Today, more beer producers are competing for consumer dollars than ever before. Styles abound, and creativity in brewing is hardly in short supply. With so many choices, craft breweries have found themselves searching for ways to stand out among the crowd. As innovation is often at the center of the discussion about utility in the craft beer industry, one asset which has a tremendous impact on a brewery’s success — or lack thereof — can be given less priority in all the chatter.
While there is currently plenty of discussion over what tops out as the superior container for on-premise beer sales (cans vs. growlers, growlers vs. crowler, and even cans vs. bottles), brewers continue to fill keg after keg for a variety of reasons. Kegs offer the best return on investment for breweries and they are a versatile means of storing and transporting beer whether strictly on-premise, locally, regionally or nationally. And although that set of facts is seldom challenged, the conversation may be stopping short in far too many brewhouses.
Filling and delivering kegs is only half the battle. Knowing how to spot your weakest kegs can provide numerous benefits to both the brewery and the consumer. Once you spot those ”problem kegs,” you can take action before they cause any more headaches.
Kegs are an important investment made by any brewery. With costs ranging from $80 – $100+ per keg, making sure to get your money’s worth is a no-brainer. This starts with proper cleaning and sanitizing procedures, which can be a little tedious for smaller breweries.
The big guys will typically have a keg line that can automatically test the health of each keg while filling them. Small breweries don’t have this type of luxury, where they’re filling and cleaning kegs all by hand. With these manual methods, it’s tough to identify any warning signs of failing kegs. If these kegs go unnoticed, it won’t be until something goes wrong that they get pulled from the rotation. Just some of the things that can go bad for brewers and consumers alike are kegs that leak, beer that goes bad, or beers not dispensing properly leading to bad pours.
For a long time, the general belief was that kegs were only valuable if they were filled with beer. Any empty keg was seen as a loss of money until it was filled again and sent off to the next account. This also caused brewers to hold off on sending kegs out to be serviced until they failed since any downtime would seriously cut into profits.
Today, that mindset continues to shift toward viewing the entire keg fleet as an investment, regardless of if they’re full or empty. It makes much more sense to pay the costs associated with taking a keg out of rotation to be repaired rather than having to purchase brand new ones when they completely fail.
Developing effective preventative maintenance procedures can help prevent the total loss of kegs. These procedures include making sure proper cleaning and sanitizing processes are regularly carried out between keg fills. While the keg is empty, components should be inspected. Any suspected damage should be logged and the keg removed from the pool. These logs should be kept so that any kegs removed from the pool are identifiable and segregated to prevent their premature return to the line.
Removing failing kegs as soon as possible prevents major headaches and expenses later on. Time and money can be saved by keeping these kegs out of the keg pool instead of having to sort through the entire pool to find those couple of damaged kegs once it’s clear they’ve malfunctioned. By working with a dedicated servicing company, breweries can rest assured that their specific needs are being met to get their equipment back into rotation as soon as possible.
Having a system in place to keep tabs on every keg makes it easier to pull those troublesome ones from the pool and prevent larger headaches. In a small operation, manual tracking makes pretty good sense because there aren’t too many kegs to track and it may not be worth the investment of the hardware and software needed for an electronic system. However, once a brewery grows a more regional distribution area, it may be a good idea to make an investment in something more automated.
The ability to track individual kegs means knowing which ones should go out for service, which ones just returned from service, specific trends of what accounts they’re going to, how long they’ve sat with an account, and a number of other useful analytics that can be used to make sure there aren’t any surprises.