BREAKING TRADITION WITH BARRELS, KEGS AND GROWLERS

From the iconic images of barrels and kegs at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany to the rows of art-laden cans at your local bottle shop, beverage containers matter. More than ever, the containers used to store, transport and dispense beer, wine and spirits are sales and marketing tools, and it’s time to start looking at them as such.

Your Kegs deserve An Upgrade

Josh Fast, Manager of Marketing and Internal Sales for SCHÄFER Container Systems, is excited about the future of kegs.

“The standard keg design hasn’t been upgraded in probably 70 years, but we’re changing that and showing that there are better options,” he said. “Thanks to the local craft beer industry, expectations have noticeably increased for breweries and pubs to have a variety of flavor profiles available on tap at all times. To offer that variety within the same space, the demand for 1/6 barrels is up.”

Fast says that although this trend is popular, it’s still considered an emerging market as breweries use more in-house kegs to accommodate the tasting room phenomenon.

“Traditional sized kegs are still widely used, but now reserved for those in-house, continuously available varieties considered mainstays or flagship beers.”

If brewers prefer to continue using traditional size kegs, SCHÄFER offers a unique choice appropriately called the Party Keg. It is manufactured to resemble a wooden keg, complete with operational bunghole. The outer polyurethane coating is both aesthetically authentic looking and insulating.

“This is a great keg for parties, festivals or pubs that have special occasions and want an eye-catching display,” said Fast. “It’s also been catching on for use as a way to bring attention to special brews, or as a way to display a selection of beers for growler programs. The Kolsch breweries in Germany have long been using the 10-liter (five gallons) barrels for their beer tower displays. The Bavarian-style tap on the side is a great choice for cask dispensing or ceremonial Firkin use.”

Fast is most excited about the Eco Keg, SCHÄFER’s fastest growing line of kegs. It has been rigorously tested over the last 15 years in Germany and is now a highly engineered beverage container with tremendous benefits, one of which is the ability to maintain it in-house. All kegs require maintenance at some point, and that usually means returning them to the manufacturer for a lengthy and costly period because of welding issues for changing out the chimes. Eco Keg chimes can be changed on location, usually in under an hour, by heating the kegs in a warm water bath and slipping the chimes on and off. A choice of custom colored chimes is beneficial for locating specific inventory in warehouses and breweries. Eco kegs are suited for beer, wine or any soft drink, and weigh significantly less than standard kegs. Additionally, Eco Kegs can be custom etched for personalization. They are stackable, nesting solidly to maximize space, and can be outfitted with RFID for theft deterrence.

“The companies that have decided to take that leap of faith to break tradition and try our Eco Kegs have so far been rewarded with a better product and less overall expense than the traditional stainless keg,” Fast said.

The difficulty of breaking with tradition can keep industries from adopting healthy change. “The use of steel kegs in wine storage and dispensing is a very small part of the market, which is too bad,” said Fast. “We see it mostly in California, but most wineries aren’t convinced that keg storage is worth the expense of all new cleaning, filling and dispensing equipment. In winemaking especially, there’s still that sense of tradition that favors the wooden barrels, but kegs are very efficient and well equipped for limiting oxidation, breakage, waste, and even theft.”

To help with the additional expense, SCHÄFER offers kegs equipped with universally used valves, tri-clover fittings and side sprouts that allow their kegs to connect with any filling or cleaning accessories currently on the market. They are true multi-use connections.

“The opportunities are blossoming,” said Fast. “We just have to educate the market so that they accept new and unique products that just happen to be pretty cool too.”

Barrel Use For New Flavor Profiles Is Big

Ben Loseke, President and CEO of Midwest Barrel Company, saw a need. No one was willing to sell smaller quantities of bourbon or wine barrels. Little did he know when he started ordering them the sort of demand he would face. It was so great that since that day he’s been a barrel broker, buying barrels in bulk and reselling them in smaller quantities, right down to single barrels. Loseke markets mainly in bourbon and wine barrels but occasionally acquires rum, gin, sherry, cider and tequila barrels as well.

“We get them in truckload quantities, which translates to 288 whiskey barrels or 225 wine barrels, which are a bit bigger. All the barrels are bought with the intention of reselling them to breweries, wineries or individuals for refilling,” said Loseke. “But if our inspection shows a barrel not to be good for that, it’ll be sold off for furniture making or some sort of décor use. Cleanliness of our barrels is of utmost importance and is key to our business. We buy fresh dumped, meaning recently emptied, bourbon barrels from Kentucky and wine barrels from California. After we receive them, they are hot rinsed and steamed using ozonated water for sanitary precautions, and treated with sulfur, a great sterilizer.”

Once inspected, cleaned and inventoried, the barrels are available to breweries, wineries or even individuals for use in their beverage making processes.

“Craft breweries will pretty much use anything that will give the beer a unique flavor. Wineries are really getting into aging their wines in once used bourbon barrels, giving their traditional wines a totally different flavor profile,” said Loseke.

Inventory Levels and Storage Matter

Loseke stores his barrel inventory indoors, where he can control at least some of the environment. The warehouse is heated in the winter, but not air conditioned during the summer months.

“The wood eventually dries out, so we only keep the barrels in-house for up to three weeks. The turnover of inventory is high because we want to deliver the freshest barrels.”

Loseke’s bourbon barrels are the most popular, but barrels from cabernet wines are great for beer and cider because of the neutral oak flavor. Similarly, chardonnay barrels can impart flavor without giving the beer a pink hue from the red wine.

Challenges For Future Growth

Calling it his “Midwest challenge,” Loseke is looking to increase sales to Midwest wineries, where the bourbon aging process is not yet as widespread. He can offer noticeable cost savings per barrel with his once used inventory and deliver the same characteristics as a new oak barrel. He ships worldwide, selling barrels from five to 30 gallons, although he says the smaller barrels are much harder to come by because of their popularity for use by home brewers or winemakers.

Growlers Get High Tech

From the early 1800s, when patrons first carried away galvanized pales of sloshing beer away from the saloon, beer drinkers have been searching for better ways to store, transport and share their favorite draught brews. The explosion of craft beer naturally had a hand in accelerating this search, and Shawn Huff, President and Founder of GrowlerWerks in Portland, Oregon believes he has the answer.

He readily admits that his quest for the growler of his dreams was at first, self-serving, becoming frustrated by using what he called the “old apple cider jugs” to haul his beer around, only to have it become flat and stale almost immediately.

“There are over 7000 breweries in the United States making delicious beers that are only available on draught. It’s great to tour them and have a pint, but when you find something you really enjoy, you naturally want to share that joy with your friends,” Huff said. “Beer is highly perishable and sensitive to oxygen, especially those beers with stronger hop profiles. They quickly oxidize and become flat, making any type of travel with them difficult.”

Huff took all of his favorite things about draught beer and integrated them into a growler also equipped for craft spirits and cocktails. He came up with what he calls, the “spaceship for beer.” It’s called a UKeg, and it’s a mini, mobile beer dispensing system for your home, including a tap handle and sight glass. It keeps your beer or craft cocktails fresh, consistently carbonated and ready to dispense with the pull of the tap.

The UKeg has distinct advantages over traditional glass jugs. Pressurized by using standard, readily available CO2 cartridges, the beer won’t flatten upon opening like a glass screw cap growler. Since glass is susceptible to breakage, it doesn’t travel well or hold a consistent temperature, but the UKeg’s double wall vacuum insulated container will keep your beer safe and cold all day if needed. The VPR cap automatically and continuously regulates the pressure, effectively storing craft or homebrew in a mini-keg system.

“There are 1.2 million home brewers and about 7 million growler fillers out there,” said Huff. “And they all deserve to enjoy their favorite craft beer as it was intended from the brewer without the negative effects of inferior growlers. When you can pour that beer fresh out of your growler as if you are your very own bartender, it just never gets old.”

Getting Personal

Ben Woodworth, Vice President of KegTag.com, a full-service printer serving the craft brewing industry, believes in getting personal with your brews. KegTag serves over 140 craft brands, printing customized barrel wraps, keg rings, labels, collars, growler tags, surgeon general warning labels and a multitude of additional marketing materials to help your craft beer get and stay noticed in today’s sea of craft beer offerings.

“It’s all about the beer,” said Woodworth. “The benefits of customized labeling and tagging are all geared towards selling more draught beer directly from the tap. That’s where the biggest profit lies. Great labeling is a must to keep track of your kegs and to make sure they don’t end up at another brewery just because the kegs are similar in appearance. Collar tags and keg caps help the bartenders and brewery personnel by allowing your kegs to stand out and be easily identifiable when another barrel is needed.”

Woodworth prides himself on being the fastest turnaround printer out there because he understands that once a craft beer is kegged, it needs to be labeled, enjoyed and emptied.

“The best marketing out there is a good, off-site conversation about your beer, so it’s important that everything involved with your beer, kegs and growlers be labelled appropriately,” he said.

The same goes for crowlers, the 32 oz aluminum, fill-on-demand cans that are growing in popularity as the go-to carryout container.

“People want to walk out of a craft brewery with something, and it’s not always a t-shirt,” said Woodworth. “And even if the crowler would not be my personal choice for enjoying craft beer at home, we’ll still make sure it’s labeled appropriately.”