Everyone thinks they know all they need to about Miller High Life, largely because it’s a (delightfully) two-dimensional lager. But the stuff is also squarely American — built almost entirely on marketing, cooly defiant of rich stiffs (but, er, also quietly owned by the fifth-wealthiest brewery conglomerate and 64th and 71st richest families in the U.S. and Canada, respectively), and sustained over the years by our collective penchant for corn-syrupy nostalgia and low-budget Champagne dreams.
Add a lunar lady mascot, a surprisingly high-profile beverage industry fan base, and the world’s most timeless ad campaign (pun intended, because it’s always Miller Time — except at court, or church, or maybe the DMV).
Turns out, there’s plenty more to know about the Champagne of beers. Here’s a dozen to get you started.
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It’s much older than you think.
Miller High Life made its debut on New Year’s Eve in 1903, getting into full marketing swing in 1904. That’s a really long time ago. It’s also the year Dr. Seuss was born, and the year inventor Lizzie Maguire patented “The Landlord’s Game,” later renamed “Monopoly,” and used to teach children the value of using real estate deals to alienate family.
Yes, Miller High Life might seem like it erupted out of someone’s above-ground pool in the 1970s, but it’s as old-timey as it gets. (Fun fact: 1904 is also the year KY Jelly debuted, as a surgical lubricant, ahem.)
It’s also much older than Miller Lite.
The Miller beer world is pretty confusing. No, there is no plain “Miller Beer” (there was once, briefly). There is Miller Lite, but it’s a descendant of Miller High Life. High Life, as discussed, made its saucy debut on New Year’s Eve 1903. Miller Lite launched nationally in 1975, nearly 70 years later. Miller High Life Lite launched in 1994, nearly a century later.
Your instincts are correct. There’s no reason it should be compared to Champagne.
Champagne is a regional French sparkling wine made by putting a select proportion of grapes through specialized double-fermentation. Miller High Life, we believe, comes from a naturally occurring spring in the basement of Kid Rock’s mansion. (Kidding — for more on production, see below.)
OK, the bottle is similar to Champagne. Sort of.
There’s one claim to similarity with Champagne: the bottle. High Life debuted at a time when bottled beer was a rarity, and Miller declared the brand “The Champagne of Bottled Beer” (i.e., the best of what little was out there). That’s either clever marketing or a Hail Mary in the form of outrageous product hubris — and it worked like a charm. So much so, that Miller High Life has maintained the slogan (dropping the “bottled” part in 1969) for more than 100 years, and even leaned in further with a Champagne-sized bottle in 2017.
The mascot looks like a saucy extra from ‘Moulin Rouge.’
Miller High Life’s mascot is the “Girl in the Moon,” which is exactly what it sounds like: a woman in old-timey finery toasting the stars (or life, or whatever it is she’s hallucinating due to the lack of oxygen in outer space and/or her corset). Thankfully, she’s evolved over the years — you can see her change across labels on the neck of the bottle — but we like this version where she looks like she just had a really good shift at the Moulin Rouge, and is ready for a couple brewskies and some quiet time with the man on the moon.
The clear bottle is not a liability.
Beer gets “skunked” when UV rays from the sun, or your personal tanning bed, penetrate the glass and mess with the molecules inside. Brown glass is the best at protecting your beer from the sun (after aluminum cans, that is). Green glass doesn’t do such a great job, either (sorry, internationally famous green-bottled beer from the Netherlands, we still think you’re pretty). However, Miller High Life uses a modified hop extract that prevents this reaction.
You’d need about three times Miller High Life’s ABV to get a bubbly-level buzz.
Granted, alcohol doesn’t really work that way (and don’t try to experiment with the math; it’s a hangover waiting to happen). But the so-called “Champagne of Beers” clocks in at 4.6 percent ABV. Champagne is about 13 percent ABV on average, maybe a tad less. Either way, you’d need something like three times as many servings of Miller High Life as you would flutes of Champagne to achieve a similar buzz, and we’re guessing by then you’d be less inclined to do this.
It has PBR-style street cred.
Yes, “street cred” is like “Fight Club”; you don’t talk about it. But Miller High Life does afford you a bit of street cred. It’s hipster Gatorade in certain circles, owing in part to a popularity spurt in 2017 in the wake of a rebranding that emphasized nostalgia with an old 1970s slogan (see below). In fact, after that campaign, the beer had its best quarter since 2009.
All clocks should be set to “Miller Time.”
OK, so you just learned what Greenwich Mean Time is — but does it even matter? Because back in the 1970s, Miller High Life came up with the infamous “Miller Time” ad campaign complete with a jazzy jingle, “If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer.” (The jingle was written by famed, late adman Bill Backer, who also wrote the world’s most famous, cheesiest-but-goddamit-aim-high commercial).
Miller decided to revive the campaign in 2016, and it worked. After seeing this incredible, sunlight-drenched ad full of easygoing 1980s-era bliss, the only time we’re trying to keep — possibly the only way we’ll ever be punctual for again — is Miller Time.
Miller High Life does indeed contain hops. (Good ones, too.)
Miller High Life is what’s known as an “adjunct lager,” a.k.a. a Big American Macro Beer that’s made more for mass drinkability and wide profit margins than aforementioned street cred. But even if its IBU score is 7 (that’s an International Bittering Units score, e.g., 90-Minute Dogfish Head IPA is 90 IBUs), Miller High Life does contain hops. Galena hops, the “most widely used commercial bittering hop in the United States,” are used in this beer for good reason: It’s clean and a hint citrusy, with an edgy bitterness (as opposed to a murkier bitterness from some funkier hops, like going for a walk in the woods with your friend Caleb who writes sad poetry).
It has as many calories as a Starbucks Espresso Frappuccino.
We’re not counting calories when we’re drinking beer, but many are, and when we created this chart, “A Guide to the Calories, Carbs, and ABV in America’s Best-Selling Beers,” many were surprised that something as, er, delicate-tasting as Miller High Life, with its scant 4.6 percent ABV, clocks in at 141 calories. This is exactly one more calorie than a tall Espresso Frappuccino (no whip), about the same as a York Peppermint Patty, and more than 30 calories more than competitors like Bud Light, Coors Light, and its own 96-calorie little sibling, Miller Lite.
Bartenders f*cking love Miller High Life.
It’s a myth that “sophisticated” drinkers defy their innate thirst for High Life. Bartenders — like, very good bartenders — love the stuff, as do many, many craft brewers. And they admit it, freely. And they’re not wrong. There’s something about calming your nerves at the end of a long shift, or Netflix binge, or pandemic-induced quarantine, with a faux-fancy everyman’s beer that makes a joke out of its own un-fanciness and goes down easy as, well, Champagne.
Ed. note: This article has been updated with the following correction: Although clear bottles are a liability to most beers due to lightstrike, Miller High Life parent company Molson Coors claims the brand is “made with stabilized hop compounds that can never be skunked.”