TASTES GREAT! LESS FILLING!
September 22, 2019 9:36 AM   Subscribe

A massive brewery with a new light beer brand to market. But how to market it? Chemist Joseph Owades, working for Rheingold Breweries in New York City, broke apart beer’s long carbohydrate chains to produce the world’s first “light” beer in 1967. Marketed nearly exclusively to diabetics, it went nowhere. Thus, the development of “light” beer came with a commensurate marketing challenge: how to persuade the traditionally masculine beer-drinking audience to try a lower-calorie version of their favorite brew.
posted by I_Love_Bananas (40 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
In which the classic American imperatives of making something stupider, and of creating drama to move inferior product, congealed into an alchemic, protean television ad campaign that redefined white masculinity for a generation.
posted by eustatic at 9:47 AM on September 22, 2019 [16 favorites]


Hops have no calories, it's a shame they were practically left out of the formula.
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:56 AM on September 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


Did they deliberately de-emphasize the Miller part so it wouldn't damage the main brand if it failed? I never saw the vintage ads before. Those were fascinating. I didn't realize they called it "Lite beer from Miller," not "Miller Lite." Did people back then still call it "Miller Lite" in real life?

This article from Sports on Earth goes into a bit of the history: The "less filling" part allegedly came from factory workers who found the beer made them less gassy, even when they drank a lot of it.

And as this 1988 Sports Illustrated article pointed out, the majority of beer is purchased by a core group of heavy beer drinkers. Presumably that's why one of the ads embedded in the SoE article shows former Jets running back Matt Snell at a table with five or six empties, even though he says (maybe for the network censors, or liability reasons?) he didn't drink all the beer alone.
posted by smelendez at 10:58 AM on September 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I like a good beer belch. It's part of the ceremonial. And anyway, I'm English, the beers I like the best aren't that carbonated. Less filling? What?

Lite beer is like soft porn - I just cannot see the point, except as a Thing To Be Marketed because things have to be marketed.
posted by Devonian at 11:15 AM on September 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


"Sir, sales are terrible."

"...Get me Bob Uecker."
posted by Chrysostom at 11:25 AM on September 22, 2019 [7 favorites]


The last time I drank Miller Lite it was free pitchers as part of a Pyrex promotion at a bar during the Chicago Blackhawks last Stanley Cup playoff victory run.

My conclusion after finishing off the pitchers at our table because "Hey free beer!" was that there is actually no such thing as free beer and I would never do that again.
posted by srboisvert at 11:26 AM on September 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


The Joe Piscopo spots haven't aged well, particularly this one.

"Every rappin' cat I know drinks Miller Lite... ain't that so?"
posted by tonycpsu at 11:56 AM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Watching that, it's not really shocking that Piscopo ended up as a right-wing radio host.
posted by octothorpe at 1:23 PM on September 22, 2019


The craft brew guys are now giving it a try. I'll bet they figure out the flavor eventually. Heavy beers are pretty much weaponized diabetes, so I'm interested. Like the Kids These Days I've been drinking white claws for my alcohol "needs" as much as anything recently.
posted by MillMan at 2:04 PM on September 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


I blame "Near Beer".
and 3.2.

Yuhhgck
posted by clavdivs at 2:23 PM on September 22, 2019


Watching that, it's not really shocking that Piscopo ended up as a right-wing radio host.

Is there some brain parasite that makes these washed-up SNL people into Dennis Miller wannabes?
posted by thelonius at 2:47 PM on September 22, 2019


TEAM involves a four-hour course for stadium employees and includes instruction in distinguishing drunks from presumably normal sports fans and advises employees on how to deal with a potentially obstreperous drinker, counseling courtesy and a low-key, positive approach.

I understand you've got a few dozen states over there all with their own laws, but is this not already the law anywhere? Are people not already licensed in order to sell alcohol?

Like, not as a store, but just as a cashier or waiter here in Australia, if you're going to be involved in the sale of alcohol, you need a Responsible Service of Alcohol certification.
Selling to people who could be underage (but aren't) and don't have ID, selling to intoxicated people, I would lose my RSA, my job and my employer would cop a hefty fine and possibly restrictions on business.

I mean I lived in fear of it in many ways, and definitely ruined a few early 20s couple's evenings when they thought they didn't both need ID, but I always felt it was for the best.
posted by Acid Communist at 3:19 PM on September 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Bit of a tangent, but here goes:

I read somewhere that the reason Americans tend to prefer sweeter beers than Europeans all goes back to Prohibition.

Until the US banned alcohol in 1920, American beer was supplied by European immigrants to the country, who brewed it with exactly the same bitter taste they were used to at home. During Prohibition, though, Americans got used to drinking bathtub spirits, which generally had to be sweetened with fruit juice and other mixers to make them remotely palatable. This resulted in the invention of the cocktail, but also in the American palate being reset to demand a sweeter taste with their alcohol. When legal beer sales returned in 1933, brewers had to adjust their formula accordingly.

True? Untrue? What do we think?
posted by Paul Slade at 3:21 PM on September 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


I got my tabs mixed up and read a linked article thinking it was the OP. Whoops.

Also Paul Slade, I have no idea if that's true, but I've never tasted a homemade spirit I could drink without heavy adulteration so I can believe that part.
posted by Acid Communist at 3:34 PM on September 22, 2019


Paul Slade, I read it also had to do with distribution networks post-Prohibition. The only ones set up to run were the big brewers like Bud, who specialized in lowest common denominator lagers.
posted by Ber at 3:47 PM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


no, there were still a lot of small regional brewers around in the 60s and 70s - the domination of miller/coors/bud was a fairly slow process, as was the dulling of american beer

schlitz and stroh's have both put their 60s formulas back on the market - that's what a lot of beer used to taste like

i never was a light beer fan - yuck
posted by pyramid termite at 4:03 PM on September 22, 2019


A friend of mine has a story about living as an American in German. One of his dormmates kept pressing him about how light and shitty American beer is, he was the kind of person who would bring it up every time a chance was given.

My friend offered to play a game with him- "hey, I have a timer on my phone, lets drink a shot of (local German superior to American toilet water) beer every minute, whoever gives up loses", and of course, the guy happily took the game because a shot of beer doesn't seem like that much at all. After 20 minutes or so, the dormmate started getting concerned- "hey, I'm starting to feel this."

To which my friend replied, "Try keeping this up for an hour- this is why Americans drink American beer."
posted by weewooweewoo at 5:38 PM on September 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I remember the ads for Gablinger’s, the first American “lite” beer. They got their point about carbs in beer by jamming a slice of bread into a glass of beer. For some reason this didn’t seem to attract beer drinkers.
posted by tommasz at 6:05 PM on September 22, 2019


I’m sorry, I love low alcohol beer that tastes like nothing. If there were microbreweries making that stuff I would SO drink it. I hate it when people try to make me feel like a jerk because of that. I guess i should have skipped this thread
posted by capnsue at 7:01 PM on September 22, 2019 [12 favorites]


Why the hell are beers and spirits exempt in the USA from having the usual Nutrition Facts and ingredients listed? It would be nice to know if a stout had 24g/carb per pint while a light beer has 9g. Smartphones have helped with this but it is a pain in the ass for people looking to minimize carbs.
posted by benzenedream at 7:03 PM on September 22, 2019


I’m not much of a beer drinker at all. I used to be but haven’t been able to handle the bloated feeling it gives me for years. If I do drink beer it’s almost always a pilsener and never more than one. I don’t get the obsession with hops and high alcohol levels of the craft beer thing. I don’t begrudge anyone else their pleasure, and hey, I can’t stand tea either. (I’m not a tasteless philistine either — I was a fine wine wholesale salesman once! I just don’t like beer.)

Add to that spending years as a country and western musician in Texas and watching every variety of beer-based alcoholism unfold before me over those years, I realized that Lite beer (or Coors Lite, the sidearm of choice for the serious addict) was a thing because it allowed you to drink a whole case in a few hours. I ordered a single Coors Lite most nights and made it last just so I’d have a beer (in character as a country singer, don’t you know?). It was close to water. And that suited me fine.

Anyway, it’s an American thing and the rest of the world doesn’t get it. But it seems to me that it’s just our drinking culture and viewed comparatively, it’s no better or worse than any other drinking culture. I mean have you ever had real cheap Russian vodka or Peruvian Aguardiente? Yeah British beer tastes good, but British drunks are no garden of flowers. And have you ever tried a Babycham? Don’t tell me the Brits have good taste. Vin Ordinaire in France is likely to be swill too.

Who says getting f’d up is supposed to taste good anyway? If you regard beer as a gourmet experience more power to you, but don’t look down your nose at people that are just trying to get f’d up as cheaply and efficiently as possible, and without feeling like they ate a granary.

A couple of years ago when I was getting back into playing music after a long hiatus, I joined up with a band of blue collar Italians from the Bronx, although they’ve mostly done well as they traverse middle age like me — like suburban house and a modest Lincoln good. Anyway, at one of the first rehearsals after I was hired the leader texted to bring beer and I hit the gas station completely clueless about the right choice — like would I come off as too hightoned (as the only non-Italian and non-blue collar guy) if I brought Sam Adams or Stella Artois, two beers I can manage twelve ounces (or is it 10.5 now?) of in a pinch. I pondered domestic light beers, then settled on bottles of Amstel Light — which really is swill.

I showed up to laughter. Every other guy in the band had brought a six of Coors Light cans. I still haven’t lived it down, although now I’m the intellectual in the band and it’s all cool cuz I play a mean guitar.
posted by spitbull at 7:08 PM on September 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


Another Texas anecdote. There used to be a light beer called Pearl (I think made by Lone Star) that was marketed as a beer for women in the 60s and 70s. The greatest country singer I’ve ever personally known and played with was this feisty guy, 5’6” but downright dangerous with his fists, notorious for getting into bar fights when he was younger. I lost track of the number of times he told me, as an older and mellower man, that he drank Pearl beer (which he still did when I met him, and no one else I knew did, the bars he frequented and played at would keep it just for him) because, back in the good old days before country music went to hell, inevitably some big lug would tease him about drinking a “ladies’ beer” and wind up bloodied, after which no one else would give him any further shit.

Possibly exaggerated but if you knew the guy you’d believe it. And in his late 50s with advanced heart disease he could still put away a case in a night of playing. And not show any effects in his singing whatsoever. Toward the end he quit entirely and went back to religion and gospel music.
posted by spitbull at 7:19 PM on September 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


> Like, not as a store, but just as a cashier or waiter here in Australia, if you're going to be involved in the sale of alcohol, you need a Responsible Service of Alcohol certification.

Selling to people who could be underage (but aren't) and don't have ID, selling to intoxicated people, I would lose my RSA, my job and my employer would cop a hefty fine and possibly restrictions on business.
Should note that the RSA cert requirements are only a decade or so old (depending on the state). Certainly wasn't a thing when I was pulling beers in my younger days.

Its also only takes 4 hours & ~$20 to get one online. (Everywhere, except I think NSW & Vic, also requires your employer to sign off after 1~2 weeks 'observation', but everybody I know with one tells me that's little more than a "remind your boss to do it" formality that means nothing.)
posted by Pinback at 7:56 PM on September 22, 2019


It's illegal to sell to "intoxicated" people in most if not all US jurisdictions.

The only time I've ever really seen a bartender concerned about this rule is when someone conspicuously falls asleep in a bar. I suspect it's more strictly enforced in some more conservative jurisdictions.

There's sort of a taboo against kicking a customer out of a business in the US in general, though, unless they're stealing or doing something blatantly obnoxious or criminal to other customers.

ID is *pretty* consistently checked these days, especially in big cities, and usually religiously checked at places like stadiums and concert venues. That's relatively new, though, and determined underage people often still know which bars "don't card."
posted by smelendez at 8:46 PM on September 22, 2019


If there were microbreweries making that stuff I would SO drink it.

I don't know why they called their brand Sufferfest, but their Repeat kolsch is 3.5% ABV and 95 calories a can and they're so micro they don't even have their own brewery. It is basically fancy Miller Lite.

Also, seeing these ads it dawns on me for the first time that "less filling" is a euphemism for "get less drunk." Which, duh, but they somehow don't explicitly mention that part.
posted by GuyZero at 9:02 PM on September 22, 2019


but it is a pain in the ass for people looking to minimize carbs.

You are correct that they should make beer nutritional info easier to find, but really, if you're minimizing carbs, don't drink beer. It's all carbs.
posted by GuyZero at 9:06 PM on September 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


drink a whole case in a few hours

I certainly am in no position to judge, because I used to drink at least that much alcohol in one night, but, damn, that sounds awful. And there are people doing this who cling to the notion that, since they only drink beer, they aren't an alcoholic. It's like arguing that you are fine since you don't drink alone - right, but you are closing the bar every night.
posted by thelonius at 9:48 PM on September 22, 2019


I saw someone refused to be served a while back. He was an older short, heavy business guy who was staying in a next door hotel. He'd been there for a while. Bartender told him he had to wait. He didn't like her answer, so when the bar back was nearby, tried to order from him. That didn't work. Dude got pissed. Threatened to give a bad Yelp review... LOL
posted by Windopaene at 10:46 PM on September 22, 2019


I have a facebook friend-of-a-friend who goes by Buzz Lightbeer. No idea who they are but I think the moniker is dreadfully funny!

Somewhat related is the recent Planet Money episode on White Claw, the alcoholic seltzer, that is, light beer taken to the limit.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:23 AM on September 23, 2019


Recreational slow pitch softball used to be much more of a 'thing' than it is today (at least in the US).

"Homer at the Bat" fairly accurately summarized the drinking during the game:

Umpire: Okay, let's go over the ground rules. You can't leave first until you chug a beer. Any man scoring has to chug a beer. You have to chug a beer at the top of all odd-numbered innings. Oh, and the fourth inning is the beer inning.

Go ahead and try doing that for a doubleheader on a hot summer weekend afternoon with any beer that isn't 'lite'.

I was never a fan of Miller Lite, but they sponsored a softball league I was in and the patron bar had $3 pitchers post-game. Nobody's going to serve Miller Lite at a state dinner or as part of a tasting menu, but a tall frosty mug (or 2...or 3) of it while you're half sun-baked with a sweat-caked softball shirt stuck to your body tastes damn good.
posted by splen at 4:20 AM on September 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


I just think this is a stellar example of changing the conversation... instead of the question being "will men drink lite beer?" the question was pivoted to, "what do YOU think about lite beer? Help us settle this important issue!" and they just assume men will drink the beer, because how can they be part of the discussion if they haven't tried it?

Even if they only drink it once, Miller just sold annothe beer. And before you know it, you've created an advertising juggernaut that cross-references beer and sports and everything in a way that makes everyone forget the original question ever even existed.

I'm trying to think of other cases where this happened... when did something perceived as a relatively hard sell get spun into something that so firmly settled into the cultural lexicon?
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:26 AM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


but, damn, that sounds awful. And there are people doing this who cling to the notion that, since they only drink beer, they aren't an alcoholic.

That’s a huge part of it. Drinking watery cold beer is normalized as not even drinking in places like Texas that also have deep cultural and religious traditions of shunning drinkers. In my day you could buy single ice cold cans at the gas station register and it was completely normal to have one going in the cup holder all the time. In fact it was LEGAL for all but the driver to drink in the truck (or car lol) as late as 1995 in Texas. So basically as long as you had two people and one open beer you were fine.

I’ve known and played music with hundreds of beer alcoholics who would deny they are alcoholics because they “only drink beer.” Man, there is no worse way to do that addiction short of sterno. But if you’re gonna, keeping the carbs down is the way to go.
posted by spitbull at 6:32 AM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


A lot of the breweries around here are making "session" beers, basically lower alcohol versions of their regular beers. The benefit is the same as the domestic lite beers -- people can drink them all afternoon without getting totally plastered, or at least get plastered more slowly. (You can certainly get falling-down drunk with lite beer, but it takes some effort to accomplish.)
posted by Dip Flash at 6:34 AM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


You can certainly get falling-down drunk with lite beer, but it takes some effort to accomplish

Average blue collar Texas guy says “hold my Dr. Pepper.”
posted by spitbull at 6:35 AM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


Not exactly related.... I recently attended a presentation from an exporter for one of the UK's largest beer brands and he mentioned that most of their beer is brewed about 1%ABV higher for the US market vs. the same beer available in their pubs and stores in the UK. What would be served around 4% in the UK (in casks, kegs, and bottles/cans) is around 5% in the US (kegs and bottles/cans) because, he said, it improves sales and profit margins.
posted by msbrauer at 7:33 AM on September 23, 2019


Different beers are appropriate at different occasions. Sometimes that's a wheat beer, sometimes Big Jamoke, and sometimes, when it's going to be a long night and/or you've already had a couple, a Miller Lite or Coors Lite or Bud Lite is just the thing.

Like sure, the craft beer is (probably) objectively better in many ways, I get that. I really do, with opinions to match. That still doesn't take away from what the mass produced stuff does have going for it. Comparing apples and oranges is rarely productive.
posted by wierdo at 8:05 AM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don't know why they called their brand Sufferfest, but their Repeat kolsch is 3.5% ABV …

If I recall correctly, that brewery was founded by a long distance runner who wanted a good beer for after a long, hard workout (a sufferfest).
posted by JiBB at 9:33 AM on September 23, 2019


A lot of the breweries around here are making "session" beers,

I get the idea but I feel like every time I see a beer labelled "session" on the can/bottle/package it's still 5-6% ABV. Maybe these brewers have stronger livers than I do.
posted by GuyZero at 10:09 AM on September 23, 2019


There's something so human about taking something great and ruining it a little so you can have more of it.

Most of the session ales I've seen are around 4 to 4.5%, though some "session" IPAs still clock in higher, I guess because they're more referring to backing off the hops so your palate isn't smashed but your brain still can be?
posted by solotoro at 1:09 PM on September 23, 2019


I get the idea but I feel like every time I see a beer labelled "session" on the can/bottle/package it's still 5-6% ABV. Maybe these brewers have stronger livers than I do.

I've mostly noticed them in the ~4.5% range, but I wouldn't be surprised to see much higher ABV beers labeled the same way.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:58 PM on September 23, 2019


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