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Miller celebrates 150 years with ‘Big Brew-Ha’

The Miller Brewing Company, the country's second-largest and oldest major brewer, threw a 150th birthday bash Saturday with more than 100 descendants of the Miller family attending.
Miller Brewing President and CEO Norman Adami speaks at the company's 150th birthday bash in Milwaukee on SaturdayMorry Gash / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

It’s Miller time in Milwaukee: When it’s Miller Time, Miller Brewing knows how to party.

The nation’s second-largest and oldest major brewer threw a 150th birthday bash Saturday with more than 100 descendants of the Miller family attending.

Lured by the Goo Goo Dolls, Bon Jovi and Miller beer, the invitation-only event called “The Big Brew-Ha” was expected to draw about 35,000 people to Miller Park, less than a mile from the brewery.

“This celebration has been 150 years in the making, and it’s one that no other major American brewing company is able to celebrate,” said Miller Brewing President and CEO Norman Adami. “We are here to celebrate a major milestone, but more importantly, we are here to celebrate the employees, past and present, who made the last 150 years possible.”

Adami read a letter from President Bush, who called the story of Miller a testament to innovation.

'It's been long overdue'
Tailgating began early in the afternoon as people listened to bands outside the ballpark.

“It’s been long overdue,” said Todd Bandy, sipping a Miller beer with his wife, Trudy, on their 19th wedding anniversary. “Milwaukee needed something like this.”

The Bandys praised Miller for keeping close to its heritage.

“They didn’t close the factory, they didn’t move it to Mexico,” Todd Bandy said. “When you know Miller is involved, it’s done right.”

Always an underdog
Miller, which established light beer, relished the underdog role, even back to its roots in 1855 when the brewery began on the outskirts of Milwaukee.

In 1903, the company unveiled High Life — dubbed “The Champagne of Bottle Beer” — and its sales skyrocketed, even at a premium price. A family feud split the business in half before both were ultimately sold to tobacco giant Philip Morris Inc. by 1970.

The company’s ad campaigns highlighted “Miller Time” as the time after work for the common man to enjoy a cold beer.

Then came Miller Lite. The brewer launched the low-calorie beer nationwide in 1975 and brought up the famous “tastes great-less filling” ad spots with celebrities like comedian Rodney Dangerfield spearheading the campaign.

Lite moved Miller from the seventh leading brewer in the nation in 1970 to second behind Anheuser-Busch by 1977. Now, Miller holds about 18.5 percent of the market share, compared with half by Anheuser-Busch.

Miller was taken over by South African Breweries plc three years ago and now operates under the name SABMiller plc, and recent ad campaigns have reversed a 15-year sales decline.

“We’ve waited for 150 years,” said Miller sales representative Matt Baumann, “we’ve got to pack a lot of partying in today.”