Joe Owades Dies

Industry losses brewing guru, creator of Boston Lager and ‘founder’ of lite beer

A funeral was held today for Joseph L. Owades, the “godfather of the brewing industry,” who invented light beer and ushered in the age of the micro-brewery in America.

Owades, a biochemist who stumbled into beer making when he couldn’t find a job studying his specialty of cholesterol, died Friday of heart failure at his home in Sonoma. He was 86.

A nationally known brewmaster, he trained virtually every brewer of note in the country, and developed the formulas for many of the nation’s leading beers, including Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

He was hired by Schwarz Laboratories, which specialized in developing yeast for foods and beverages, including breweries. In 1960, he was hired by Rheingold Breweries in Brooklyn, where he became vice president and technical director.

It was at Rheingold where developed a process to remove the starch from beer, making it lower in carbohydrates and calories and, thus, cholesterol.

The new beer was called Gablinger’s, which became a product of Meister Brau, all of which was eventually purchased by the Miller Brewing Co. Miller Lite was made famous by the company’s “tastes great, less filling” advertising campaign, but it was exactly the same product that Owades had invented in his laboratory years before.

Owades also worked in Athens, Greece, for the K. Fix Brewing Company, for Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis and the Carling Brewing in Boston before starting his own consulting firm in 1975, helping both Miller and Budweiser develop beer. He moved to San Francisco’s Russian Hill in 1982 after his wife sold a mail-order catalog business she had founded to Williams-Sonoma. The couple also bought a home in Sonoma.

Owades became well known in the early days of the craft brewing industry, creating the formulas for Samuel Adams, Tuborg, New Amsterdam Beer, Pete’s Wicked Ale and Foggy Bottom Beer, among others.

He taught courses called “Art and Science of Brewing” and “All About Beer” at San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co. until his death.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by sons Stephen of Cambridge, Mass., and William, of New Rochelle, N.Y.; and a brother, Henry of Norwalk, Conn.

The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. today at Congregation Emanu-El, 2 Lake St. at Arguello, in San Francisco. He will be buried at Home of Peace Cemetery, in Colma.