A question that has always been in the back of every beer drinker’s head, what is the difference between lite and light, or is there even a difference? What is the significance behind each version of the word and how did they get associated with beer and the iconic Miller Lite?
Why does leaving the ‘gh’ and adding an ‘e’ withhold any significance and when did the new version of the light-hearted word begin to make an appearance in the beer world? Did this just start with Miller Lite or has it been done before Miller changed the light beer game?
Let us dive into this pressing question and get to the bottom of it.
WHERE DID ‘DIET BEER’ COME FROM?
Let us first scratch the historical surface of the lite vs light conundrum. The time was the early seventies, 1972 to be exact, when George Weissman, chairman of Phillip Morris, recently acquired the Miller Brewing Company from the heirs of the original founders.
According to the story, Weissman was at a dinner and asked the waiter for a beer recommendation for his meal. He happened to be on a diet and was not trying to fill up on unnecessary beer carbohydrates. The waiter gave him a recommendation for a diet pilsner, a low-sugar beer geared for those with diabetes.
Both Weissman and John Murphy, the new Miller Brewing president at the time, both ordered the same pilsner and unanimously decided that America needed something like this – a light beer of sorts for those looking to maintain or lose weight. This is where the story of Miller Light begins. But let us look back even further at the original light beer of the time.
When Did the New Version of ‘Light’ First Surface?
Joseph Owades is the man to thank and commend for his discovery and creation of a lighter beer option. Owades became involved with beer and brewing beer by way of his research with key beer ingredients: yeast and the starches found in yeast. The biochemist found a way to isolate an enzyme that could break down all of the starches in barley, resulting in more for the yeast to eat and creating a beer with fewer calories.
In 1967, Rheingold Brewery, where Owades worked at, released the first diet beer known to the world as Gablinger’s Diet Beer, but the beer was a total flop and saw zero success. The recipe for the light beer was then given from Owades to Chicago’s Peter Hand Brewing. Peter Hand Brewing was bought by a group of investors and renamed Meister Brau Brewing. Shortly after, a brand called Meister Brau Lite was formed as a companion to the company’s flagship Meister Brau.
In 1972, Meister Brau underwent many financial difficulties and ended up selling some of its existing labels and recipes to the Miller conglomerate. Miller reinvented the recipe simply as ‘lite’ on their packages and viola – here is the birth of the iconic lite beer. Until the late nineties, the beer was advertised as ‘Lite Beer from Miller,’ and was heavily marketed using pro sports players and other so-called dominant male figures.
Miller Lite and What Came Next
Starting in 1975, Miller Lite was nationally introduced to the United States. The advertising strategy used by Miller created waves in the beer industry and put its lite beer on the radar for what would be and still is, decades to come. While its previous two attempts at pushing light beers to the public had failed, this attempt was a success and Miller said a total of 12.8 million barrels increased to 24.2 million barrels in 1977.
Miller rose to second place in the American beer industry and other brewing companies began to take notice. Anheuser-Busch began to notice the success Miller was having with Miller Lite and decided to jump on the train. A-B released its heavily advertised Bud Light in 1982, which saw higher sales than Miller Lite by the year 1994. By 1992, light beers were the hottest rage in the beer industry and overtook any style of beer in sales by monumental numbers.
In 1998, Miller officially relabeled the brand from ‘Lite’ to ‘Miller Lite,’ and in 2008, they created three new recipes under their Miller Lite Brewers Collection, including amber, blonde ale, and wheat. In December of 2013, Miller Lite reintroduced the 1974 navy-blue blackletter font ‘Lite’ on its packaging for a limited time. The company saw such success for the vintage label comeback that by September 2014, the company decided to switch the label back to the vintage packaging full-time.
Unpack the Phonetics of Lite vs Light
Okay, so now we know the origins of ‘lite’ and ‘light,’ and how they both surfaced in the world of beer, but let us take these terms and break them down phonetically. The evolution of words is not only apparent with the constant use of technological devices but with the everyday objects people purchase and consume daily. The word ‘light’ can be used in a wide variety of ways – as a noun, verb, adverb, and adjective.
Since Miller Lite dubbed the infamous ‘lite’ beer, the word ‘lite’ can be seen in food products, drinks, workout gear, and other facets of the diet, health, and food industries. Advertising is heavily responsible for using the word ‘lite’ in reference to something that is better or that has less calories, less fat, or less alcohol content than the rest. The use of the word ‘lite’ in these cases is a win/win for advertisers because they are able to avoid the legalities and regulations of using the word ‘light.’
When looking at phonetics between lite vs light, lite can only be used as a noun and adjective and not as a verb and adverb as its similar prototype ‘light.’ Both versions of the word are used to refer to something that weighs less or contains a lesser amount of something, whether it is calories, fat, or alcohol content. The word ‘lite’ roots back from the French word ‘lite,’ while ‘light’ stems from the Old English word ‘leoht.’
Shedding Even More Light on the Subject
To further delve into the use, meaning, and importance of ‘lite’ in relation to beer, let us talk a little bit more about Miller Lite and its use of the heavily controversial word describing lighter beer. In 1972, Miller Brewing Company purchased the ‘Lite’ trademark from Meister Brau and began taking their use of the word seriously. They saw the value of their brand and wanted to take necessary precautions to protect the branding and name.
In 1977, the 7th United States Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an injunction initiated by Miller against G. Heileman Brewing Company Inc.’s use of the word ‘light,’ saying that because light is a generic or common descriptive word when applied to beer, neither that nor its phonetic equivalent may be appropriated as a trademark for beer. This decision left Miller with the loss of its exclusive term to the word. 1982 is when they saw Bud Light appeal to consumers.
LITE VS. LIGHT: WHAT IS THE VERDICT?
We will leave the choice up to you, but with thorough research and in-depth investigation into lite vs. light, it seems the only things that differentiates the two are some discrepancies in business advertising and profit. Genius advertisers, to appeal to people who were looking to decrease their calorie intake and still be able to indulge in alcoholic beers, used the somewhat misleading word in a way that would literally change the world.
Using the word ‘lite’ instead of ‘light’ when it comes to food, drink, and health products creates a pathway for distributors and advertisers to circumvent regulations that come along with using the word ‘light’ in the packaging and labeling of products.
Lite vs light is a lifelong beer conundrum that will forever tear at the heartstrings of grammatical sticklers and beer drinkers alike. Whatever you care at all or whether you are headstrong on one side of the lite vs light debate, it is safe to assume that every time you see a Miller Lite can, you will have a newly found relationship with the word lite and all that it entails.