What is That Keg Doing at the Goodwill Store?

People need to understand that a keg is the property of the brewery. I know it sounds silly to point that out, but something happened recently that brings up this issue. If you happen to find a keg laying around, whether it be on the side of the road or in a dark corner of your garage, understand that the keg belongs to a brewery.

Someone emailed a picture to Silver City Brewing of a keg (one of its kegs) sitting at the Goodwill store in Seattle. It was for sale. Apparently someone had donated it, so Goodwill just put a price tag on it and offered it up for sale. By the time Silver City contacted Goodwill, it had been sold. Goodwill Industries, to be sure, didn’t understand that they were dealing with lost or stolen property. Let’s be clear about that. Goodwill didn’t know the keg actually belonged to someone that should have been contacted. I am not slamming Goodwill Industries–it’s a great organization.

Kegs are expensive. For that reason, and for other reasons, kegs are highly valued by their owners. That’s why you pay such a hefty deposit if you ever buy a keg of beer. The brewery wants (needs) that keg back. Breweries take kegs very seriously. Keg repatriation is a big deal. Not only are they expensive, but at times they can be hard to get.

I’m not sure that I really need to harp on the point too much, but I think it’s important that everyone understand that a keg (any keg) is the property of a brewery. I suppose there could be circumstances where a keg is so old and so far out of circulation that using terms like “lost” and “stolen” really don’t apply, but I think everyone gets my point.


Kurt Larson of Silver City Brewing posted this message on Facebook today:

“So apparently Goodwill (at least the location on Dearborn Street in Seattle) is in the business of selling kegs. We were sent this picture by a friend of the brewery yesterday and by the time we called the keg had been sold. I had to talk to 5 different people to get an answer. The manager I initially spoke to was rather aloof, finally confirming he sold the keg, but wouldn’t offer any details on the transaction. I informed him that if he was to have a keg “donated” in the future that he had a responsibility to contact the brewery it belonged to. After speaking with Seattle Police and our local Police (in an effort to try and attain the transaction details, i.e. credit card info so I could contact the purchaser) they informed me that there was nothing they could do because the keg wasn’t reported stolen to begin with. Anyhow, I’m not suggesting a larger conspiracy, but I would like to pass this along so we can keep our eyes open and maybe share this forward.”

Like I said, I am certain that Goodwill did not operate with any malicious intent. They just don’t know. You, as a beer lover, should understand that kegs belong to the brewery. Even if it’s one of those MicroStar kegs and does not appear to be branded with a brewery’s name, someone has some money attached to it.

Sadly, kegs are made out of something that is easily sold to recyclers. By this time, all recyclers know that kegs are stolen or lost property. Then again, they likely know that a big spool of copper wire is lost or stolen as well. But somehow drug addicts and unscrupulous individuals find customers for their stolen products. Go figure. It is sad to think about a keg being sold and melted because some meth-head needs a five-dollar fix.

As for Silver City Brewing, Kurt tells me that all of their kegs will soon have a sticker that says, in essence:

“Property of Silver City Brewery. If found please return. Resale of this keg by a non-licensed entity is a crime and punishable by law.”

I’d expect we’ll see more breweries doing the same.


  1. So let’s say I have a friend who bought a keg off Craigslist. Should she want to be a good citizen should she simply walk it into the brewery and drop it off? Let’s say it’s a large national chain and the brewery is in a mall and it would look kinda strange?

  2. I would tell her to contact the brewery and tell them that she came across one of their kegs. Depending on what she paid for it, I bet they’d offer to reimburse her and maybe even give her a gift certificate. Or maybe they wouldn’t care and would tell her to keep it. Still, it would be good citizenship to contact the brewery.

  3. What if the place I got my beer from ie place in Lynnwood goes out of business and they took my deposit when they closed, what then?

    Right now I am kegging my own beer in them.

  4. Yes, this is one of the largest upfront expenses for the new brewery and the smaller you are the more of your overhead is tied up vs sales so it is very frustrating to have kegs go missing. Imagine if a carpenter continually had customers steal their hammer? Same sort of thing. So if you see one, Kendall is correct, Karma demands that you contact the brewery. Who knows what good things will await you on your next visit to said brewery?

  5. And here I thought that Macklemore was singing “I’m going to pop some tags…” in Thrift Shop. Turns out he was actually saying he was going to “pop some taps…”

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  6. I’m confused on this – doesn’t the cost of the deposit cover the potential loss of the keg? Isn’t that the point of the deposit? If you return it, you get your money back – if you don’t, you now own a keg. This is the way it’s been at several of the places I’ve bought beer from.

  7. I have been asked, and have helped, folks who have found kegs. If you bring me a keg shell, I will refund a deposit & send it back to the brewery. Not sure if everyone will do it, but it’s the right thing to do!

  8. Do the deposits not cover the replacement cost? If they do, then the brewery is not out of the cost, and the person who did not take the shell back by default purchased it. Or am I missing something here?

  9. Sanke kegs run $90-$120 each. Deposits do not cover that. If that total amount was charged as a deposit, no one would buy a keg of beer. It is set high enough to provide an incentive to return the keg, but not so high as to discourage sales.

  10. Coming from the Distributor side of things, the deposit is not even close to the amount of the keg replacement cost. It is about 1/3. I’m sure people don’t want to be paying a deposit that is over $100.

  11. Thanks Kendall/Wayne. Maybe I don’t get out much. I can think of a couple places we frequented in college that have a 5-day return period – if you don’t return within 5 days, you keep it and lose your deposit. They also charged $75 per keg for a deposit, maybe that’s above the norm. Neither are breweries.

  12. Do the deposits not cover the replacement cost?…The answer to that is “NO”. New keg prices are $150. You gotta remember these kegs are made from stainless steel which is expensive. Even “reconditioned” kegs may cost $100+. Kegs that are new, used or reconditioned are always the property of the brewery. If you buy a kegs from a retail store you are only paying for what is in the keg, not the keg itself.
    Look at it this way: Have you ever rented a piece of equipment from a rental store? You put a deposit on the machinery. What happens if you don’t return it?
    The analogy is the same. You don’t own it, you are only using it for a short period of time and still have to return it.
    Kegs are the same. You’re buying ONLY the beer, the keg is a container that has to be returned when you are finished with the brew.

  13. I’ve always understood the deposit to be nothing more than an incentive for you to return the keg. The agreement you enter when you get the full keg is that you will return the keg – whether it is written or implied. Like I said, if you want to buy a keg, just ask. See what they say. cha-ching

  14. It would be a great way forward if there would be a tracking and tracing system in place, if the brewery would track the keg ID to the wholesaler/distributor, and then the wholesaler/distributor could track down where the keg has gone finally (so the pub or other end-user that dumped the keg can be tracked down).

  15. Kegs generally have a 40-45 dollar deposit on them. To purchase a keg is over 100 dollars. That isn’t really the point though. The point is that even if you put a deposit down on something that that means it is going to be returned. You didn’t BUY the keg, you bought the beer.

  16. How about charging a $150 deposit on a credit card that doesn’t get run through for a 5-7 day “waiting for beer to be consumed period”.

  17. I’m confused by the police response (or lack thereof)! So this means if I am found in possession of items that are not mine, as long as they have not been reported stolen I get to keep them?? Sounds like some real lazy doughnut munchers in blue out there!

  18. A good friend of mine who is a home brewer bought a keg off of someone on craigslist. Upon seeing that it was from a local Seattle microbrewery, he took it to the brewery and they actually did reimburse him for what he paid by giving him merch and growler fills. It’s one thing to reuse a keg at the expense of a huge mega-brewery vs a local place that actually makes good beer.

  19. Not to add fuel to this fire, but Silver City charges $150 deposit on their kegs. At least they do according to their website.

    If that is the case, that should cover the cost of replacement.

    As a homebrewer, I have bought “corny” kegs from homebrew shops and they have similar warnings on them regarding their ownership from the Pepsi-Cola company. Since I have been informed that the soda companies no longer use these, I assumed that the warnings were no longer valid. Thoughts?

  20. I hate to sound like the one to blame the victim but I will just a little bit. The whole time I was reading this I thought “why did you not mark the keg, ‘not for resale?'” A lot of breweries do that now, though admittedly it might have only helped in this one case. That said, breweries need to move away from stainless and go to plastic. Saint Somewhere for example kegs the beer in a plastic keg. When the keg is done the brewer tells the bar to do what they want with it, though he would prefer that they recycle it. Bottom line is that he never sees the keg again, nor does he want to. So that reduces that problem for the little guy. Just a thought!

  21. I guess I’m baffled by the deposit vs cost of keg equation. Seems like the deposits should be higher to incentivize people to return them. I recently found out that you can use sanke kegs for home brew use. If kegs are truly $100+ then why wouldn’t I just buy a 6th barrel (paying a meager $50 deposit which I would count as a loss) of one of my favorite craft brews, drink it, then use the shell per and over for home brews?

  22. Plastic kegs are not a viable option most breweries are moving away from plastic kegs due to safety concerns. Most plastic kegs are also not “disposed of” after one use.

    Stainless steel kegs are the best solution for both breweries and their customers. However the general population is uneducated as to the cost of a keg and its value to the owner, and thus they take the lazy rout of not doing research.

    69.99 for a collectable keg?

  23. Ugh, no plastic, please. Reusing the aluminum kegs is definitely the better option. Just got to have better messaging the the deposit does not cover the cost of the keg and that the keg must be returned. I’d be in favor of increasing deposit costs to ensure return of the keg.

  24. Really? We’re all adults and we are well aware a keg should be returned. We don’t need a ridiculous whiney ass article like this to remind us. If your kegs aren’t being returned change your T&C’s, change your deposit or file a police report. It’s your business! Take care of it and stop whining.

  25. The Pepsico Corny Kegs are piled outside one of their facilities where I do contract work. They do still fill them, though at only a few facilities, and they sell used ones by the truckload to folks who resell for brewing.

  26. For those wondering about the deposit covering the keg loss – distributors don’t pay much for deposits to my understanding, so if the keg was stolen from outside a bar or pub – not from an individual who got it from the brewery, then there might not have been any deposit at all.

    Over the life of a brewery, stainless kegs are a much better investment over plastic. Plastic kegs are still new and there have been a lot of innovations with them lately, but some safety problems as well. Stainless still gets more uses, are easier to clean, etc.

  27. Vinnie, there is a difference between plastic kegs, and one-way kegs. The former being reusable/washable, the latter not – one use only, then disposed of by the end user(though hopefully recycled).

    Plastic kegs have had some safety concerns, including a fatality. One-way kegs are a short term solution for sending beer long distances, but don’t make financial sense for most breweries because of cost. A lot of one way kegs run the brewery from $15-$20 dollars – adding a lot of cost to their brands – sometimes pricing them out of competitiveness. For rare brands it can work, as people will pay a premium for hard to get beers out of their usual markets.

    Sure, a stainless fleet is expensive, but in the long-run necessary for most breweries at this time.

  28. Maybe Silver City would have gotten more out of the Managers at Goodwill had they not sounded so attacking… Why did they have to attack goodwill on Facebook… Like the Beer Blog said not the fault of goodwill… they did not know and yet they get blasted…

  29. To revisit the initial point of this story, be a good beer citizen and return kegs once you’ve emptied them. Always make a good-faith effort to reunite a keg with its owner.

    Alternately, you can be a dick. That’s always an option.

  30. Kegs are property of the brewery, period. Simple concept here, no excuses of why the keg should be yours because you “paid the deposit”. I assume then that rental car need not be returned since the deposit was only $500? Sweet deal, new car for $500! If it cost more, they would charge a higher deposit right? If the deposit was $15,000 then nobody would rent cars. Simple stuff really.

    Besides the cost of that new keg, there is the high cost of freight that adds to the price. Not to mention they can be hard to get, the manufacturers can’t keep up with demand.

    Don’t get me started…

  31. Back before steel prices went through the roof and $20 was actually a fair amount of money, the deposit covered a great portion of the keg’s cost. Sadly, business norms sometimes don’t keep pace with business costs, so “normal” keg deposits haven’t gone up much while keg prices have skyrocketed. Therefore some smaller breweries have chosen to skip the deposit all together, as it’s a hassle to keep record of and pay deposits back, and a turnoff to customers anyway.

    Instead, their invoices clearly state that kegs not returned with a set time frame will be invoiced at full replacement cost, to be refunded should the keg return. With wholesale you know who got what kegs and when, and can invoice them should they lose one. With retail you have the person who bought the keg’s drivers license number (by law) and an address, phone etc. Some brewers also take a credit card number (though there’s some weird legalities to securely storing that information). Either way a few phone calls is usually good enough to get a keg back, but if not, you’ve got a really good record for small claims court.

    Distributors though, they could care less about getting your kegs back.

    Kendall’s right though, if you see a keg still embossed with a brewery name or wearing paint or keg tape: it hasn’t been retired and sold. Someone somewhere ran off with it. Be a Friend of Craft Beer and return that sucker, breweries will almost always reward the return of lost kegs. When kegs are retired or put up for resale, I believe by law the identifying markings must be removed. So sometimes you’ll see kegs with a welded scribble area over an embossed chime, maybe some paint over a label area. If you’re looking to cut the top off for some homebrewing project, just make sure it was one of these, that was legitimately retired and sold.

  32. Larry Hamon, it’s up to Goodwill to verify the items they sell are legally able to be sold. They sold an illegal item, so are totally at fault and deserve to be called out on it.

    They should have called Silver City right away and told them they had one of their kegs, but instead they try to profit on it. Pretty low move on Goodwill’s part.

  33. Serious business. We had several kegs stored outdoors, tied up / locked up and when someone came to steal them, we had to pay all of our distributors and breweries.

  34. This is a double edged sword, and frankly, there is some significant and often neglected onus on the part of the brewery.

    For example, I purchased a keg of ale a few years back… I put down a $100 deposit. Subsequently, without warning the business I got the keg from disappeared – the distributor was happy to give me a $30 keg deposit back, but no one was willing to return the full deposit. I contacted the company, and they declined as well (I had written documentation… alas). Relatively new keg, I turned it into a outdoor table/art piece. I was surprised the brewery didn’t care to make at least some effort (granted, I was willing to give it to my local distributor, but not schlep it all the way to them).

    Did I break the law? Not really. I have the documentation in front of me (scanned receipts are so nice) and nowhere am I informed that the keg is not ‘mine’, simple that a ‘deposit’ much like for bottles or cans is taken which I can recover upon return. Since the keg went from Brewer to Distributor to Reseller to me, I would suggest the brewer would have a hard time proving ownership in any legal sense. Nor was I given a time frame of usage – technically, I am still using it.

    That said, I am sympathetic to the brewery (and did make an honest effort to correct the issue). Had the brewery correctly applied their deposit (why they would ask for anything less than 100% of replacement cost is frankly a business decision in which they are accepting some loss) the issue would have been moot. However, I am not about to return a product for MUCH less than I paid simply because of a nebulous ownership assumption (this was not my neighborhood brewery – had it been, my attitude may have been more sympathetic).

    Kegs are NOT the property of the brewery ‘period’. They are not magically imbued with some special property which makes ownership because their name is stamped on them. Like any asset, they may start that way, but like all property this is an incumbent responsibility for them to ensure that their ‘rights’ are transmitted down the line. This means contracts with resellers (distributors) which enforces this, and in turn enforces requires them to enforce this provision in their client down the line. Many here have claimed that it is similar to ‘renting’ the keg – sure, if that is what the documentation claims – however, that is not what the documentation from most ANY keg I have gotten has ever said (‘kept McMenamin’s, they made it very clear it was their keg and I, as always, don’t really need their huge things hanging about (McMs use a very different keg btw)).

    Breweries have an obligation to both mark their kegs and include language with their distributor which enforces this ownership. Failure to do so expresses a lack of ‘due diligence’ and while they can ‘express’ a claim of ownership, unless they can document the paper trail, it does not exist.

    All this said and done, without clear documentation, regardless of the ‘intent of the brewery’ there is absolutely no way to prove ‘ownership’ on an item like this beyond a reasonable doubt.

    This is solved simply by stamping kegs ‘not for resale, keg is property of brewery’.

  35. I’ve contacted Gordon Biersch to see if they want my keg back. I’m very interested to see if they care.

  36. @Dann:

    “kegs are NOT property of the brewery ‘period'”

    Are you kidding me? I have over $75k in kegs and I am a smaller brewery needing more kegs. How the is this not my property?

  37. “Distributors though, they could care less about getting your kegs back.”

    As part owner of a beer distributor I can tell you this statement is completely false. Getting kegs back to any supplier, big or small, is critical. The smaller the brewer the bigger issue it is to them. It’s also a constant headache we deal with. And, we inevitably get blamed for keg shrinkage, no matter the reason the keg disappears. We’ve gotten into some hairy disputes over keg returns over the years and it’s an issue the industry as a whole needs to work on.

  38. Kegs really do belong to the breweries. If you happen to find a keg anywhere, just contact the brewery and return them. It’s the right thing to do. It is illegal to purchase an empty keg anywhere without a title. If a brewery has an old keg they don’t need, they would gladly sell one to you along with the title. Stealing or abandoning a keg is just like stealing or abandoning a vehicle. People need to understand that.

  39. So… I’m not sure I get the point of the article. Perhaps you could be more concise and/or reiterate the point a couple more times.

    Does the keg belong to the brewery?

  40. Ben, I hope you understand that people are debating the issue of ownership only because they want to keep the keg. They are trying to justify behavior. Like, “I know they said it was a deposit but I thought that meant I bought it.” Really? So I don’t think it inappropriate to hammer the point home. Beat it into their heads. Restate the case. And hammer the point home.

  41. @Dann,
    Wonder if you would be so carefree if it was your possessions that others were making off with? Maybe if we make off with some of his things and then claim he didn’t mark his stuff well enuf and… “Failure to do so expresses a lack of ‘due diligence’ and while they can ‘express’ a claim of ownership, unless they can document the paper trail, it does not exist.

  42. Not sure I see the point in keeping a keg, unless you might be home brewing..of course, the alternative would be to purchase in cans or bottles, pay the applicable container deposit, drink hardy and not worry too much about any deposit. I would be pretty certain that no ‘license’ or claim of ownership exists in the keg tranactions…people would have to carry their counsel with them each time they purchased a keg! What every good town needs is a great craft brew and a baseball team! – Frank Zappa

  43. “Plastic kegs have had some safety concerns, including a fatality.”

    Okay, let’s dispose of this little myth first: the plastic keg that exploded and killed the employee of Red Hook in Portmouth, New Hampshire, happened during keg washing and was caused directly by over-pressurization. He charged a keg rated at 90 PSI to 150 PSI. The steel keg would have either exploded or been very close to it. In EVERY case of plastic keg failure, it happened during cleaning, not in filling or while filled. I’m not guessing on this. I’ve done well over 200 hours of research on plastic kegs and recyclable single-use kegs over the past four months and, used properly, they’re no more risky than a steel keg AND, lest we all wander off into that La-La Land of bottle vs. can again, they contribute ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to the flavor of beer, any more than a steel keg would.

    As to what can be done about incidents like with Silver City’s keg, the solution is simple: sell kegs ONLY with a credit card and retain the card number, with the stipulation that, if the keg isn’t returned in a month, six weeks, whatever, the customer will be charged the full amount of replacement. Charge the same fractional deposit but get a signed agreement as to the replacement charge.

    Last, the term “deposit”, if the customer is using their head, pretty much indicates that the item is supposed to be returned. Yeah, the brewery SHOULD mark each keg with a notice that the keg is their property and that it’s required that you return after use. For that matter, they should be saying – and the distributors should require a written statement for retailers who rent them – that it remains their property and that the deposit is not the full cost of replacement. It’s a little difficult to understand that all of this wasn’t being done before, especially since the beverage business is overwhelmingly ripe with potential for misunderstanding, since most of us have ONE experience of beverage deposits: the five or ten cents back for a used pop bottle. A lifetime of habitually NOT returning those leads inevitably to thinking that it’ll be a similar deal with a beer keg; that no real importance is attached to the return.

  44. I think the real problem is that competition and common practice precludes charging a realistic deposit for kegs – if you were to ask for $100-$150 for a deposit or a credit card that would be charged that amount then people wouldn’t forget to return them very often. Unfortunately retailers in particular and I imagine some distributors are against charging realistic keg deposits as it might hamper sales volumes. Unfortunately its usually the breweries which suffer as a result.

  45. I can’t believe someone actually thinks that the kegs are not the brewery’s property. If you are asked for a deposit I think that plainly states that it is not yours.

    In contrast we have growlers that are sold to the customer to keep. That is not a deposit as it is no longer ours when we give it to you. You purchased that. From time to time we get people that want to get their “deposit” back on growlers and we explain that it was not a deposit but a purchase and that the glass is theirs.

    I did see it mentioned that someone thought that distributors don’t pay deposits to the brewery. I don’t know about all places but definitely in my area and for the brewery I work at they do. And thankfully they do. We use both plastic and stainless kegs and the amount of plastic kegs they have broken is incredible. And they do not get a deposit back on those from us.

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