Did you know New Belgium Brewing Co. uses radio frequency identification to track many of the aluminum and steel kegs used to distribute its famous Fat Tire Amber Ale and other brews? Ever heard of MicroStar Logistics? The company manages more than 1 million kegs across the United States for more than 120 North American and European clients. These are just two of the interesting options for craft breweries hoping to get a handle on their keg network.
Kegs live nomadic lives, moving from breweries to distributors to bars to restaurants to homes to parties and then they come back home again. Except some never come back home and that gets pretty expensive for an up-and-coming craft brewhouse. Many are stolen, scrapped or lost.
The Beer Institute did an awesome (albeit older) packaging study way back in 2008, noting 386,053 kegs were lost in 2006, worth a potential $15 million in scrap back then. Those numbers are staggering.
Keg management has become an increasingly important step for craft breweries to maximize profitability and efficiency and expand markets. Just recently, the Brewers Association — the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American craft brewers — launched KegReturn.com, a site that provides tools to help consumers, homebrewers, retailers, wholesalers, brewers and scrap yards redirect kegs back to the breweries that own the kegs.
Remember: Kegs are always the property of the brewery which purchased them and filled them with beer. In January, Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, had this to say.
“Craft beer sales have grown tremendously over the past decade, which means the number of kegs owned by brewers has increased as well,” said Gatza. “Keg disappearances and the resulting profit loss are hindering opportunities for craft brewers. We must ensure kegs are returned to their owners. It’s the right thing to do.
Sometimes its not that the kegs are even lost or stolen, but that ownership is called into question. This post was partly prompted by an interesting article on MSN Money, reporting a keg battle between Calfkiller Brewing Co. and Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB).
When small Tennessee brewer Calfkiller got into a tussle with Anheuser-Busch InBev over old kegs that Calfkiller says AB wanted back, Calfkiller took to its Facebook page and tapped out a lengthy screed about how its tiny operation was being bullied by the big, bad brewer. Though the plan worked and Calfkiller kept all its kegs — even giving AB a rare “thank you, Budweiser” from a craft brewer on Facebook a few days later — it’s a prime example of the kind of beer battles brewers should be avoiding.
Kegs can get expensive. That’s why Calfkiller Brewing bought them used, according to its Facebook post explaining the ordeal. Kegs are a touchy subject throughout the beer industry regardless of the size of the brewery buying or selling them. We hope to find a variety of keg management services and technologies at the Craft Brewers Conference and BeerExpo America at the end of March. We’ll keep you updated in future posts.