Keg thefts at WA breweries, most recently at Perth’s Blasta Brewing, have prompted an initiative by the state’s brewers’ organisation WABA designed to tackle the issue.
The problem has been on WABA’s radar for several months and the organisation announced a stolen keg policy in its 2019 AGM strategy. Planned measures include liaising with WA Police as well as online selling platforms like Gumtree, and launching a social media campaign to raise awareness of the impact that keg theft can have, especially on smaller breweries like Blasta.
Three weeks ago more than 70 empty kegs were stolen from Blasta Brewing Co in Perth over a period of four days by suspects in utes.
Steve Russell at Blasta said they have CCTV footage of the thefts. He said 66 kegs were stolen in the first incident, over two trips, and then a further 9 were stolen a few days later after accidentally being left out following the original theft.
“In our brewery in Perth we’re quite limited for space and our brewers had been keeping our kegs down the side of the alley,” Russell explained.
“They managed to make off with most of the kegs in minutes, and they took their time to strap everything down.”
This indicated a premeditated robbery, he said, as the thieves were well prepared and in the second instance already had a truck load full of kegs, ostensibly from another theft.
Despite supplying them with CCTV footage including the licence plates of the car involved, the Western Australian Police have so far been unable to identify the culprits. Brews News understands the investigation is ongoing and it is believed that a number of scrap metal dealers are subject to investigation.
However Russell said this isn’t just a one-off incident, and can have a major impact on small breweries in particular.
“It has an effect on your insurance premiums and also with our kegs being stolen it means less production, and then the cost of the kegs and the inconvenience itself.
“We buy kegs in bulk but by the time you pay freight and duties and all that, even though they’re coming for overseas, you’re looking at $200 a keg.”
Brews News understands that the kegs are often sold for scrap, fetching just $13 each. According to WABA, estimates for the cost of stolen kegs range ar around $2 million per year – with around 70 breweries in WA that averages around $28,000 a year.
Steve Russell said the stock included a number from Kegstar, and he was double checking with the rental business as to their position and how much or whether they will be charged.
“It’s the first time we’ve been aware of it, it’s pretty bad.
“When you think of a keg of beer you just think of the beer, a lot of people don’t understand the actual cost or impact of taking a keg.
“There’s a lot more awareness now, and homebrewers have been helpful in that respect, when they see somebody’s got kegs up for sale on Gumtree they immediately contact WABA and let them know.”
Despite this, he said there was a lack of understanding about the pressures on smaller breweries.
“It isn’t alright to be taking kegs, it’s not helping out the brewers.
“A lot of breweries are small businesses. It doesn’t sound like a lot but if you get 100 kegs stolen that are $200 each and then the impact of not being able to put beer in them, it costs a lot of money.
“We’re going to have to order more and in the meantime just have to hire.
“To make sure it doesn’t happen again we’ve changed our procedures and make sure that even when we’re cleaning them and putting them outside they need to be out of sight, out of mind.”
The issue is already on the agenda of the Western Australian Brewers Association, according to president Andy Scade.
“[Keg theft] has been an ongoing issue for a while, and we’ve already thought it through as one of the strategic actions for the year.
“A lot of breweries have struggled with it for some time, anecdotally around 20% of a breweries kegs disappear like this.
“Coincidentally, Blasta’s issues have brought the thing to a head,” he explained.
Scade said that the major issue was understanding the impact it could have on breweries (particularly smaller ones), taking into account the cost of the keg itself, not to mention couplers and dispensers.
“For the small guys it can be crippling for their cash flows. Historically it’s been the odd homebrewer or for people to chop up for a BBQ who have taken them.
“Asking round the industry recently though, it’s felt more like it’s going at a much higher rate.”
John Stallwood, founder of Nail Brewing, which has also seen its kegs deplete at unusual levels, said that in part, keg loss was part of the cost of running a business, but there was a point when it became too expensive to ignore.
“I thought I had enough stock in time for the summer boom period, from September to December, and we can get low on kegs, but I had to order 370 from China because I’m lower than I thought I would be,” Stallwood explained.
While it’s hard to determine what was theft and what was displacement, it’s still an issue the industry should be keeping an eye on.
“Loss of kegs is unfortunately just part of the running costs of a brewery, but we need to educate people about kegs, that they cost money, well over 100 bucks, and microbreweries are a small business so it hurts us.”
WABA’s strategy to deal with the issue centres around raising awareness and developing processes to aid brewers when and if it does happen to them.
“We thought the best way is to build a relationship with the WA Police, as previously no one in the industry knew who to reach out to or how to highlight it, so we’re working out who to talk to,” said Andy Scade of WABA.
“The other thing is awareness, punters out there might not understand the implications of keg theft, the cost to breweries and how it will drive up the price of a pint at the end of the day.
“It’s a big loss for Blasta and a financial burden for them, but on the flipside it’s bringing it to a head and we’re getting some actions in place to tackle it.”