One-way or empites? KEGs for draught beer I.
At this point it is safe to assume that even average beer drinkers had seen single use, plastic kegs. Not restricted to imports coming from far away, many domestic breweries use these kegs to store and transport draft beer, partially or completely replacing metal kegs.
The first steel kegs were rolled out during the sixties, which had numerous advantages compared to previously used wooden barrels. Ease of cleaning, the ability to hold pressure, structural integrity are all qualities that made stainless steel kegs the number one choice for holding draft beer. Then the craft beer revolution went ballistic, bringing in new technological and logistical problems. Metal kegs are sturdy, and their lifespan is a couple decades long (although requiring periodical maintenance and replacement of old seals). The minimal maintenance however is paired with the logistical burden of delivering empty kegs back to the brewery, and cleaning them which all take a lot of labor, machinery, energy, water and chemicals. Besides the obvious cost factor, modern businesses have to take into account the environmental impact of their production! Nowadays news of big food producers looking at re-introducing reusable bottles and jars for the consumer market can be heard on a regular basis. This post is not about saying which option is the right choice, however one thing is certain: whilst with retail-oriented goods, single use packaging is most common (partly due to the harsh cleaning demands because of irresponsible consumers storing non-food grade substances like spent oil in reusable pet bottles), within the HoReCa sector, reusable packaging became the norm. Metal kegs can’t be opened without specialized equipment, so there is no risk of pilfering. However industrial cleaning is still required to clean out all residue and sediment from the kegs before every filling. Overheated steam, a harsh base solution and an acid wash are all employed to achieve a sterile surface inside the keg. The whole process is very energy and resource demanding, and puts an extra strain on the sewage system.
Further problem is the high initial cost. A brand-new steel keg can cost up to one hundred euros, but even second-hand ones have a considerable cost. Furbishing a whole brewery can have a huge toll on the initial capital, if you take into account a craft brewery of our size need hundreds, even thousands of kegs for its operation (Fehér Nyúl currently has around 1200-1300 pieces). Due to these reasons, many new nano- or microbreweries choose the single use plastic option, since there is no need to invest capital into cleaning equipment, and the price of the single use kegs can be incorporated into the price of the goods
But what is the reason behind using both types of kegs in the same brewery? The answer is simple: the interest for a craft brewery’s beers don’t stop at national or regional borders! In the case of regional breweries, filled kegs travel relatively short distances, and the same is true for recollection of the empty ones. These breweries due to their size also have a high capital, so the setup costs are offset by the long-term savings. Whilst studies regarding the environmental impact of plastic and steel kegs are available, however the most recent one I could find is almost 10 years old. A lot has changed since regarding recycling efficiency and other aspects, so the picture is not so clear. Still, if distribution is carried out only on short distances, refilling metal kegs are still more environmentally friendly. But if you need to transport a keg thousands of kilometers away, plastic might be the better option for the environment. Cost-wise it definitely is.
Just like with our previous posts about fruited beers, the topic is too deep to cover in one part. Two weeks from now we will continue with the operation, recycling and potential reuse of plastic one-way kegs!