Much More Than a Throwback: The Return of Miller Lite’s Steinie
Editor's Note: Information for David Klemt’s article provided by MillerCoors.
Just over 40 years ago, George Weissman, the former chairman of Philip Morris, was at a dinner in Munich. To give you some perspective, this dinner took place before the Berlin Wall came down. In fact, that infamous wall wouldn’t drop for another 17 years. Philip Morris had just finished their acquisition of Miller Brewing Co. and John Murphy was accompanying Weissman. Murphy had been an in-house attorney for Philip Morris for several years and had just been named president of Miller Brewing. Since he was on a diet, Weissman asked the waiter to suggest a beer that wasn’t heavy. The waiter recommended a low-sugar beer that had been developed for diabetics, diät pilsner. Diät, as you’ve likely guessed, translates to “diet” in English. The duo tasted the low-sugar pilsner and Murphy reportedly said the words that would lead to a revolution:
“There’s room for something like this in America.”
It would be nice to say that Weissman and Murphy smiled at one another, hoisted their glasses for a celebratory toast and called the brewers back home in America. However, innovation is never that simple. It turns out that the recipe for what would be branded Miller Lite had been acquired by Meister Brau, a brewery in Chicago that had gone bankrupt. Meister Brau had gotten the recipe from a brewery located in Brooklyn: Rheingold Brewery. Biochemist Joseph Owades, while working for Rheingold, had invented a method to isolate an enzyme capable of breaking down higher-calorie starches so that yeast could more easily consume them. Owades had created this process in the ‘60s and Rheingold went to market with the brew, calling it Gablinger’s Diet Beer. It turns out, though, that nobody wanted anything to do with diet beer and Gablinger’s failed. Ignoring the failure of Rheingold, Meister Brau marketed the recipe as Meister Brau Lite, which also failed to gain traction with beer drinkers.
Murphy knew that low-calorie beer could do well in America. He also knew that low-calorie beer needed to taste like beer and, from his time spent working in PR in Hollywood, required the right image in order to succeed. Miller Brewing tweaked the Owades/Rheingold recipe, shuttered Meister Brau and began test marketing Miller Lite with advertising firm McCann Erickson in 1973. Rodney Dangerfield, Bob Uecker, Dick Butkus, Bubba Smith and John Madden were tapped to praise the flavor and drinkability of Miller Lite, providing the low-calorie beer with a healthy dose of masculine credibility. And then came four words that would rock the world: “Great Taste, Less Filling.” A new legend was born in a campaign that has been touted as one of the most successful in the past 30 or 40 years…by MillerCoors’ competition.
Miller Lite launched in shortneck “Steinie” bottles, squatter than the longnecks to which we’re now accustomed, emblazoned with its now iconic white labels, in 1975. With the Steinie came the birth, not just of a new Miller product, but of an entire beverage segment. A perfect storm of events brought together all of the necessary components for Miller Lite to make history and become the light beer juggernaut it is today. It also started a diet, light and “lite” product revolution in America, inspiring hundreds of food and beverage products which, in an ironic twist, could use the word “diet” with impunity. Celebrating 40 years as an iconic light beer, MillerCoors is offering a limited edition run of authentic Miller Lite Steinie bottles, giving beer drinkers the chance to have a drink with a legend.
To get more information on all of the MillerCoors products make sure to attend the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Show to hear them speak and try their newest products. Registration is open at www.ncbshow.com.