The Great Keg Robbery

Making it as a craft brewer isn't easy. There's huge investment involved (particularly if you decide to open your own brewery). You're going up against big business with greater economies of scale and vast reach, trying to get your product into venues that often don't understand it and face a less than friendly tax system. And, while the battle is slowly being won, you're making beers that nobody in Australia had been drinking for generations - if ever.

So the last thing you need is extra obstacles in your path. Obstacles such as the mass disappearance of your kegs.

Yet the issue of missing kegs - some deliberately stolen - is a significant hindrance for local brewers. In recent weeks, Victorian police discovered a stash of 171 30 and 50 litre stainless steel kegs in a warehouse in Cohuna that were being advertised for sale online. Investigations are ongoing, but according to Detective Senior Constable Barry Gray, of Swan Hill, it appears that all of the seized kegs were obtained from the Melbourne area. The owners of the kegs were being identified and notified so their property could be returned while investigations are ongoing to ascertain whether anyone involved in the storage or sale of the kegs has acted illegally.

UPDATE (08/10/14): (original article continues below):

Detective Senior Constable Gray has released an update: "All of the kegs seized by Police have now been collected by [BevChain Logistics](http://bevchain.com.au/) as per a court direction, BevChain is the location where the kegs seized by Police are suspected to have been unlawfully taken from. BevChain have indicated they will endeavour to make arrangements to facilitate the return of these kegs to their respective owners and have been supplied with contact details for the breweries and alike that have been in contact with myself regarding this investigation.

"Further I believe it is appropriate for me to indicate that BevChain management has been assisting police with the investigation and is in no manner considered to have been aware of, or involved in the unlawful removal of these kegs from their premises. BevChain management has been of significant assistance in the progress of the investigation and recovery of the kegs and they are also assisting to find a solution which it is hoped will prevent a similar situation occurring again.

"BevChain has requested that relevant breweries involved please contact Brett Anderson (brett.anderson@bevchain.com) from BevChain Somerton to facilitate the collection of empty kegs.

The investigation is ongoing as to how these kegs came to have been taken from BevChain."

Original article continues here...

Philip Withers, owner of Melbourne's Thunder Road Brewing, says they have more than 50 kegs currently missing and believes that if their losses are typical of the industry it makes any black market in kegs a potentially highly lucrative one.

"We have very tight system but still around five percent of ours go missing from venues," he says. "Microbreweries can’t afford to see their kegs up for sale. Nor can cider producers.

"Everyone in the industry needs to be vigilant. Keg reselling is illegal without the written permission of the breweries."

Fellow Victorian brewery owner Grant Dow, from True South, says that 40 percent of their kegs - 100 out of 250 - have gone missing since they opened for business. He believes they go missing for a number of reasons: people take them to convert into cookers or barbecues; others use them for decorative purposes or to convert into seating; other brewers use them within their own operations to dispense beer so they might never re-enter the distribution network.

He believes their disappearance is also one consequence of constant rotation at venues: a pub might order five or six kegs from a brewery then leave it a few months before ordering again by which stage some may have gone missing. What's more, with many small breweries now using third-party logistics companies for distribution, there can be less vigilance on the part of the person collecting the kegs to ensure that they belong to the brewery that ordered the collection.

"There's a few [of our kegs] that emerge from time to time and you look at the tag and see the batch date and realise just how long it has been gone," says Grant. "The really small breweries are the ones that suffer."

As for a solution, he believes social media and brewers and publicans looking out for each other will help. In the case of the most recent discovery, in which four of his kegs were recovered along with many belonging to the likes of [Stone & Wood](/beer/brewery/stone-wood-nsw/), [Murray’s](/beer/brewery/murray-s-nsw/), [Mornington Peninsula Brewery](/beer/brewery/mornington-peninsula-brewery/) and [Holgate](/beer/brewery/holgate-brewhouse/), he says: "The industry found out what was going on [via social media] and within two hours of news getting out I'd had four or five emails and phone calls alerting me to what was happening.

"If people see kegs, then tell people - it's about helping your mates.

"Publicans need to look after your assets and when a brewer gets a call to collect their kegs they'd better go and collect them."

Withers agrees and says it's up to all elements of the beer world to work together.

"Don’t buy kegs from eBay or Gumtree with a breweries' name on," he says. "Let breweries know if you see them for sale - the brewery can then check the batch code on the keg and identify where it was last delivered.

"Some keg theft is accidental - theft by finding - [and] many of the big transport companies are paid on a keg return basis – the more kegs they return, the more money they get.

"The whole draught beer system relies on the age old tradition of kegs being reused and returned to the brewery. A breakdown in the system is the last thing we want to see happen in a growing microbrewery segment."

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