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Used corny kegs came from the soda industry, but stocks seem to be drying up pretty quickly. Prices have gone up from $20 per reconditioned keg about 4 years ago to around $50 today (some are asking that just for used kegs.) Outlets that I've previously used don't have any kegs, altough I've managed to find one reseller offering a resonable price. What happens when the supply dries up completely? What's the future in kegging with cornies?

EDIT: I'm looking for tangible, factual answers rather than opinions - alternative systems, estimates of how many used kegs are still to be released and other facts to support investing in a keg system now.

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Shouldn't this be a wiki? –  brewchez Mar 8 '12 at 23:51
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Why should this be a wiki? –  Rich Armstrong Mar 9 '12 at 20:26
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Rich, why did you change the title of my question? It has a completely different focus to what I was asking. The new title ties in exactly with your specific answer...so now you're answering your own question, not mine. –  mdma Mar 9 '12 at 23:58
    
Rich -It should be a wiki because regardless of the "facts" and #s there are many factor and opinions that will come out of this question. The primary questions are looking for speculation. –  brewchez Mar 11 '12 at 0:20
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7 Answers 7

From the Wayback Machine, we can track the increase in price of both new and used kegs. NorthernBrewer.com is a good resource for this because they've been around so long. (And they deserve it. You guys rock!)

April 2001 to May 2006: New $95.00, Used: $30.00

May 2009: New $120, Used $35

May 2010 - Unchanged at $130/$35

March 2012 (present) - $130/$45

So, yes, you're right that there's been a recent jump in prices. One would also posit that the jump in new keg prices between 2006 and 2009 is due to fewer new kegs getting manufactured for the soda market; soda is gigantic compared to homebrew, as Warren Buffett can tell you.

It's likely that for years there were untapped reserves of used Corny kegs that could've been sold in bulk by soda distributors to finance conversion to the newer bagged systems for syrup. The less popular pin lock kegs have been keeping pace with the ball lock kegs. My recent research shows that the price of a pin lock keg plus a conversion kit was about five bucks short of the commercial price of a ball lock keg.

This is a pretty efficient market, populated with people who are resourceful and thrifty enough to homebrew. We can be relatively sure that we're free of distortions.

As the supplies of refurb kegs dwindle, price goes up. As prices rise, there are a few inflection points. The first comes when the price of a refurbished keg rises to the point where a brewer sitting on unused kegs has significant incentive to take on the transaction cost of selling them.

The price of gold has spiked recently. You might have a pair of earrings with no sentimental value that you wouldn't have bothered to sell when their half-ounce of gold would've netted you a hundred bucks, but now that they're worth four times that, you might get them appraised.

A lesser effect might be seen first with refurb kegs and then with "used new" kegs.

My gut says that the first inflection point has to be around double the historical retail cost of $30. So, we'll see some downward pressure on used keg prices as people start remarking more and more about the cost of used kegs. I have to think this tops out at about $60. Here's why:

Kegs are a durable commodity good (one's basically as good as another, and a used one works roughly as well as a new one). I don't have ready numbers on expected premium for new vs. used durable goods, so I'll have to approximate here.

Right now, we have a soda-surplus refurb keg around $50 and a brand new keg at $130. There's little reason for someone to resell their new keg, because they have to compete with all the other refurb kegs which also have the taint of prior ownership.

As refurb kegs become more scarce, a different market opens up. Let's say you bought a new keg a year ago at retail for $130. If you asked $100 for it, which is a reasonable discount, the number of people clamoring to take your offer would depend heavily on the price of refurb kegs. Few would take it with refurb kegs at $50.

Why pay double for something that's basically the same?

Once refurb kegs hit $80, though, the thinking is different.

What's an extra 20% for a better-quality keg with only one previous owner? It hasn't spent its life on trucks being bashed around by guys with "Jerry" embroidered on their jackets. It's been sitting in a guy's basement dispensing Simcoe pale ale.

Leaving aside the question of whether new manufacturers will emerge and push down the price of brand new kegs, the likely ceiling for refurb kegs is around $70. Plenty of pressure from brewer resales on the way there, then competition from resale of never-used-for-soda kegs manufactured for brewers.

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Love this answer! Learning about the economics of supply and demand for commodity, durable goods is not something I would expect from a home brewing site, but it's a nice surprise. –  Tobias Patton Mar 8 '12 at 21:24
    
You didn't even mention that china was buying up these for scrap stainless steel for years... –  brewchez Mar 8 '12 at 23:51
    
If I'd known that, I would've! I suspected some effect due to China's appetite for steel. I actually did look up the price of scrap stainless steel, but had already put a lot of effort into this and needed to finish. –  Rich Armstrong Mar 9 '12 at 20:24
    
This is a detailed answer - condensed into a sentence you're saying that recon'd kegs will rise to around $70 but the price of new kegs will not be considerably more, so we will be paying $100+ per new keg because it's not much more than a used keg? –  mdma Mar 10 '12 at 0:06
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Simple. Manufacturers need to recognize the demand. They may transition to just a homebrew offering, but where there's demand there's business to be had.

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I'm not sure it is so simple. New kegs are still being manufactured and have been for years, but I don't know anyone who has bought new kegs. So the future is spending $100 plus on a new keg? –  mdma Mar 8 '12 at 3:54
    
+1 for capitalism! –  fire.eagle Mar 8 '12 at 4:55
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I second this! I think the price of used cornys will continue to climb slowly and the price of new kegs might decrease a little, but there will come a point were they will be close in price and for me I will spend a little more for a nice new shiny one. –  Ryan Shdo Mar 8 '12 at 6:48
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The local craft breweries in my area (Victoria, Canada) package their beer in 18.5 litre kegs fitted for Sankey couplers. (In fact, just today I picked up a keg of Driftwood Fat Tug IPA for the office keggerator.) I haven't looked for a brand stamp, but someone is manufacturing kegs that are the right size of home brewers. Surely the breweries will get rid of their old stock at some point. At that point, it's a matter of reconditioning just like we do with the Corny kegs.

We might have to switch to Sankey couplers, but I don't expect the supply of small kegs to disapear.

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Black market? It is a good question, though.

I have 4 in rotation at home, and another 6 or so that need a good sterlizing/de-botulizing.

But now that postmix comes in bags, does anyone actually make kegs? Some sites have them listed as "brand new" but they're well over $120, and I haven't even looked in a couple years.

The don't cost THAT much to make. Hell, I'll find a manufacturer and start my own business if that's the case.

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I suspect full on Cornies will go away eventually. Homebrewers will have to get used to using sixth barrels. Same shape as a corny but with a Sanke opening and connector.

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The problem with sanke kegs is removing and replacing the retaining ring on the valve/spear to allow thorough cleaning and sanitizing. If someone would manufacture a simple, cost effective tool kit to do that, I'd be using them. Come to think of it, I think I will work on that. –  user6136 Dec 13 '13 at 17:39
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I was going through my storage and found I had 14 5 gallon ball lock corney kegs that I would let someone have for a good deal! I also have a 15.5 gal beer keg with top cut out and a stainless ball valve welded in the bottom. co2 tank & regulator, ball lock couplers and misc homebrewing supplies. been in storage for quite some time.

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If you have a commercial kegerator system I don't see the point of corny kegs other than if you have a spare it can help to clean a sankey. I never open my sankey kegs. 180° Pbw and star san handle the cleaning. You can use co2, a garden sprayer, water pump, or vacuum pump to move the solutions in and out through a coupler with the one ways removed. Agitate them if they are really bad. Voila, clean/purged kegs. I use a two hole carboy cap with a ss racking cane in one hole and and plumb co2 to the other. Then I rack from the glass carboy directly into the keg, virtually eliminating any chance of contamination or oxygenation. Sankeys are only $85-100 brand new for a 1/6bbl. And you can get 1/4, 1/3, or 1/2bbl for not much more. (Or $20-30 if you have no morals) So really, why the corny?

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Doesn't answer the question. –  Denny Conn May 20 at 20:41
    
Sankey kegs may not be available - many homebrew shops in Europe carry cornies and related fittings but not sankeys. –  mdma May 21 at 20:46
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