Selecting kegs

Before you even begin shopping for kegs, make sure you are aware of any limitations for draught sales in the area you plan to distribute. Some places restrict the size of kegs allowed, others don’t allow sales of draught beer at all from a pub or brewery, and some areas ban the use of certain types of kegs. Also, distributors sometimes have their own restrictions regarding the sizes and types of kegs they handle. Deciding which is best for you could also depend partly on what is already prevalent in your market. Usually, selling a draught placement means displacing another brand. If switching to your brand involves the additional hurdle of installing a new tapping device, you may lose the sale.

New or used?

As with all used equipment, before being seduced by the low sticker price, make sure the minimum attributes a keg must possess in order to function properly are met. Otherwise you’ve just paid a premium for a load of scrap.

1. It must not leak.

2. It must be sanitizable (no beerstone build-up or unsanitary surfaces inside).

3. It must not be excessively dented because dents affect the amount of beer the vessel can hold.

You’ve made a good deal if these factors are met and the cost of the keg (and any required repairs) is significantly less than you would have paid for a new keg. A keg can easily last 15 years, so the maintenance cost should be calculated over this period of time. If you do opt for used kegs, purchase them reconditioned from a reputable source. Do not consider rewelding seams, patching holes, converting keg valves, de-denting, or resizing (returning kegs to their original volume) yourself. The risk is too great that the resulting keg will not be sanitary and pressure-safe, and the cost benefit is almost never worth it. “As-is” lots of kegs should be avoided; a reputable supplier will guarantee their reconditioned kegs to be in sound working condition. Though the sticker price of “As-is” kegs may seem attractive, the physical condition of each keg cannot be verified without removing the valve and inspecting each one. Even then, you have no guarantee that the keg or valve will not leak.

Pros and cons of new kegs vs used kegs

New Kegs

Pros:
- New kegs can be brand embossed
- New kegs have the lowest failure rate.
- New kegs are the easiest to clean and sanitize.
- New kegs look good and represent your brand well.

Cons:
- New keg financing can be difficult to qualify for (The Banks view is, in the case of default, keg inventories are difficult to locate.)
- New kegs are much more expensive than used.
- Resale value goes down as soon as they are purchased.
- Vendor/consumer deposit does not cover New Keg replacement cost.

Used Kegs

Pros:
- Used kegs are less expensive.
- The resale value for used kegs is usually about the same as purchase price.
- More kegs can be purchased for the same budget.
- Less money lost if the keg is not returned.

Cons:
- If there is a problem with your keg, you will be asked to repair it or replace it. Retailers seldom take the time to troubleshoot even the simplest of problems. They call you first.
- Used kegs tend to need repair or maintenance earlier and more frequently.
- Some old style used kegs (i.e. HS or GG) have been poorly modified from the old open system design to the newer closed Sankey system.
- Parts on used kegs may be damaged or worn. (Bent or cracked chimes, worn valve gaskets, bent stems, etc.)
- Beerstone may be built up on inside of Used Kegs walls and valve stems. This will need to be removed before being sanitized for use.
- Denting may be severe enough to create capacity variances.
- Old brewery’s nameplate or marking tape must be removed or obliterated. (Note: It’s illegal to sell a keg with another brewery’s name showing.)

How many kegs will I need?

Before you can calculate how many kegs your business will need initially, you’ll need to ask yourself a few basic questions: Will you be self-distributing or using a distributor? How far do you plan to distribute? How many keg sizes do you plan to offer? The rule of thumb is to plan on at least three kegs for every account you service if you’re self-distributing locally and five kegs per account if you go through a distributor, depending upon how quickly you expect the accounts to return your kegs. These numbers could rise to five and seven if you are distributing long distances or don’t have your kegs returned as soon as they are empty. The smaller the keg, the more of them you’ll need. Taking the example of an account with one keg on tap and one back-up, a 1/2-bbl keg would allow more time to get the keg returned and filled than a 1/6-bbl keg would, all things being equal.