Since its creation, Miller High Life has been one of the most well-known high-end beers in the United States. It will forever be known as the “Champagne of Beers”. Miller High Life continues to be successful; however, many drinkers don’t understand the components of what categorizes Miller High Life as an American beer and why it looks, tastes, and smells, the way it does. Let’s start with a quick answer:

Miller High Life is best classified as an American Lager because of being fermented in colder temperatures, has a lower bitterness (IBU of 7-8 ), a light corn-like color (SRM of 3), and alcohol content of 4.6%.

The quick answer does not give the whole picture. Below we will answer the question: What Type of Beer is Miller High Life Exactly. First, we’ll identify why Miller High Life is classified as a lager rather than an ale. Next, we’ll complete a deep dive into the specifics of the beer and why it is best classified as an American Lager. Lastly, we will determine what sets Miller High Life apart from other beers.

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Is Miller High Life A Lager Or Ale?

All beer is broken down into two categories. Beer is either classified as a Lager or an Ale. To the routine drinker, a Lager and an Ale can be disgusted by how the beer tastes, looks, and smells. Ales are usually described as fruity or sweet. Lagers are described as clean and crisp-tasting.

While looks, smell, and taste help differentiate between Ales and Lagers, the fundamental difference goes deeper. The two categories of beer are differentiated by their brewing process. Beers are either made with top-fermenting yeast or bottom-fermenting yeast.

Lagers are fermented in colder temperatures (35˚–50˚F). The yeast is not seen during the fermentation process and is the so-called bottom-fermenting yeast.

Ales are referred to as top-fermenting as the yeast will rise to the top of the brewing vessel during the fermentation process and sink to the bottom when the process is over. They are fermented at warm temperatures (60˚–70˚F).

Miller High Life is classified as a Lager because it is fermented in colder temperatures, and the yeast is not seen during this process.

What Kind Of Lager Is Miller High Life?

Now that we know which beer category Miller High Life falls into, let’s dig deeper. Within the Lager category, a beer can be classified even further. To categorize Miller High Life correctly, we’ll use the Beer Judge Certification Program scale, which categorizes beers based on five different categories.

According to this organization, Miller High Life is best categorized as an American Lager, a subcategory of Standard American beers. Miller High Life is also classified as a Pilsner beer. This subcategory of Lagers is defined by the extra addition of Hops in their brewing process. A Pilsner will give the drinker a light hoppy kick of spice compared to a Standard Lager. 

Why Is Miller High Life An American Lager?

To determine why Miller High Life is an American Lager, we need to examine the five categories outlined by the Beer Judge Certification Program. These categories are IBU, SRM, OG, FG, and ABV.

The first category is based on the bitterness of the beer. The bitterness of beer is measured in IBU (International Bitterness Units). American Lagers have an IBU between 8 and 18. This means they’re sweeter than compared to their American Light Lagers (such as Coors Light, Miller Lite, or Bud Light), who have an IBU of 8 and 12. Miller High Life has an IBU of 7 to 8, categorizing it in the American Lager category.

The second category to determine why Miller High Life is an American Lager is the SRM (Standard Reference Method) category. This category is based on the intensity of the color of the beer. The SRM scale ranges from 2 to 80. It is measured by passing a beam of light through .39 inch (1cm) of beer and measuring the attenuation of the light. The SRM scale for American Lagers is between 2 and 4. This means they are very pale straw to medium yellow in color.

In the image below, Miller High Life falls right in line with other beers in the SRM American Lager category with an SRM of 3.

The third category to determine why Miller High Life is an American Lager is the OG (original gravity). This indicates the beer’s density and potency and how much alcohol the brew will have after fermentation. The higher the density of a beer, the higher its gravity. American Lagers typically have an OG of 1.040 – 1.050. Miller High Life’s OG falls within this range, making it an American Lager.

The fourth category to determine if Miller High Life is an American Lager is the FG (final gravity). This number represents the number of un-fermentable sugars left in the beer once the fermentation process is completed. American Light Lagers have an FG of 1.004 – 1.018.

The fifth and final category used to determine the classification of Miller High Life is the ABV (alcohol by volume) category. ABV is calculated by subtracting the OG from the FG and multiplying that number by 131.23. This measurement is used worldwide to showcase the strength of a particular beer. The more alcohol contained within the beer, the higher the ABV. American Lagers have an ABV between 4.2-5.3%. Miller High Life has an ABV of 4.6%, placing it directly in the American Lager category.

Has Miller High Life Always Been An American Lager?

Frederick Miller created Miller High Life in 1903, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to allow every person the opportunity to live the good life. He believed the “High Life” should be available to the masses, not just to higher society. Miller High Life is known for its high level of carbonation, making it an extremely bubbly-filled beer. It’s no surprise that Miller High Life earned the nickname “The Champagne of Bottle Beers” within three years.

To this day, Miller High Life continues to deliver drinkers with the same fantastic taste. Staying true to Frederick Miller’s original recipe, Miller High Life is brewed with a balanced blend of hops from the Pacific Northwest, malted barley, and Miller yeast. It provides drinkers with an easy-drinking, crisp flavor, and 141 calories. So, yes, Miller High Life has always been an American Lager.

Fun Facts

Miller High Life has always prided itself on having a very distinctive bottle. Miller High Life was initially sold in miniature champagne bottles. It was considered the premier high-end beer in America for many, many years.

 Miller High Life bottles are now made of clear glass, feature a gold label, and have a tapered neck similar to a champagne bottle. The “Girl in the Moon” logo, which features a modestly dressed young lady, is said to be founder Frederick Miller’s granddaughter.

Miller High Life has won many awards for being the best in the American Lager category. A few of these awards are listed below.

  • 2002 World Beer Cup: 1st Place
  • 2006 World Beer Cup: 1st Place
  • 2011 Dieline Awards: 2nd Place