Miller Lite vs Coors Light: Which is the Better Beer?

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Miller Lite and Coors Light are American light lagers originally brewed at Miller Brewing Company and Coors Brewing. Today, the beers are brewed under the same company structure, Molson Coors, a strange fate for two beers competing so heavily as they grew their market. 

Although owned jointly, the light lager wars continue and pose the question. Which is better? We’ll look at the style and help you choose a side, even if your beer money still goes to the same place.

Miller Lite vs Coors Light

Before the advent of craft beer in America, the United States’ beer was the stuff of punchlines. I cringe when I see people referencing the old Monty Python skit comparing American beer to making love in a canoe. 

How did that one go? Both were f-ing close to water. 

Well, it’s funny because it’s true. 

Or was it? Today, American beers are some of the world’s most exciting, flavor-forward beers. 

Not these beers. Coors and Miller devote millions of dollars to ad campaign tactics to trade market share points at the top of a beer category focused on delivering something pretty f-ing close to water to the masses.

History

Coors Factory from across the stream that flows into the facility.
Photo by Nolan Kent on Unsplash

Coors and Miller operated as regional breweries long before these mega brands dominated the beer industry. Adolph Coors founded Coors in Golden, CO, in 1873. There the German immigrant sold beer to prospectors who had discovered gold in Clear Creek, Coors’s prime water source even today. Like Coors, Frederick Miller came to America from Germany with brewing knowledge. He purchased the Plank Road Brewery and sold German-style lager to workers in and around Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

As their regions expanded, the two brands increasingly competed against each other and Anheuser Busch out of St. Louis. Their competition reached a new level when in 1975, Miller introduced the first commercially successful low calorie beer, Miller Lite. Suddenly, light beers were the thing, and any beer company that hoped to compete at a national level would have to follow suit with their own version. In 1978, Coors released Coors Light, and Budweiser released what is now Bud Light in 1985.

The subsequent years have spawned fierce competition between these and other light beers, with millions of dollars spent on being the top beer for light beer drinkers. Even though Coors Light and Miller Lite now have the same parent company, the beers jockey for position with Bud Light with new entrants, both premium and budget brands, like Michelob Ultra and Natty Light. 

Classification (Type of Beer)

Light beer is the best classification for Coors Light and Miller Light. In competition, light lagers are a subcategory of Standard American Beer (BJCP Category 1). Light lagers are grouped with other American beers, including American Lager, Cream Ale, and American Wheat. Light lager will have the lowest body and most subtle flavor aspects. The quoted descriptions are courtesy of the Beer Judge Certification Program. 

Appearance

“Very pale straw to pale yellow color. White, frothy head seldom persists. Very clear.”

Translation: These beers are for drinking, not looking at. Both Miller Lite and Coors Light are pale straw to yellow. Poured into a fluted glass, this could be very stylish and may help artificially prop up their head of foam for a bit longer, but in most situations, they’ll collapse within a minute or so. 

Packaging is a big part of advertising for these beers, and you’re more likely to remember the classic Miller Lite bottle or Coors Light cans that turn blue when cold. Coors Light has long been known as the Silver Bullet, a nickname coined by one of Pete Coors’ kids when they were in college because of their silver cans.

Aroma

“Low to no malt aroma, although it can be perceived as grainy, sweet, or corn-like if present. Hop aroma is light to none, with a spicy or floral hop character if present. While a clean fermentation character is desirable, a light amount of yeast character (particularly a light apple fruitiness) is not a fault. Light DMS is not a fault.”

Verdict: If sampled side-by-side, I suspect you could pick up some grassy hops aroma from Miller Lite. The beer claims to be pilsner-style, but I suspect the original recipe has been dumbed down to keep up with Coors Light and Bud Light in a race to the bottom to appeal to the light beer drinker. 

Coors Light does not smell like anything. Some light graininess, but for the most part, Coors tries to keep it as neutral as possible.

Flavor

“Relatively neutral palate with a crisp and dry finish and a low to very low grainy or corn-like flavor that might be perceived as sweetness due to the low bitterness. Hop flavor ranges from none to low levels and can have a floral, spicy, or herbal quality (although rarely strong enough to detect). Low to very low hop bitterness. Balance may vary from slightly malty to slightly bitter, but it is close to even. High levels of carbonation may accentuate the crispness of the dry finish. Clean lager fermentation character.”

Translation: Miller Light has pushed the “tastes great, less filling” tagline for decades, but don’t expect a robust taste. Miller Lite does showcase what I perceive as a classic pilsner malt taste, but true to style, it is muted at best.

Coors Light’s only contribution to your taste buds is a tingling of carbonation. The beer has minimal flavor, and what is noticeable isn’t entirely pleasant, IMO. 

Mouthfeel

Very light (sometimes watery) body. Very highly carbonated with a slight carbonic bite on the tongue.

Translation: It’s f-ing near water! Remember?

Honestly, I’ve tasted a lot of other light beers for this site and have found many to be surprisingly enjoyable. But when people say all light beers from Big Beer are watery and flavorless, it’s entirely possible they are talking about one of them. Both are thin and bland. Look for these beers to be light on the palate, crisp, and a refreshing lager when served ice cold in the right circumstances.

Miller Lite and Coors Light: Calories and Nutritional Information

I don’t know why low calorie beers are so important to people. If you’re going to drink beer as a guilty pleasure, why not make the most of it? If I’m going to crack a cold one after a long week or to unwind, calories are the last thing I will worry about. And yet this category holds the best-selling beers in the world. Chalk it up to brilliant marketing.

Regular strength beer has around 140 calories per serving. Light beers group around 100 calories; Coors Light has 102 calories per serving, while Miller Lite lists 96 for a 12-ounce serving.

Alcohol Content

For whatever reason, the big three light beers are 4.2 percent alcohol by volume. Since alcohol contributes a sizable proportion of calories to a beer, it makes sense that light beers be low in alcohol. If you’re counting calories, though, don’t be fooled by spin-off brands like Bud Light Platinum, which is 8% and has 137 calories – not really low carb, low calorie, or low alcohol.

Brewing Process And Ingredients

Both beers are brewed and lagered. A traditional mash and boil, with a cold fermentation process with help from enzymes, are likely to reduce the calories. Miller Lite and Coors Light add adjuncts to lighten the flavor profile of their beer. They use corn syrup, but Coors quickly points out that they don’t use high fructose corn syrup like that’s somehow better. You can’t taste the corn, but its contribution may come in the form of some alcohol production and that watery taste we’ve discussed so far. 

Food Pairings

Dope as Yola holding Miller Lite can during commercial shoot. Photo by Marty O'Neill for Drastic Graphics for "DOPE AS USUAL" Podcast
Photo by Marty O’Neill on Unsplash

When my Grandmother died, I got her cookbooks. One, the Colorado Cache Cookbook, has all of these supposed Colorado recipes, but it seems that to make something “Colorado-style,” all you have to do is dump a cup of Banquet or Coors Light in the mixture. I can only assume someone in Wisconsin who feels me right now is reading this. 

Pair these beers with light seafood, grill go-to, like burgers and dogs, and – if you’re so inclined, dump 1 cup of Coors Light into a chunk of room temperature cream cheese and smoked gouda for something that probably has not been experienced for about 35 years. Shoot me a note, and I’ll send you the whole recipe. Heck! I’ll send you the cookbook if you want! 

Would Suit?

These popular light beers are for anyone who wants to drink and not worry about other aspects of beer like the Standard Reference Method, the barley malt used, or the brewing process in general. They’re brewed to be refreshing and give you a slight buzz.

What Do Other People Think about Both Beers?

Popularity doesn’t always translate into critical acclaim, especially in beer crowds. Except for Influenster, Coors Light and Miller Lite are universally reviewed mid, at best. 

ReviewerMiller LiteCoors Light
Untappd2.5 out of 52.4 out of 5
Rate Beer1.43 out of 51.38 out of 5
Influenster4.4 out of 54.6 out of 5
Beer Advocate54 out of 100 (Awful)51 out of 100 (Awful)
Average2.752.73

Our verdict: Coors Light vs Miller Lite

I remember Miller Lite being a refreshing lager that resembled a mild pilsner in past reviews. This time, I found it only slightly better than Coors Light which I consider the weakest beer of the big three light beers. There are far better examples of light beer than either of these brands. The only time I would absolutely choose one over the other is if there were no other options and I was sitting in the shadows of the golden brewery or watching a Rockies game – in which case I’d go with Coors Light. But hey, if I ever find myself in Milwaukee watching the Brewers, I definitely will go with a Miller Lite. 

Also, I might crave either a Coors Light or Miller Lite if I ever find myself near a canoe. It only seems right.

Otherwise, it’s a total toss-up. 

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Author

Andy Sparhawk is an avid beer lover and the former editor-in-chief for CraftBeer.com. Andy is the lead writer for The Beer Babe and lives in Westminster, Colorado, with his family. As beer enthusiast and experienced beer judge, he loves sharing his experiences with The Beer Babe's dedicated audience of beer enthusiasts.