Across the world, Miller Lite is one of the most well-known light beers, especially in the country of its creation, the United States. It will forever be known as the first successful mainstream light beer in the United States. Miller Lite continues to be successful however, many drinkers don’t understand the components of what actually categorizes Miller Lite as a light beer and why it looks, tastes, and smells, the way it does. Let’s start with the quick answer:
Miller Lite is best classified as an American light lager because of being fermented in colder temperatures, having a lower bitterness (IBU of 12), a light corn-like color (SRM of 2-3), the alcohol content of 4.2%, and the use of rice in the brewing process.
The quick answer does not give the full picture. Below we will answer the question: What Type of Beer is Miller Lite Exactly. First we’ll identify why Miller Lite is classified as a lager and not as an ale. Next, we’ll complete a deep dive into the specifics of the beer and why it is best classified as an American Light Lager. We’ll also discuss how the use of rice can change the categorizations of beer. Lastly, we will find out if Miller Lite has always been the American Light Lager, it is today.
Is Miller Lite A Lager Or Ale?
All beer is either classified as a Lager or an Ale. To the regular drinker, the difference between a Lager and an Ale comes down to how the beer tastes, looks, and smells. Lagers are described as clean and crisp-tasting. Ales are described as sweet and fruity.
The actual difference between these two classifications of beers is their brewing process. Beers are either made with a top-fermenting yeast or 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).
Lagers are fermented in colder temperatures (35˚–50˚F). The yeast is not seen during the fermentation process and is so-called bottom-fermenting yeast.
Miller Lite is fermented in colder temperatures and the yeast is not seen during this process classifying it as a lager.
What Kind Of Lager Is Miller Lite?
Within the classification of a Lager, a beer can be categorized either further. To categorize Miller Lite correctly, we’ll use the scale of the Beer Judge Certification Program, which categorizes beers based on five different categories.
According to this organization, Miller Lite is best categorized as an American Light Lager, which is a subcategory of Standard American beers. Along with a lower ABV and lighter taste, this category is generally also lower in calories.
Miller Lite is also classified as a Pilsner beer. This subcategory of Lagers is defined by the addition of Hops in the brewing process.
Why Is Miller Lite An American Light Lager?
In order to determine why Miller Lite is an American Light Lager, we need to examine the five different categories as 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. This is measured in IBU (International Bitterness Units). Light lagers have an IBU between 6 –12. This means they’re less sweet compared to Standard American Lagers (such as Coors Original or Budweiser), who have an IBU of 8 –18. Miller Light has an IBU of 12, categorizing it in the American Light Lager category.
The second category is based on the intensity of the color of the beer. The SRM (Standard Reference Method), scale ranges from 2-80. 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 Light Lagers is between 2&3. This means they are a light golden hue in color.
As you can see in the image below, Miller Lite falls right in line with other beers in the SRM American Light Lager category.
The third category is the OG (original gravity). This indicates the beer’s density, potency, and gives an indication of how much alcohol the brew will have after fermentation. The higher the density of a beer, the higher its gravity will be. American Light Lagers typically have an OG of 1.028 – 1.040.
The fourth category is the FG (final gravity).This number represents the number of un-fermentable sugars in the beer that are left once the fermentation process is completed. American Light Lagers have an FG of 0.998 – 1.008.
The fifth and final category is used to determine the classification of beers in 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 the contains the higher the ABV would be. American Light Lagers have an ABV between 2.8-4.2%. Miller Lite has an ABV of 4.2% placing it in the American Light Lager category.
Does The Use Of Corn Change How The Beer Is Categorized?
Yes, using corn instead of malt does change the way a beer is categorized. One crucial difference between American Light and their European counterparts is the use of corn or rice as an ingredient. American Light Lagers tend to use up to 40% of rice (or corn) while European Lights tend to utilize malts.
The use of rice/corn changes the color, taste, and strength of the beer. German Light Lager, is about half the ABV of American Light Lagers, between 2-6 SRM, and shows more traces of flavor. American Light Lagers have a 2-4 SRM and boost a lighter, cleaner taste.
Has Miller Lite Always Been A Light Lager?
Created in 1975, by the Miller Brewing Company, Miller Lite was the original lite beer. Miller Lite has always prided itself on going the extra mile to ensure a consistent and quality taste. With attention to every taste bud, it uses only the highest of ingredients in its brew.
Miller Lite uses a 21-day brewing process. It uses the purest of water, the same strain of yeast as Fredrick Miller used in 1855, and adds hops at three distinct times throughout the brewing process. Aroma is extremely important to the makers of Miller Lite. Miller Lite incorporates Galena hops and specially grown barley to give it a medium malt and hop aroma. So, yes; Miller Lite has been a light lager since the very beginning.