Special Report: Companies, brewer team to provide beer in PET bottles
Beer drinkers can raise a glass — a plastic glass — to NPE2018 organizers, as they relax in a beer garden set up in NPE’s Bottle Zone.
Thanks to the efforts of organizers, a blow-molding machinery manufacturer, an Orlando, Fla., craft brewer and several other companies, beer will be available in PET bottles in the Biergarten — an innovation that required quite a buzz of activity over about the past year.
In planning for the beer garden, Mike Urquhart, a consultant working with the Plastics Industry Association, explained that he discovered that local beverage suppliers couldn’t meet the demand for beer in plastic bottles. Most beer in the United States is sold in glass bottles or aluminum cans, but Urquhart felt it would be inappropriate to serve beer in non-plastic containers.
“My push was, ‘Come on, guys, we’re doing something called the Bottle Zone,’ ” Urquhart said. “ ‘Are we really going to show up and serve people beer in a glass bottle or a can? It’s the Plastics Show.’ ”
W. Amsler, a manufacturer of all-electric linear PET stretch blow molders and a Bottle Zone exhibitor, worked to find a solution. Noting a lack of manufacturing capacity for plastic beer bottles in the United States, the Canadian-based company agreed to manufacture thousands of PET bottles for the plastics show if it could find a bottler to work with and partners to develop the necessary molds.
“We looked at the market and we targeted the craft brewers,” said Heidi Amsler, sales and marketing manager for W. Amsler.
W. Amsler knew a small craft brewer more likely would be willing to work with the company on adopting special plastic bottles for the large trade show, which attracts more than 65,000 attendees and exhibitors.
The company reached out to Orlando Brewing, which produces organic, hand-crafted beer, and its company partner and marketing director Bill Droste.
“The bonus here is Bill’s company currently supplies the Orange County Convention Center [which will house the NPE show] with beer in glass containers,” Amsler said. “Bill jumped into the challenge.”
As a side benefit, Orlando Brewing also will be able to sell beer in PET bottles for use at Florida venues where glass is prohibited. For example, pools, beaches and some other venues prohibit glass bottles for safety reasons.
If a test run of 3,000 plastic bottles for NPE proves successful without Orlando Brewing having to make too many modifications to its existing glass bottling equipment, the company would like to reach an agreement with W. Amsler that would allow the brewery to continue producing beer in PET bottles.
“We’re hoping it is a win-win all the way around,” Droste said.
In making the bottles, W. Amsler faced the challenge of developing a PET bottle that could work on the same bottling line Orlando Brewing uses for its glass bottles. The brewer required a 12-ounce long-neck bottle with a panel diameter equal to a glass bottle.
“We had to keep the bottle height for his fillers, but we shortened the shoulder to compensate for the wall thickness in a glass bottle,” Amsler said.
The new PET bottle also has a metal crown closure, the type used on glass bottles, instead of the typical screw-on plastic top typically found on PET soda bottles.
While W. Amsler was prepared to manufacture the bottles on one of its single-cavity L12 blow-molding machines at its headquarters in Ontario and funded the bottle design, it needed help with developing the preform molds, preforms and bottle molds.
The company worked with its mold partner, Mold-Spec, to develop the blow mold. Yudo ValuePro Canada, Vaughan, Ontario, developed the preform mold, and Athena Automation Ltd., Vaughan, Ontario, produced the preforms.
One of the challenges hampering beer bottlers from using plastic bottles is that beer in PET bottles tends to have a shorter shelf life. Bottlers are looking at ways to extend the shelf life by developing barrier coatings to keep in carbonation and keep out oxygen.
That was one of the challenges W. Amsler faced in developing PET beer bottles for NPE and for sale to other beer bottlers.
“Our target market was the craft beer industry,” Amsler said. “Typically, these beers sell for a higher price than beer from the big brewers and require 90 days of shelf life.”
W. Amsler worked with several resin suppliers to develop a PET blend with additives that provide an oxygen and carbonation barrier in a monolayer structure. The blend allows the molding of preforms on any injection molding machine equipped for PET, Amsler said.
W. Amsler also is developing other barrier bottles for alcoholic beverages, as well as ultra-high-temperature milk.
Bruce Geiselman, senior staff reporter
Athena Automation Ltd.,
Vaughan, Ontario, 905-265-0277,
Stoney Creek, Ontario, 905-664-2776,
W. Amsler Equipment Inc.,
Richmond Hill, Ontario, 905-707-6704,
Livonia, Mich., 734-744-8120,