Leading Article: Clear beer leaves a bitter taste

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The Independent Online
'NO THANKS, old boy, I won't drink with lunch today,' was what clubmen used to say when they had drunk a couple of ports too many the night before. 'Let's just share a bottle of white wine.' This notion - that lighter-coloured drinks are less boozy than darker ones - has been given a modern twist by an American brewing firm. On Tuesday it launched a new beer, to be known as Miller Clear, which looks like water but has a handsome head of foam and the full taste and alcohol content of normal beer.

So far, the product is being test-marketed in only a few US cities. But its future looks promising, given the crazes that regularly grip the American people. Their frenzied pursuit of health has already produced fat profits for makers of aerobics videotapes, organic vegetables and aircraft cigarette-smoke detectors.

Colourless beer seems sure to hit two different targets. One is the male drinker who fears that his habit is going downmarket and is embarrassed to stand out in the sea of designer mineral waters and Diet Sprites seen nowadays in New York restaurants. The other is women, who are believed to be put off beer by its colour. If the simple expedient of changing it will make them willing to give beer a second chance, Miller could even find it has doubled its potential market.

Not only beer is turning clear. Two dozen such products were introduced in the US in 1992, ranging from transparent cola to water-like mouthwash and translucent washing-up liquid. Crystal Pepsi is expected to capture 2 per cent of the soft-drinks market, worth extra sales of more than dollars 1bn (pounds 660m).

A Palmolive clear washing-up liquid costs a fifth more than the green stuff but is still a roaring success: by taking out irritants, dyes and alcohol, the firm has come up with something that women believe will be less rough on their hands.

But it is one thing to remove additives and abstain from colouring; denaturing something that has never been fiddled with in the first place is quite another. To produce transparent beer Miller Brewing has to put its brew through a sophisticated process of microfiltration, discovered by accident when the company's scientists were looking for ways to remove calories. For whereas whisky comes out naturally clear in the distillery and acquires its traditional golden colour only after the addition of caramel, beer is brown to begin with. Can colourless pea soup and blackcurrant juice be far behind?