Summerville, South Carolina
Please try to get them the right way. I still do not have a problem with getting them from salvage, because your saving it from being cut to death! Of course most kegs at salvages are stolen property, just get a reciept. Beer stores giving out free kegs is illegal. Read On!
Metal is so precious that thieves tap beer kegs
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
By Joel Millman, The Wall Street Journal
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Brewmaster Neil Witte has an unusual job to do these days: combing through scrap metal.
"There's one!" he shouted on a recent afternoon, as he tugged a shiny, 30-pound cylinder from the mountain of stainless steel at a local junkyard. Last year, Mr. Witte recovered more than 100 kegs in this same lot that had been stolen from his employer, Boulevard Brewing Co. Around him were dozens of steel kegs stamped with the logos of Miller and Anheuser-Busch and various Mexican and European brewers. They all suffer from the problem of kegs with legs.
A global boom in the market price for commodities, including steel and aluminum, has sent scrap-metal prices soaring. And that has created a tempting target for criminals world-wide in everyday objects that contain metals -- from light poles along highways to lowly beer kegs.
In the past few months, Belgium's main railway station has lost nearly all of its 800 aluminum luggage carts. German railway operator Deutsche Bahn says metal thieves recently dismantled and carted off three miles of idle rail track outside Weimar. In Beijing, a European commodities analyst noted, some 25,000 manhole covers have gone missing since the start of last year. They were replaced with concrete plugs.
How bad is it getting? Last month, groundskeepers at the Royal Johor Country Club in Malaysia discovered that somebody had taken the aluminum cups from 12 holes on the golf links.
It's a growing problem in the U.S., too, where crooks steal aluminum guardrails from highways and plumbing pipe from construction sites. Even military installations aren't immune. Metal scroungers have stolen about $50,000 in booty from the Concord Naval Weapons Station east of Oakland, Calif., Pentagon officials estimate.
The thieves are growing more brazen. In Oregon, two men and a woman dressed in orange workmen's vests arrived at the isolated Elkhorn Creek Bridge in the Willamette National Forest in November 2004. In broad daylight, they put out traffic cones, then dismantled crossbeams and handrails from the short bridge. They hit two more over the next year, according to the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that owns some of the land. The bureau said the thieves trucked 3 1/2 tons of steel to a scrap yard outside Salem, the state capital.
With beer kegs, the crime spree began in the United Kingdom, where more than 250,000 wobbled out of circulation last year, according to the British Beer and Pub Association. Last fall, thieves scaled a chain-link fence and made off with 430 kegs in a single night from a storage yard belonging to Empire Distributors Inc. in Charlotte, N.C. The empty kegs had contained Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and Pyramid brand beers. "I don't know why they didn't just ram the fence down," says Hank Bauer, Empire's sales manager. Empire is now locking its kegs in a warehouse to keep them safe.
Kegs are a tempting target, not only because they contain quality stainless steel, nickel and chrome, but also because they are easy to carry and can be readily found in storage sheds, behind liquor stores, or right under the counter of a neighborhood bar. For microbrewers, which sell about half their beer on tap in brew pubs, keg pilferage from their customers' taverns is so bad that even bartenders can't be trusted. Warren Dibble, chief financial officer of Boston's Harpoon Brewery, suspects that some tavern owners are letting employees sell empties on the side "as part of their compensation."
With rising metals prices, it's not a bad fringe benefit. Just a few years ago, scrap yards paid only about $5 a keg. But prices are as high as $21 now in some parts of the country.
The cost of a new keg, meanwhile, has also tripled, to about $90. That's a headache for specialty brewers like Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing, which started in 1989 to brew Belgian-style pilseners and ales. The 40,000 kegs in Boulevard's inventory represented more than 20 percent of the brewer's fixed assets in 2004.
In 2005, when keg theft started to plague the brewer, Mr. Witte, the brewmaster, began haunting scrap yards both to warn dealers that accepting stolen property is illegal, and to buy back kegs at $15 to $20 apiece.
At the same time, Mr. Witte engaged local police, urging detectives in Kansas City and suburban Johnson County, Kan., to track scrap yards' repeat suppliers. He also came up with a novel way of dealing with the problem, strapping each of his kegs with a large yellow "STOP!" tag with a cartoon cop warning scrap dealers not to buy Boulevard kegs.
His diligence is paying off. A recent tour of area scrap yards found that several dealers said they still buy kegs, but not Boulevard's. A similar reticence may have trickled down to local thieves. "I talked to one bartender," says John Dickey, a Leawood, Kan., police detective. He says the bartender told him "they took four or five of his kegs the other night, but left Boulevard's."
The simplest way to protect kegs and small companies like Boulevard would be to increase deposits on kegs, which currently run in the $15-to-$25 range. Then, bars would have an incentive to be more diligent in safeguarding kegs.
But asking retailers to pledge kegs' full value is difficult. Bar owners, particularly at specialty pubs that have up to a hundred varieties of beer on tap, already feel squeezed paying deposits on each keg. Michigan is one state that has capped the amount a beer distributor can charge for deposits at $10 a keg, hoping to protect small family-owned bars.
Earlier this year, an Anheuser-Busch wholesaler in Kansas City proposed raising keg deposits to $50 from $12. It didn't go down well with some bar owners. Andrew Mullen, a co-owner of the Paddy O'Quigley's Pub and Grille chain in Johnson County, threatened to take Busch products off tap, selling them in bottles only.
Mr. Mullen's brew pub on Roe Boulevard has been hit three times since November by keg thieves. To keep from losing any more empties, Mr. Mullen has invested heavily in security. He has installed a concrete divider like those highway crews use to divert traffic, and upgraded to a heavier, cutter-proof chain to string through the handles of about 15 kegs stored each night behind the restaurant.
He hopes that will help him on Friday, when he expects St. Patrick's Day revelers to empty at least 50 kegs that he'll have to guard through the weekend. "It's the Super Bowl of keg theft," Mr. Mullen says. "They'll be out that night for sure."