updated 6/17/2008 2:36:14 PM ET 2008-06-17T18:36:14

Miller Brewing Co. is delaying the nationwide release of a new trio of craft styles of Miller Lite, saying it wants more testing first.

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The Milwaukee-based brewer will do further testing of the Miller Lite Brewing Collection in several strong Miller Lite markets to determine the effect on sales of its best-selling beer.

Miller Lite accounts for about half the sales at the brewer, which had U.S. revenue last year of $5.1 billion.

Miller said in April the collection would be released nationwide by September. No new timeframe has been given for a national launch.

Slower testing will give the craft collection a better chance for success, Chief Executive Tom Long said in a note to distributors Monday.

Miller is tweaking Miller Lite to produce it in wheat, amber and blonde ale brews, hoping to ride the success of craft beers. The specialty beers have faster-growing sales than the overall beer market and also command higher prices.

The goal, Miller has said, is to build on the popularity of low-calorie Miller Lite, go after craft drinkers and woo new ones.

"Our job is to make sure more mainstream light beer drinkers understand why they should try Brewers Collection," Long said in the note.

The beer will continue to be tested in Baltimore, Minneapolis and Charlotte, N.C., the company said. It's dropping San Diego as a test market and instead using Wisconsin. All are considered strong markets for Miller Lite, so testing should help determine the impact on that brand.

The news comes as Miller, which is owned by SABMiller PLC, is about to merge with Molson Coors Brewing Co. Earlier this month, the Justice Department approved a joint venture between Miller and Golden, Colo.-based Molson Coors to distribute their beers in the U.S.

The companies have said combining operations will help them compete against industry leader Anheuser-Busch Cos.

But that company could be getting bigger. Belgian brewer InBev, which makes Beck's and Stella Artois beers, offered this month to buy Anheuser-Busch for roughly $46 billion. The St. Louis-based brewer, maker of Bud Light, has not yet officially responded to the offer.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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