When we were meeting with potential brewers one the of the first questions they all had for us was regarding our plans for kegs. Since we are planning to launch as a draft only brewery and it will be our only package for the foreseeable future it's a reasonable concern.
We were planning to package in either 15.5 gallon or 50 liter (13.2 gallon) kegs and 5.2 gallon kegs. called sixtels. The decision on the larger package size was going to be based on whatever was available in large quantities on the used market at the time we needed to purchase. We were also hoping to find the sixtels used but, like most used brewery related equipment, they are in pretty high demand right now.
Sixtels are a popular package because bars and restaurants can fit a couple different sixtels in the same space as one 15.5 gallon keg which allows them to offer more brand selection to their customers without expanding their cold storage. We like that package because it sells through faster so the beer sells fresh.
The issue with kegs are that they are expensive to purchase, they are easy to steal, often get misplaced and sometime difficult to get back from distributors in a reasonable time frame. The general rule seems to be that a brewery needs about 4 or 5 kegs for each draft account they service. One keg on tap at the bar, one in the cooler waiting to be tapped, one empty sitting at the distributor's ware house waiting to be returned to the brewery and one or two at the brewery to fill for the next shipment.
Since we are going to self distribute we should be able to get our kegs back to the brewery faster and, at least, attempt to keep track of them more easily but that means we still need about two or three kegs per account.
The other part of the equation is the brew house size. Since we have a 20 barrel brew house it will take around forty 15.5 gallon kegs or 120 sixtels just to package one batch. In reality there will be loss in fermentation, transfer and packaging so the number of kegs per batch is less, but you get the idea. Multiply that by three for the number of fermenters we have and the number of kegs required adds up fast.
We decided that we were going to try and find around 300 kegs to get going. Since we had no clear idea what the demand was going to be for each package size we decided to play it safe and go 50/50. We were able to find a large quantity of used 15.5 gallons kegs at good price so we went with them over the 50 liter kegs. We got six pallets or just over 160 of these kegs delivered to us the other day.
We were not able to find a large lot of used sixtels and the lead time on new kegs were such that we needed to place that order to ensure we had them by launch so we got just over 160 new sixtels. We could have tried to buy them used 20-30 at a time, but the price on the new ones was close to the going price on the used market so we took the easy route on that one. They should be here at the end of May.