realize that they can have a light beer that can taste like something,” Shea said. “Obviously, there are a lot of light beers out there that don’t have flavor. We believe you don’t have to sacrifice a great-tasting beer just to have something that’s light.”

And so there I was, with cups of light suds in front of me, Mia and Nicole asking me to choose.

See it . . . One was golden, the other was not.

Smell it . . . No hops, but I think that was Opium by Yves St. Laurent.

Taste it . . . Crisp, light, with no discernible flaws.

After all that cask ale, neither aroused me, but both were tempting.

I chose one and Mia’s eyes dropped.

It was Bud Light, and I was toast.

¬†Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Otto’s Black Mo Stout.

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