Why Craft Breweries Are Finally Embracing Mini Kegs

They're suddenly cool and collectible in our COVID era, but some obstacles remain for making these five-liter beer dispensers the new norm

Two mini kegs from Bell's Brewery, one of the first craft breweries to embrace the five-liter beer dispenser
Two mini kegs from Bell's Brewery, one of the first craft breweries to embrace the five-liter beer dispenser.
Bell's Brewery

After years of limited trials, the craft beer industry is turning its attention to the mini keg, both out of pandemic necessity but also customer demand.

As Aaron Goldfarb explains at VinePair, the five-liter kegs that recreate the draft beer experience aren’t entirely new; Heineken debuted its DraughtKeg in 2005, which used a six-inch-tall aerosol canister of CO2 inside to carbonate the brew. ““[I]t’s the biggest thing to come along since somebody put beer in cans,” David Williams, then an analyst with a Chicago research firm, said at the time.

Only a few other major beer brands followed, including mini keg variations by beer powerhouses MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev (which utilized a proprietary Draftmark system that failed). On the craft side, there was less interest in complex packaging, although Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery has had success since 2005 with its own mini keg releases.

But the last year or so has brought the very European idea back to the beer world, and not just for major players. “With COVID and all, with people now socializing at home more, it just makes sense,” Bell’s founder Larry Bell says. So you’ll now see mini kegs holding the likes of Warsteiner, Rothaus, Einbecker Brauherren Pils, Reissdorf Kölsch and Bitburger.

And as Beer Witch’s Christa Sobier suggests, it’s not just a pandemic solution for home drinkers. “Some bars were ordering them to help enforce social distancing and less contact service,” she says, also noting that they’re preferable to glass growlers.

The packaging has also become somewhat of a collector’s item, but one reason mini kegs may not become the beer-drinking norm is simply practical; brewers need special filling equipment, as well as access to the mini kegs themselves, which are made in Germany. As well, not all bars or beer stores have the room to stack these beer dispensers, mini or not — nor do many drinkers (as a longtime NYC apartment dweller, I can safely say I’ve never had the fridge space for one of these).


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