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Monday, October 1, 2007

Cheap keg deposits are a steal

My latest Condé Nast Portfolio column is on the high price of kegs. Keg prices have about doubled in ten years, and it's causing major problems for small brewers -- who sell a much higher percentage of their beer in draft than the majors -- and some deposit sticker shock for drinkers. Ninety dollars for a keg deposit? It's only fair.


Anonymous said...

Interesting article, I'm surprised that they haven't come up with a plastic keg that is economocal yet. Also, what about the old FIGALs(five gallon) that soda syrup used to come in since most soda syrup comes in bags now. I've been doing some beginning research on homebrewing and it seems they are becoming popular. Are these the sixtels and the 1/6 barrel you reference in this article and other posts?

I would think those old FIGALs would have scrap value too, since I vaguely recall them being steel (not sure about the stainless part tho)

Lew Bryson said...

The soda canisters have largely been snapped up by homebrewers and homebrewing supply shops, Bill...and scrap dealers. Sixtels, or 1/6 barrel kegs, are a slightly different proposition, being just a bit bigger (5 and 1/6 gallons) and purpose-built for a Sankey tap. They're generally more sturdy than the soda canisters, too.

Anonymous said...


Glad to see this hitting your radar. I have a couple of years on you, and remember working for a beer distributor in State College, PA in 1976, when the deposit was raised by the state for the first time (I believe) since Prohibition.

Returnable cases went from $1 to $1.50 (still there, too, BTW, if you can find them)and kegs moved from $5 to $10. Thirty years is a long time to wait for another raise, and the fact that PA has since allowed brewers to set their own deposit prices is only clouding the issue. $10 for Straub, $30 for Yuengling, $50 for Otto's, $90 for Victory.. Confusing? You bet!

I'd like to see the state step in and take the pressure off the brewers with a standard deposit of fifty bucks. More than a foreseeable future scrap price, yet not the $90 that might be a burden for the average Joe (read: me!).

By the way, the Sankey system has, in itself, simplified the draft beer scene immensely. Back in '76, we handled four distinctly different keg designs. Lowenbrau was the last rod tap I ever saw (In which a hollow rod was pounded through a cork plug in the top of the keg, then a compression fitting was tightened to hold the rod in place. There are stories of improperly secured rods being hurled into ceilings!). A-B still used the Golden Gate system (A clumsy arrangement in which two fittings were used, one on the top to deliver air, and one on the outside bottom rim to dispense beer). Hoff- Stevens made the then-ubiquitous two-prong setup, and Miller was the first American brewer to adopt the Sankey system. It has taken thirty years for the quite convenient (for both brewer and consumer) Sankey keg to win the battle.

@SKeithJ said...

Last weekend a friend and I stopped at Stockertown Beverage (great craft selection) outside of Easton, picked up a sixtel of Lancaster Octoberfest (for our NHL fantasy draft,) and the deposit was $60. I hadn't bought a keg in over a year and was pretty shocked at the deposit. I guess this is the reason why.

Lew Bryson said...

Forgot to address the plastic keg. They are economical for one-way sales, like overseas exports, because getting kegs back from those is iffy and pricey. The plastic kegs they first tried using were inferior; I understand that the new ones work pretty well. But they don't hold up for 35 years, like a stainless one.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI, the five gallon kegs aren't "becoming popular" with homebrewers. They've pretty much been the standard keg of choice for homebrewers for decades. And since the soda companies largely abandoned them in the USA most of them are in the hands of homebrewers, or overseas (where they have not yet adopted the syrup-in-a-bag delivery system).

Anonymous said...

I went over a friend's house the other day and saw he had 8 kegs in the basement. Not for profit mind you, he is just too damn lazy to remember to bring them back. I gave him a mild scolding and he's bringing them back to the distributor this week. A 90 dollar deposit would at least eliminate dolts like him from being a problem.

Oh and lew, if people are melting the damn things down with 48 months, then whether or not they "hold up" for decades is kind of irrelevant. Not that I'm a fan of more plastic consumption.

Lew Bryson said...


I'd rather see a solution that focuses on keeping the stainless kegs from getting melted!

Anonymous said...


Good article, with one small addition: everyone always points at China and India as the cause of the rise in stainless. While this is true, to some degree, you really don't have to look far beyond the Midwest to see another large cause: ethanol. Have any idea how much stainless goes into one of these places? And they're throwing them up as fast as they can.

Anonymous said...

I paid a 40$ for a keg, plus 90$ in deposit; thanks NY state! 10$ was from the location, 80 for the state. It's a pain in the ass to get that money together. I guess it makes sense; but if you constantly get kegs back and fourth. You've got almost 100$ tied up on their end!!

Lew Bryson said...

NY Anony,

Yeah, there's a whole other issue I didn't have room to get into: keg registration deposits. I got a keg in NYS a couple years ago, and could not believe the reamage. That's all about free money for the state, I swear. Just remember: it's all for the children, and if it saves one life, it's worth it. Yeah. And if it doesn't, can I get my money back?