June 11, 2007
Chill Out

IMGP1352_edited.jpgThe beer buzz in midtown Sacramento over the weekend was that today would be the day that Miller Brewing Company formally would introduce its latest product, Chill, a light beer flavored with lime and salt. No press kit yet has arrived, however.

Nonetheless, I got a preview over the weekend, first at Mosaic Midtown Salon & Spa, where models were presiding over icy tubs of the stuff and handing out tiny samples during Second Saturday, then up J Street at Centro Cocina Mexicana, where a few early cases were being cracked open.

Miller Chill looks to be the brewing industry's latest attempt to tap into the nation's growing Latino population and the popularity of Mexican culture hereabouts. It's been tried before. Remember Anheuser-Busch's Tequiza and Brasserie Fischer's Desperados? Introduced in early 1999, both were beers infused with citrus juices and tequila, intended to mimic the Old West practice of alternating sips of tequila with quaffs of beer, often accompanied with a ritualistic dash of lime and pinch of salt. Both eventually rode off into the sunset.

Miller Chill similarly tries to shortcut a current popular custom, the squeezing of a wedge of lime into a bottle of Pacifico, Tecate or other Mexican beer. This practice variously has been seen as either a way to add zest to generally listless brews or a carryover of a means to cut the metallic flavor lingering from cans in which early Mexican beers were packaged.

The Miller Chill label says the beer is made "Chelada Style," indicating that brewers were inspired by a drink popular in Mexico but not often found around here, the michelada. I have on my desk a coaster on which bartender Richard Bracamonte jotted down the recipe for the michelada he serves at JBar, the lounge of the restaurant Janos in Tucson, Ariz. It calls for a bottle of Corona beer with 3 ounces of Clamato juice and 3 splashes of Worcestershire sauce in a chilled pint glass with ice and a salted rim; garnish with a lime. Other versions I've seen are even more involved, calling for black pepper, Tabasco and soy sauce.

Why didn't Miller call Chill "Michelada Style?" Truth in advertising, perhaps. Chill only has lime juice and salt, not any of the other ingredients that go into a michelada. "Michelada" on the label also could cause consumer confusion, given that at first glance it looks a lot like Michelob, made by rival Anheuser-Busch.

While refreshingly tangy, Miller Chill also is too soft and too sweet for my palate. Not much salt essence, either. It certainly isn't as compelling as a michelada. We tasted Chill alongside a Pacifico with a wedge of lime punched down the neck of the bottle. It's more effort, but the flavor of the Pacifico was drier and sharper than the Chill.

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