From the barrel to the keg
A hundred years ago beer in barrels was a revolutionary invention. However, times are changing and so the traditional oak barrel was replaced by the typical keg. A new design and additional functions. The “small barrel” in the course of time.
The first goods in transit of the first German rail journey were two barrels of beer in the year 1835. This first ride was from Nuremberg to Fürth. This was the first sign of the deep relationship between the Germans and their beer. Well protected, but not even cold, the liquid gold reached its destination in oak barrels. The pitched oak barrels ought to hold out as transport and filling containers in the gastronomy sector for some time. The biggest disadvantage: If the pitch layer, which seals the barrel internal, gets cracked, rough or leaky, the contents could get contaminated and spoiled by bacteria. The barrels must be pitched regularly which meant a considerable amount of time and physical efforts.
Oak barrels – a rarity
Therefore the progress made a quick stop at iron barrels. Though these barrels are more hygienic they were soon, replaced partly by their woody forebears due to their weight. Today these oak barrels are a rarity. Only a few of them exist in Bavaria. However, many traditional breweries are using belly-barrels today. These barrels have a stainless steel bubble, coated with plastic inside, but look like the old barrels.
Automatic barrel cellar from England
Even so Germany stands for the beer nation per se; our neighbors in the United Kingdom started to automate the process in the barrel cellar in 1964. The consequence was the keg system. “Keg” is an English word and means “small barrel”. It is made from stainless steel and has a screwed extractor tube inside, what finally should ease the cleaning and filling process considerably. The barrel has only one slot. The advantage is that also an empty keg is constantly under carbon dioxide excess pressure what means that it is always closed. So, it practically never happens that those beer remnants dry up or that contaminations occur. Through suitable valves the filling process is nearly sterile.
Innovation becomes standard
Further advantages are on the one hand the relatively low weight compared to oak and iron barrels and on the other hand an easier tapping for innkeepers due to better barrel connection systems. Therefore kegs are especially popular in the catering sector. The cleaning and filling process of the barrels take place through semi or fully automatic keg systems in the brewery. The kegs and their corresponding keg systems are a revolutionary invention in the history of brewing and are established as the global norm.
Disposable barrel – kegs of the future?
Disposable kegs come into fashion in the last few years. Time will tell if this will be the next step in the barrel evolution. On the one hand they are especially interesting for the export since shipping costs as well as fixed capital would decrease and the return or the reusable containers from far away countries is not always guaranteed. On the other hand teething problems are often not quite eradicated and also the environmental friendly disposal cannot always be ensured.
Conclusion: The disposable keg has definitively his right to exist, but for sure it will not completely replace the reusable version.