A keg is more than just a large vessel for holding beer; it's a valuable piece of property that makes its way from a brewery to a distributor and then on to a liquor store, restaurant, bar or even your back patio. But kegs belong to the breweries that fill them with the beautiful golden (or mahogany or garnet) liquid we all love, and a delay in returning kegs to those breweries can tie up tens of thousands of dollars — and losing those kegs can mean losing that money for good. That's why the sudden closing of a restaurant with a large inventory of kegs causes alarm in the craft-beer industry.
That alarm was sounded in August when A-Town Pizza closed its two Aurora locations and its property was seized by the city for unpaid taxes. Aurora officials also seized dozens of kegs that didn't belong to A-Town; they belonged to some fifteen or twenty breweries around the state. And although the names of those breweries are stamped on the kegs, it's not a common practice for brewers to require signed lease agreements for the kegs, which is what the city would require as proof of ownership.
So instead of being returned to the breweries, the kegs will now be part of an auction on Wednesday, September 13, that will be run by Dickensheet & Associates, Inc., which often handles property auctions on behalf of Colorado cities looking to recoup unpaid taxes. (On September 8, Dickensheet handled the auction of property from the recently closed Stella's on 16th for the City and County of Denver.)
Dry Dock Brewing Co. in Aurora is one of the breweries with quite a few kegs now tied up in the auction. Dry Dock co-founder Kevin DeLange got wind of the proposed sale and talked with several departments representing the City of Aurora, which is how he learned that without lease agreements, he and his fellow brewers had no choice but to buy the kegs back (though at auction, at least this would be at a significant discount on their original cost). DeLange says he was was willing to buy the whole lot, approximately 100 kegs in 15.5- and 5.16-gallon sizes, and hold or deliver them to the original owners, who would repay him.
But he got a surprise while he was making his plan: He found out that Dave Shaw, president of Growler USA, had a similar idea...only Shaw was planning on taking a loss on the deal, returning the kegs to their owners at no cost as a show of goodwill to the Colorado craft-brewing industry that has helped Growler USA gain a foothold in the Denver market. Growler USA has taprooms at 11405 East Briarwood Avenue in Centennial and 1071 Courtesy Road in Louisville, and is planning new locations near Sloan's Lake and Lone Tree.
"At Growler USA, we serve 100 different beers, so we deal with these guys all the time," Shaw says of the brewers he buys beer from. "It's our intention to buy up all the kegs and give them back to the breweries."
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Once DeLange heard of this positive development, he dropped his purchase plan and instead volunteered his time and resources to help move, store and deliver the kegs once Growler USA purchases them. This also put a lid on a possible bidding war that could have driven up the cost of the kegs (potential buyers are not allowed to confer with each other during the live auction).
"Hopefully, the city will put all of the kegs and tap handles together in one lot," DeLange says, to make it easier for one buyer to keep all of the equipment together. Still, there's always a danger that one person could bid on the entire A-Town inventory and purchase everything before it's broken down into smaller lots (which is how auctions of this type generally work).
"This is a really nice thing that Dave is planning," DeLange adds. Dry Dock is one of the local businesses that will benefit from the plan, since it costs the brewery an average of $100 to replace a keg.
So the next time you're drinking a cold brew and your buddy reminds you that you never really buy beer, you just rent it, remember that the same is true for all those craft-beer kegs stacked behind the wall of your favorite taproom.