Huber won't take 'em back

Wisconsin brewery discontinues returnable bottles, cases

Nov 24, 2003 - One more link to beer's past has been cut as Huber Brewing Co. in Monroe, Wis., has discontinued its line of returnable beer bottles in cardboard cases.


"I've always taken pride in how things were done a little differently in Wisconsin," said Tim Deneen, a disappointed customer. "It's hard to believe we're just turning into another place."

"We feel bad about it but the cost had become so outrageous," said Phil Reynolds of General Beverage of Madison, whose owners purchased Huber in 1995. Reynolds said the washing equipment was continually breaking down and new parts were hard to find.

Not only was it expensive to wash and refill the brown glass bottles, Reynolds said, but fewer and fewer of the cases were being returned for the deposit. He said the brewery needed to turn each case of bottles over three or four times to break even.

"What's happened is that college kids were keeping the cases and using them for furniture," said Reynolds. "And you'd get people who just toss the empty bottles in with the rest of their recyclables."

City of Madison recycling coordinator George Dreckmann said it was unfortunate that Huber gave up on returnables. "I can understand their decision if people weren't returning the bottles anymore, but it's still too bad," he said.

Returnable beer bottles aren't altogether gone. Miller and Anheuser-Busch still put some of their beer into returnables, as do Wisconsin-based regional brewers Stevens Point Brewery and Leinenkugel's of Chippewa Falls.

"We actually still sell quite a few of the returnable cases," said Mark Okey of Woodman's West. "They've got a pretty loyal following." But the use returnable beer bottles continues to shrink. Refilling of bottles has been on a decline in most western nations since the 1970s and the U.S. has been one of the leaders in the transition to one-way containers.

Deneen said he's always enjoyed the slogan on the side of the Huber cases: "I do believe in the Huber Bock mantra, 'Refill, don't landfill.'"

Huber still brews on site where it was founded in 1843. It was known as Blumer Brewing Co. before Prohibition, when it became Blumer Products Corp. In 1927, the Blumer brothers hired Joseph Huber, a young immigrant from Germany who took over operation of the brewery in 1939. Huber acquired partial ownership in 1947 and changed the name to the Joseph Huber Brewing Co. It also brews the Berghoff brand beers.

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