Kegs vs. Bottles – Deciding Which to Use at Your Event
OK, now that you’ve set your date, picked your venue, and are ready to start planning the important stuff bar set-up and what you should serve at your event or wedding. Whether you are using The Bustender, Kitsap Bartending Services, or another service, one of the first questions you need to ask yourself – in regards to beer – is, “Should we get Kegs or Bottles?”
Well, as you’ll see, there’s no right answer and no wrong answer – both have their own pros and cons, so it all depends on what you want to do. We’ll break down the differences to help you decide what you think will be best to work with your preferences, budget, guestlist, and effort you want to put in to finding a great beer selection.
So let’s break it down – which is it, Kegs or Bottles?
* Cost – Pending you have a larger event, kegs are usually the most cost-effective route. In Washington State, they usually range from $90-$180 for a half-barrel keg, and yield about 160 12oz. glasses of beer. Also, quarter-barrels and six-barrels (sometimes called “pony kegs” as a general term for small kegs) are available and typically half the price, and are great if you want to have some variety or have medium-sized event.
* Easier to Stock and Set-up – If you’ve ever tried to lift a keg, you know they are not light, but nothing a hand-truck can’t handle, or honestly, a couple of big groomsmen. One trip with the keg(s), and you’re set for the beer – no back-and-forth with boxes of 24-packs.
* Less Waste – If you use true glassware, there is virtually no waste, as the glasses will get washed and re-used, and the keg will get returned and re-filled for the next party. Even if you use plastic cups, they can be stacked and thrown out and be more compact than an equal number of bottles.
* Finding Beer – We have a lot of really great beer and breweries in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s a LOT of fun to go check out the local taprooms – or stores that let you sample – so, grab a group (bridal party and groomsmen outing?) or your partner, and go sample some local offerings to help find something you like, and want to serve – that may be something new, yet delicious, to everyone.
* Availability – If you are looking for a local microbrew or seasonal release, they sometimes only come in kegs – as bottling, labeling, and packaging, is a bit more expensive and usually reserved for more permanent brews in their line-up.
* Less Serving Variety – Let’s face it, not everyone has the same taste in beer. Some like a good, hoppy IPA, and others only drink Coors Light, while others let the weather and time of day decide what they want to drink. With keg(s), you have less opportunity to get a variety – unless you want a bunch of half-full kegs by the end of the event. There is a solution by getting 2-3 or smaller kegs to get a better variety, but that usually cuts in to the “cost effective” pro.
* Equipment – Now that you have the keg, how are you going to get into it? You can either use a hand-pump (pictured), or find a jockey box to use as a mobile tap system. Also, you need a tub to store the keg in before and during the event so you can surround it with ice.
* Before Event – The keg MUST BE COLD by service time. If it is not cold, it will be mostly foam, and practically useless. As basically a giant can, it needs to be kept cold just like a regular can – in a refrigerator or in a tub with ice on top. If using a keg, we suggest picking it up cold from your supplier the morning of the event, and putting it in a tub of ice immediately. It should be fine, as long as you keep ice on it (read: don’t put ice on it at 10am, and have it melted by noon, sitting in the sun until 3pm).
* After – “Now that was a fun party, but what do we do with the keg?” Well, whether you finish the keg or not, you have to return it to get the deposit back – so you either have a keg you can bring home as to not waste any extra beer, or you return a partially used keg and waste that delicious nectar inside.
NOTE: Some suppliers like BevMo or some breweries WILL deliver all items, if arranged beforehand, to the venue the day-of – within a certain range and amount spent. Definitely worth considering
* More Variety During Service – So you want to offer a large variety of beers and ciders, then bottles is for you. You can have as many as your heart desires, and offer a large variety to your guests – including local micros, popular domestics, a few ciders, a Belgian, an popular IPA, and a shandy.
* No Equipment – With bottles, you need a bottle opener and a cooler, which your Bartender or mobile bar service company should provide.
* No Fuss Beforehand – Grab a couple cases and you’re ready to go. No need to store on ice overnight, just set them in the cooler with ice about an hour before the event and they’ll be ice cold by the time service begins.
* Better For Smaller Events – If it’s a small event, you won’t need enough to make a keg worth while as it is probably more than you can safely drink.
* You Can SOMETIMES Return Them – No, you can’t return used bottles, please don’t even try – but, yes, you sometimes can return any unopened boxes of beer (same goes for wine bottles) to some stores. It sounds weird to some, but if you have a bunch of leftovers, wouldn’t you rather have some cash in your pocket versus a bunch of beer in your garage? (ummm…. maybe not)
* You Need More Room – During bar service you either have a bunch of beer sitting behind the bar in boxes waiting to be put in the cooler, or you need more coolers to put all the beer.
* More Waste – As touched on before, you need to make sure someone is checking garbage cans or recycle bins as the bottles can’t be compressed and take up more room.
* Cost – Whether you get a variety, or select bottles, beer sold in bottles is usually more expensive than buying a keg.
* Lack of Availability – As quickly touched on, not all beer is available in bottles and that can really hinder your selection.
* Bottles Can Break – If someone drops their bottle on the floor, especially outdoors, it will probably break – and if it’s in a gravel lot or rough cement, good luck trying to pick up all the glass. Again, something your Bartender should do, but it does pose a risk if any piece is missed.
OK, so now that I’ve read all that, how much beer should I get? Well, that’s another blog posting in itself – check out our post for “How Much Alcohol Should I Buy” for more bar ideas and information.
Hopefully, this helped answer any questions you may have had and helped you pick which route you want to go – it’s probably more information than you really wanted, but these are all important factors to consider when decided which it will be, Kegs vs. Beer!
Kitsap Bartending Services & The Bustender