Turning on the Lite: The Origins of Miller Lite and Light Beer
At the end of this summer, MillerCoors plans to roll out bottles of Miller Lite with the original white labels. The last time such plans were under way was 40 years ago, right before the early 1975 launch of the iconic brand, with that same white label on the bottles, which created a niche that within a generation accounted for almost half of the beer sales in the United States: light beer.
The story of Miller Lite beer and the light beer juggernaut it loosed starts a couple of years before 1974, however, at a dinner in Munich in what was then West Germany.
It was there in 1972 that George Weissman, chairman of Philip Morris, which had recently finished acquiring the Miller Brewing Co. from the heirs of its namesake founder, asked a waiter for recommendations about which beers to drink. He was dieting and didn’t want anything too heavy. The waiter recommended a diat pilsner, a low-sugar lager aimed at people with diabetes (while that first word did translate as “diet” and while it did have fewer carbohydrates, diat pilsner was not necessarily any less caloric than other pilsners given its alcohol content).
Weissman ordered one and so did his dinner guest, new Miller Brewing president John Murphy, a longtime in-house attorney at Philip Morris who had once worked in PR in Hollywood. They took a sip.
“There’s room for something like this in America,” Murphy told Weissman.
Miller Lite was born and, with it, light beer.