Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014

We Tried Miller Fortune, Miller's Spirit-Inspired Beer, And It Wasn't Great

By Evan Rytlewski
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When Bloomberg News Service reported that MillerCoors was courting spirits drinkers with a new “bourbon-like lager” called Miller Fortune, the beer community begrudgingly awarded Miller points for innovation. While bourbon-flavored beers are fairly common in craft circles, there isn't one on the mass market yet, and Miller's marketing campaign suggesting the beer be savored not in a common pint glass but in a fancy rocks glass was truly inspired. In a market where domestic beers are prized for convenience and drinkability, marketed as cold refreshments meant to be slammed to quench thirst, Miller had the audacity to suggest its proud new product must be savored. In the Bloomberg piece, brewmaster Manny Manuele even went so far as to promise Miller Fortune grows more flavorful as it warms in the glass, a claim running counter to the endless commercials insisting cold is king. Maybe Miller really was on to something different.

There was just one problem, of course: The Bloomberg article was wrong. For all the talk of rocks glasses, spirits and higher-alcohol content, Miller Fortune is not a bourbon-flavored beer, but within hours of that article dozens of fast-aggregating publications were hammering home the term “bourbon” to describe the beer. Days later, after the narrative had already set, MillerCoors released a press release attempting to correct the record. “Since that story ran, there have been several follow-up stories that inaccurately portray Miller Fortune as being a bourbon-flavored beer,” media relations director Jonathan Stern wrote. “That is simply not true.”

So if it's not bourbon-flavored, what the hell is it? It's never a promising sign when a brand tries to define itself not by what it is but what it isn't, and the rest of Stern's press release didn't do much to curb the confusion. “Our beer was brewed to deliver the complexity and depth that appeals to spirit drinkers,” he wrote. “Spirit inspired…yes. Spirit infused…no. As many of you know, the beer industry as a whole has lost seven share points to spirits (five) and wine (two) in the last 10 years. Miller Fortune was created to fight against these losses and take back legal-drinking age spirits drinkers/occasions. So, you can say it has been inspired by the success of spirits competition and it is a darker beer that may look more bourbon-like in a glass.”

Huh. So it's a non-bourbon-like beer that may look more bourbon-like in a glass. Got that?

Miller Fortune hit the market this week, and now that I've sampled it, I understand why the rollout was so botched. On its own merits, this is not a beer that sells itself. Miles removed from any actual spirit on the market, the beer resembles nothing more than malt liquor, right down to the sweet, corny aroma and its hoppy punch. To be fair, it drinks like a very good malt liquor. The body is surprisingly full—fuller, in fact, than its modest amber hue implies—and despite its 6.9% abv, there's no alcoholic bite. But there's no complexity to it, either, no surprising flavor notes or even any particularly pronounced ones. It's less watery than most domestics, and if you try to slam it, it will fight you, but nothing about it demands to be savored.

In the spirit of its marketing campaign, I sampled Miller Fortune both from the bottle and from a rocks glass. From the bottle it was actively unpleasant, greeting my palette with a thick, almost syrupy mouthfeel. From the rocks glass it was a bit more welcome, since if nothing else I could better control my intake, preventing it from coating my mouth too quickly, but the flavor was no more or less pronounced. And the final warm sip, the one Miller's brewmaster promised would be so satisfying, was every bit as thankless as the room-temp final swig from a Miller Lite bottle.

At just $6.49 for a six pack at the Pick 'n Save on Holt Avenue, Miller Fortune is a fairly efficient way to catch a controlled buzz, but that's about the best thing I can say about it. Otherwise the price point puts it in a kind of no-man's land. For just a buck or two more, you can pick up a six pack of genuinely delicious craft beer. And for a buck or two less, you can pick up a sixer of something cheap to wash down pizza with. Miller Fortune makes either alternative seem that much more attractive.
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