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Sunday, December 25, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Obituary | Chemist invented light beer

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Joseph L. Owades, a biochemist credited with inventing, for better or worse, light beer but whose product lacked the macho marketing that later made Miller Lite a sensation, died Dec. 16 at his home in Sonoma, Calif. He was 86.

Mr. Owades had suffered a stroke several years ago, but the immediate cause of his death was heart failure, said his wife, Ruth.

Mr. Owades entered the brewing trade through postdoctoral work in fermentation science. While working in Brooklyn, N.Y., at Rheingold Breweries, then an industry leader, he developed a process to remove starch from beer. This reduced carbohydrates and calories.

"When I got into the beer business, I used to ask people why they did not drink beer," Mr. Owades once said. "The answer I got was twofold: One, 'I don't like the way beer tastes.' Two, 'I'm afraid it will make me fat.'

"It was a common belief then that drinking beer made you fat," he said. "People weren't jogging, and everybody believed beer drinkers got a big, fat beer belly. Period. I couldn't do anything about the taste of beer, but I could do something about the calories."

Introduced in 1967, his product was called Gablinger's Diet Beer. As Mr. Owades later said, the Gablinger's television advertisement showing a man with the girth of a sumo wrestler shoveling spaghetti into his mouth and downing a Gablinger's did little to help the cause.

"Not only did no one want to try the beer," he said, "they couldn't even stand to look at this guy!"

Plus, the name. Brooklyn Brewery President Steve Hindy once told the publication Modern Brewery Age that Gablinger's Diet Beer "doesn't exactly roll off the tongue."

Mr. Owades "didn't come up with 'tastes great, less filling.' And the beer ended up flopping," Hindy said.

With approval from his boss, Mr. Owades said, he shared his formula with a friend at Chicago's Meister Brau brewery, which soon came out with Meister Brau Lite. He routinely joked, "Being from Chicago, they couldn't spell 'light.' "

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Miller Brewing acquired the light-beer process when it bought Meister Brau in the early 1970s. The "tastes great, less filling" marketing strategy, which used football players and other tough-knuckled types, helped Miller Lite flourish.

Even if Gablinger's did not find eager takers, Mr. Owades was regarded as the father of light beer. He became an international consultant in beer, working through his Center for Brewing Studies. He moved to the Bay Area from Boston in the early 1980s.

Joseph Lawrence Owades was born July 9, 1919, in New York to parents from Ukraine. While growing up in the Bronx, he received a chemistry set from his mother, and his interest led him to study the science at City College of New York. He also received a master's and then a doctorate in biochemistry from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, now Polytechnic University.

He briefly studied fermentation science at Fleischmann's Yeast before beginning a long career at Rheingold, where he rose to vice president and technical director. Soon after his work on Gablinger's, he held executive positions with Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis and Carling O'Keefe in Waltham, Mass.

As a consultant since the mid-1970s, he helped craft formulas for Samuel Adams, New Amsterdam Beer, Pete's Wicked Ale and Foggy Bottom Beer. When the long-defunct Rheingold name was revived in the late 1990s, Mr. Owades was hired to re-create his recipe.

He also wrote and presented more than 40 research papers about beer.

In 1969, he married Ruth Markowitz, who later sold a gardening catalog to Williams-Sonoma, then started the Calyx & Corolla flower-catalog business.

Besides his wife, survivors include two sons and a brother.

Information on Mr. Owades' published papers was provided

by the Los Angeles Times.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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