Why Miller High Life is the Classiest Compromise at the Dive Bar
Life is full of trade-offs. Go home early or stay out all night? Aim for quality or max out on quantity? But when it comes to Miller High Life, maybe we can have it all. And by “all,” of course, we mean: A) chugging the so-called champagne of beers while, B) inwardly acknowledging that it’s just a cheap macro lager. So, to recap, if those qualifications work, then yes, we definitely can have it all.
Miller High Life is a beer that overcomes low expectations with elevated carbonation. Introduced by the Miller Brewing Company around New Year’s Eve of 1903, the beverage made its debut into civil society in a stunning clear-glass number, with gold foil wrapped around its gazelle-like neck and plunging shoulders.
With a bottle resembling upper-crust cousin champagne, High Life seemed destined to bring grandeur to the masses. During its first few years on the scene, the product was advertised with an illustration of a woman dressed in a ringmaster’s costume, clutching a whip and tray of High Life beers.
Then something happened in 1907. According to company legend, Miller’s advertising manager A.C. Paul was alone and lost in the Northwoods of Wisconsin when he had a powerful vision: The High Life girl sitting in the crook of a crescent moon.
Like a bubbly burst of whatever Paul was drinking—probably High Life—a phenomenon was born. Miller’s Girl in the Moon soon became one of the most recognizable advertising mascots of all time.
For about 60 years, High Life remained the brewery’s flagship beer. During that time, it was priced similar to other premium macros like Budweiser. But after losing market share for years to competitors and newer Miller brands, High Life was taken down a notch. In 1993, it became a value brand that associated with the likes of Busch and PBR.
Vanquished like a social outcast, High Life became the beer of bristly old men, who drove trucks and lamented about the good ol’ days when honest beers were treated like sparkling wine and no one knew what the hell an International Bittering Unit was.
Then the roaring 2000s arrived, and High Life went ironically retro. Eventually, urban dive bars were serving what some call the Low Life special: A High Life with a shot of well whiskey. Slide on down, cans of budget brew, and make space for clear sparkling bottles. The champagne of beers was back, just in time to class things up.
The persistent qualities of High Life are no surprise to some. In 2017, New Jersey’s oldest resident at the time sadly passed away. Agnes Felton had become famous during her final decades, partly for crediting the secret of her longevity to drinking a few bottles of Miller High Life with some Johnnie Walker Blue Label every day.
Fenton lived a remarkable life, being one of the first Black women to own a restaurant in Tennessee. In 1943, after she recovered from a benign tumor, it was her doctor who recommended a daily dosing of the champagne of beers. (History doesn’t record if her doctor discovered this Long Life special in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, but it seems reasonable.)
Possibly in homage to Fenton, and certainly to modern dive bar patrons, a few years ago Miller revived its 1970s High Life slogan: “If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer.”
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