At the onset of the … whatever we’re calling all this, Chris Welch totally called it.
We talked on March 18, and at that point the owner of Trixie’s Liquor had about a week’s worth of observations of the new buying patterns at his shop. He said the beer equivalent of comfort foods were moving well: tried-and-true beers that people know they like and can stock up on with bigger multipacks.
Interesting, I thought. People are funny, I thought.
I hadn’t been to the bottle shop during the social-distancing era at that point. It had only been about 10 days since I’d last rubbed shoulders with strangers.
In a March 27-April 17 Nielsen survey of 10,000 people who bought alcoholic beverages, 69% said they were buying trusted brands. Just 2.3% told Nielsen they were buying more high-buck options than usual.
Today, buyers of “comfort beers,” I have joined you in the comfort of the familiar. Evidence can be found in the large number of empties of Bell’s Two Hearted, Third Space Happy Place and New Glarus Two Women in my chock-full recycling cart.
And in the 12-pack of Miller High Life in the fridge.
High Life has long been my favorite Miller beer, the summer get-together crusher, the session nightcap, the beer worth walking an extra section over to acquire at the ballgame.
Macro lagers get a bad rap from many craft drinkers. Fizzy yellow beer was the status quo that the craft revolution was rebelling against, after all. In recent years, that stance has softened as the craft market has matured and small brewers have begun rolling out their own versions of light lager. I’ve written this before, but there’s an intrinsic reason light lager comprises the lion’s share of world beer production.
But that selling point — it’s a refreshing and enjoyable beverage — is just one increasingly rare way macrobrewers court you to their lager over another. These beers, more than any other category, are brand constructs as much as products, seeking to tie some emotion to your beer purchase.
I do like the actual liquid of High Life on its own merits, but its story and its image definitely has its hooks in me, too. Introduced in 1903, it’s Miller’s last real remaining tie to Milwaukee’s brewing golden age. There’s that bottle — clear, distinctively shaped and sporting a gorgeous throwback label with the classic girl in the moon and the “Champagne of Beers” slogan. And those gruff, plain-spoken commercials aligned it as the beer of the everyman.
All that stuff gives me the feels, and these days there’s another one layered over how I view High Life — and other Miller products. It seems like ancient history considering how different life is today, but I still feel a pang of pride and purpose thinking about how Milwaukee and, really, the nation came together in a show of support after the tragic shooting at Molson Coors’ Milwaukee brewery on Feb. 26.
All of that aside (as though dividing the conscious and subconscious is that easy), I really do think High Life is an exceptional beer that fits exactly what I want in my easy lager. There are many subtle differences among the macro lagers, and what you want out of the style may vary. But let’s take a look at what makes it my cheap comfort beer.
Miller High Life
Style: American lager
Brewed by: Molson Coors, the new (as of Jan. 1) name of the Chicago-based parent company of Miller that was formerly known as MillerCoors. Canadian brewer Molson acquired the company from its previous owner, SABMiller, after the latter was required to divest of its American operations as part of its sale to Anheuser-Busch InBev. The good news in all this corporate shell gaming and foreign investment is that you can be all but certain that High Life bought in Wisconsin is made by the good people of Milwaukee.
What it’s like: C’mon. It’s like beer.
Where, how much: It’s everywhere, of course, but the latter is an important point in this category. High Life is significantly cheaper than Miller Lite, Budweiser and other denizens of the industry’s “premium” category. But it’s a higher price point than the Blatzes and the Milwaukee’s Bests and the Hamm’ses. My 12-pack of cans was around $8.
Booze factor: 4.6% ABV
Up close: I’m normally on the warpath against clear glass beer bottles because light skunks beer. (Hello, Corona.) But light lager is a beer that’s frequently drunk from its original container, and it would be a shame to miss out on the beauty that is a freshly opened or (still preferably) poured High Life.
The Champagne of Beers is not a throwaway marketing line; High Life is vigorously and persistently bubbly, and even a gentle pour yields a healthy dollop of meringue-like foam. It’s beer shade of gold is darker than Champagne, I guess, but let’s not split hairs.
That effervescence is more than just cosmetic. Because High Life is exceedingly soft and quite sweet, those bubbles help mitigate the latter attribute and interplay beautifully with the former. The kiss of hops on the nose returns ever so briefly on the finish, keeping that malty, slightly corny sweetness in check.
Could High Life be a little too sweet for you? Maybe. Then maybe you’d prefer a PBR or a Hamm’s. (I often do.) But I think High Life does exactly what its creators want it to do, and it does it in exactly the way I want it to.
Bottom line: 5 stars