Miller Lite Brewers Collection

By: Miller Brewing Company

Suggested Retail Price: $7.16 for six 12-ounce bottles

Taste: 2stars

Marketing: 4stars

Playing to the never-ending American quest to eat and drink more with less caloric impact, Miller has branched out from generic “lite beer” into a variety of craft flavors including Amber, Wheat, and Blonde Ale. These days, the old macrobrews are taking a beating from light beers on one side and craft ales on the other; by combining light and craft, Miller has probably made a wise commercial gamble.

There’s just one little hitch: the taste. I blind tasted the Wheat and Blonde Ale varieties against flavor-equivalent craft beers: a wheat by Goose Island and a blonde by Redhook.

Is it fair to compare light craft against regular craft? In general, “lite” beers are comparatively lower in calories, but not such that it should radically sway one’s drinking habits: At a little more than two-thirds the calories of real beer, that still leaves a fairly high 110 calories a bottle. The only significant difference other than taste is that one sort of beer is marketed as “lite.”

These Miller varieties, being test-marketed in four U.S. cities, weren’t exact equivalents; they weren’t even close. They were pale shadows of what their bottles claimed. True, the Wheat tasted more like a wheat beer than water does, but it was blown away by the Goose Island, which had a far richer, more citric, more deeply floral presence. The Blonde Ale was likewise buried by its craft nemesis; the comparison was clear as day, and unflattering.

For all the impeccably tuned-up marketing heat and smoke, the Brewers Collection leaves tasters with the classic light-versus-craft choice: For the same number of calories, you drink either three beers you can barely suck down or two you really enjoy.

Bush’s Best Grillin’ Beans

By: Bush Brothers & Company

Suggested Retail Price: $1.50 for a 22-ounce can

Taste: 4stars

Marketing: 4stars

It’s fairly easy to see why many folks might feel that beans are beans are beans: Baked beans are a perennial bit player, sometimes a supporting actor, and rarely, if ever, the star of the plate.

But you have to give Bush Brothers credit: The company aggressively pushes its product as though it’s gold, right down to adverts featuring a treacherous talking dog who’s trying to sell the secret family bean recipe to the highest bidder.

And now, Bush Brothers has taken things to the next level, with commercials that promise beans specially formulated for the macho world of grilled flavors. I’d never before thought, “Damn, I need specialized beans for grilling,” but after a couple dozen repetitions, the insidious magic of marketing began to make its presence felt. It doesn’t hurt that the cans have bold black tops and manly illustrations of smoke and grill grates on their sides.

What might grilling beans entail? Ideally: stronger flavors that can assert themselves even in the presence of carbon-kissed meat. After trying both the Bourbon and Brown Sugar and the Smokehouse Tradition, it becomes clear that Bush has hit the nail on the head. The former is strong and flavorful, and although the “bourbon” hit leaves a slightly chemical aftertaste, firm texture on the beans and clean sweetness save the overall package. The Smokehouse Tradition variety is even better. It leads with a brown-sugary note and finishes with a distinct touch of smoke that registers in your nose.

Haute cuisine? No. Good on a plate with grilled franks? Absolutely.

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