Miller Beer Goes Plastic

Just when beer was becoming a bit more refined with the advent of specialty beers and microbreweries, Miller Brewing goes and introduces beer in plastic bottles.

The Milwaukee-based brewer said Friday it plans to start selling suds in plastic bottles in several cities next week.

Three Miller brands, Miller Lite, Miller Genuine Draft and Icehouse, will be available in 20-ounce and one-liter bottles in stores and stadiums in Los Angeles; Phoenix-Tucson; Norfolk, Va.; Miami; Dallas-Ft. Worth and San Antonio.

The bottles feature a wide mouth and a resealable screw-on cap.

"It really is all about convenience," said Jack Rooney, the company's vice president of marketing. "Plastic is convenient. For places where you can't have a bottle, plastic is nice."

Miller hopes the new bottles will increase sales in places where beer is traditionally served in plastic cups, such as sports stadiums.

The beer won't taste any different coming out of a plastic bottle, Rooney said.

Adding beer to the line of beverages that come in plastic bottles is smart, said Mike Urseth, publisher of Midwest Beer Notes newsletter of Ridgeland, Wis.

"This is a very mobile society. We like to take our stuff with us," Urseth said. "Miller is taking advantage of that."

But plastic bottles could affect how people think about beer.

"I think it'll take a lot of marketing dollars to convince people that plastic bottles are appropriate for beer," said Craig Bystrynski, editor of BrewPub Magazine. "The concern would be that people would feel the plastic bottle sort of cheapens the sensation of the beer."

Added Urseth: "When you pick up the bottle and you squeeze it and you set it down on the bar, and it just goes `thud' instead of that firm crack that a glass bottle has, that can have an effect" on the beer's image.

Whether plastic bottling is the next wave in beer packaging depends on how consumers view it, said Jerry Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights, an industry newsletter.

"I think it's worth the effort," Steinman said. "If it works for them, everybody else will follow."

But some potential consumers having lunch at Major Goolsby's, a downtown Milwaukee restaurant weren't so sure.

"It's kind of odd," said stockbroker Tom Parks. "Why would you come out with a plastic bottle?"

"It doesn't appeal to me," said Parks' colleague, Mike Jirec, sipping from a brown-glass bottle of Miller Lite. "I don't like to drink any drink out of a plastic cup or bottle."

Still both men said they would try the new bottle, as long as it keeps their beer cold.

"As long as it's cold, I'd drink it, no problem," Parks said.

Written By Jennifer Batog