Are you ready for plastic kegs?
Most of the draft beer you see from other countries will be mass-market beer. In America we see Heineken from Europe, and in Europe they see Budweiser. This is an over-simplification of the market, but for the most part niche beers do not make it across the pond. One reason is smaller companies cannot afford to “float” kegs to other countries. Kegs shipped overseas can take 9 to 12 months to return, if they return at all. This added cost of doing business overseas can add up. Shipping heavy steel kegs great distances can also be very expensive.
Even within the borders of the United States, steel kegs have problems. A new keg can cost between $165 and $185. A brewery needs to sell beer in the keg around 10 times just to see a return on the investment. This happens in the ideal case. It’s common for kegs to “go missing”. Steel kegs can collect as much as $55 as scrap metal. My local pub has had kegs stolen from the bar many times. The loss is usually passed on to the person who last had the keg. Budweiser quarterly charges their distributors $100 for every keg that turns up missing.
To solve the problem, several companies are starting to make kegs out of plastic. Plastic is lighter than steel, cheaper than steel, and represents less of a liability for the brewery while the keg is “on the road”.
One Way Kegs
EcoKeg Pty Ltd., an Australian company sells the “One Way Keg”. This keg is designed to solve the international problem because the keg is disposable. These kegs are meant for a single use. You do not need to return the keg. According to their website, the keg is significantly cheaper than a steel keg. Since the keg is about 80% lighter than a steel keg, it’s also cheaper to ship.
The One Way Keg mechanism is similar to that of box wines. Inside the keg is a plastic liner which holds the beer. When you pump air into the keg, you actually pump air outside the bag. This pressure feeds your tap line with beer without ever exposing your beer to air. This means the beer at your kegger will last much longer than a few days.
The company claims the keg is environmentally friendly because all the parts are made from recyclable materials. Of course you need to put the keg in your recycle bin for this to work. I’m not sure how environmentally sound a disposable plastic keg can be, but it does save energy on shipping since the keg never needs to make a return journey. Unfortunately the One Way Kegs are not sold in the United States.
Plastic Kegs America
There are plastic kegs available in the United States. Plastic Kegs America sells plastic kegs which are 1/2 barrel (the kegger kegs), 1/6 barrel (the homebrew corney kegs), and 1/12 barrel kegs (pub carry home kegs). Again the kegs are plastic, so there is no incentive to steal the keg. The best part is the plastic kegs are meant to be reused like a normal keg.
The kegs can be stacked while shipping or in storage. The plastic kegs start at $87. The kegs can be marked permanently to ensure they are identified with your brewery for another $2 per keg, and you can add RFID tags ($1.50/keg) which cannot be removed. You can even customize the color of the kegs if you order enough.
Is this going to get plastic in my beer?
Plastic Kegs America sent me a PIRA report complete with data and findings. The study analyzed the chemical makeup of the kegs, any chemicals absorbed by the beer, and if the keg absorbed any of the beer. The study found no chemicals migrated to the beer, and negligible amounts of beer were absorbed by the keg. They also found no absorption of chemicals from normal keg cleaning. The report included the spectrograph results. The point to take away from this is, the plastic has been independently verified to be safe for beer.
Do plastic keg work for homebrewers?
One problem I can see with plastic kegs is plastic is generally non-conductive. This isn’t a problem with normal kegs since steel conducts heat well, but you’ll need more time to chill your beer to temperature. This is not a problem for most bars and restaurants because they can keep the beer in a cooler or refrigerator, but it will take longer if you put the keg in an ice bath. This may or may not be a problem for you, but it is a point to consider.
Plastic Kegs America does sell 1/6 barrel kegs and 1/12 barrel kegs, but both use the Sankey connections. The kegs are really meant for commercial use, but they do have prices for orders less than 10. A 1/6 barrel keg will cost $67. New stainless steel 1/6 barrel kegs cost $130, but used usually costs $15-$30. I’m not sure how much economic sense it makes for the homebrewer, but if I ever get around to opening my own brewery (soon?) I think I’m sold on the plastic kegs from Plastic Kegs America.
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Credits and Links
I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!