How many kegs do I need? That’s a question that flashes through my mind with increasing frequency these days.
It sounds like a simple question – but it becomes quite complex when you are setting up a brewery.
Let me bore you a little bit – and school you on the several different kinds of kegs commonly used in beer dispensing.
You’ve probably heard the term “Barrel” – but most people have no idea what that means. Simply put, a Barrel (inexplicably abbreviated as “bbl”) equates to 31 gallons of beer.
A Half Barrel – usually referred to as a “Keg” – and the type of thing you will recognize if you’ve ever been to a frat party – holds 15 ½ gallons of beer.
A Quarter Barrel (also called a pony keg) holds 7.75 gallons of beer and is half the height of a Half Barrel. An alternate version (called the “Slim Quarter”) holds the same amount but in a taller, thinner version.
A Sixth Barrel (usually referred to as a “Sixtel”) holds a little more than 5 gallons, yields about 55 12 ozs beers, and is commonly used in the direct draw style beer coolers in many restaurants.
Each barrel of beer produced will fill 2 half barrel kegs; 4 quarter Barrel kegs; or 6 sixtels.
Ok. Now that that’s out of the way we can get to what keeps me up at night.
Let’s say that you have a 15 bbl system like we do. This means that every time you brew and ferment 15 bbls of beer, you’ll need about 30 half kegs; 60 Quarter kegs, or 90 Sixtels to store your beer (for simplicity sake we’ll ignore the beer that’s lost to spillage, filters and what have you).
And that’s where it gets complicated. For beer served at the brewery – and some restaurants with bigger draft systems – we’ll use Half Kegs, but – as we said – a lot of the restaurants use Sixtels – as do a lot of folks with home draft systems. Slim Quarters are catching on slowly, as they hold 2.5 gallons more than a Sixtel, while not taking up a lot more space.
When we open, Coelacanth Brewing will have four-15 bbl fermenters (465 gallons each ) and two-10 bbl fermenters (310 gallons each). So with all of our fermenters filled, we have to find homes for 2,480 gallons of beer.
That brings us to 170 half kegs, 320 Quarter kegs, or 480 Sixtels. And the reality is we need to fill a mix of those 3 types of kegs to meet the demands of the beer buying public.
NOW – once we are distributing beer off-premise, many of those kegs go to the Distributor and will end up at restaurants – and some of those kegs ends up in the houses of craft beer fans. And they don’t get returned until they are empty. Often they don’t get returned right away. Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t get returned at all.
Oh and did I mention that these kegs cost a brewery between $65-110 a piece?
So, if we brew enough beer to fill up our 6 fermenters and then put all that beer into Half Kegs, we have ~$18,000 in half kegs in circulation (far higher [~$31,000] if we put it all into Sixtels).
And that doesn’t even take into account where we put all the beer the next time we empty our fermenters.
Would you be surprised that some bigger microbreweries have thousands of kegs floating around? That’s hundreds of thousands (or more) invested in big metal cans.
Now you know why the question of kegs is on my mind.
The soft opening of Coelacanth Brewing Company is this Saturday.