Brewery Keg Tracking - 3 Ways Breweries Can Address the Keg Tracking Challenge

Keg tracking is a growing concern for breweries of all sizes as keg loss costs, on average, every brewer between $0.46 and $1.37 per-barrel of annual keg production. Check out these 3 ways you could potentially address the brewery keg tracking challenge. 

May 12, 2016

Keg tracking is a growing concern for breweries of all sizes. Columnist Jack Curtain estimated some 400,000 kegs were lost every year. The Brewers Association reports the average annual keg loss costs every brewer between $0.46 and $1.37 per-barrel of annual keg production. Multiply $0.46 by your annual barrel output and you can see why doing effective keg tracking is so important for any brewery.

3 Ways Breweries Can Address Keg Tracking

There are many options for solving the keg tracking challenge. Some include technology that has been designed to handle tracking of objects, while others may not require you to keep track of the kegs at all.

1. Scan it - Barcode Scanning

The most common method for tracking kegs is barcode scanning. This method requires you to slap a barcode label on every keg shell and track it. This process is nearly automated except for ensuring that every keg has a scannable barcode and your team is scanning kegs at every stage, including production, shipment and returns.

There are drawbacks to consider with barcode scanning, including:

  • Tedious – Requires manual scanning of each keg during each stage

  • High initial & variable cost – The barcode scanners can be costly, including time & labor. Although there may be low cost options such as mobile apps, most of the proven technology still requires some hardware investment

  • Upkeep – Tracking tends to fall off because of the tedious nature of manual scanning each keg every time you fill it, ship it and return it. That’s a lot of scanning, and it can be easy to miss a keg or two

Pros: Prevalent options with proven technology

Cons: Tedious and laborious. Eventually stops being used

2. Outsource it- Keg Leasing "Pay-per-fill"

If keg ownership isn’t an option, consider outsourcing to companies like MicroStar or Keg Logistics, to avoid having to manage your kegs. These leasing companies provide keg shells that you can “pay-per-fill”. Once these kegs get shipped, you don’t have to worry about making sure you get it back.

Outsourcing maybe the perfect solution for your brewery as it is scalable and allows you to manage kegs easily when they are not on-site. It is very much an out-of-sight, out-of-mind situation.

The costs can increase rapidly though, especially when you are a fast-growing brewery. These keg outsourcing companies often have you pay per keg fill, and so if you sell many kegs, you could see the costs piling up. The second issue is that you don’t have as much control over keg tracking. Your brewery can’t brand these kegs like you may like to or manage how customers receive your kegs. You are at the mercy of the company you outsourced to, so make sure they are reliable and trustworthy.

Pros: Scalable, Time-saving & worry-free

Cons: Ongoing, per-fill costs can make this solution quite expensive. Limits keg branding opportunities

3. Tag it- RFID Keg Tracking Systems

RFID – The “Holy Grail” of keg tracking. RFID systems track every single keg that automatically scan in and out of your facility. Additionally, it can keep track of what is currently sitting in your warehouse at any time.

It does sounds perfect, and don’t get us wrong, the technology is fantastic. But RFID keg tracking can be a massive undertaking and few breweries can afford them.

Fully implementing an RFID system requires:

  1. Attaching RFID tags to every keg

  2. Initial software setup and configuration (can be very costly)

  3. Purchasing RFID scanners & tags ($1k-3k each and up to $50 for each geolocation tag)

In addition to the costs for an RFID system including tags, scanners, GPS systems and databases, there are IT and training costs to consider such as development and customization efforts, database development and training costs for production staff on how to fill a keg. Not only that, but you gotta convince your distributors and retailers to let you install RFID hardware and software, which can be both time and cost-consuming.

Keg Tracking with Orchestrated

Orchestrated provides built-in reporting to perform your own keg tracking without the spreadsheets and expensive equipment. You may want to ask yourself if it’s really worth investing significant time and money into RFID or barcode keg tracking just to have the satisfaction of knowing exactly where keg #1234 is at any given time when built-in keg tracking reporting maybe the best and most cost-effective solution for your brewery.

Yes, RFID & barcode scanning can track the number of turns per keg and notify when it’s time to refurbish, but, depending on your brewery’s size, a trained eye can tell you the same thing. Is it worth the investment just so you can automate what your eyes can already tell you for free?

We find that a more practical approach to effectively track kegs is to utilize our keg container & deposit activity report to keep a running tally of what kegs go out to which customers and what kegs were returned from the same customer.

Orchestrated has solved the keg tracking conundrum with a keg container activity report to show how many kegs went out to a customer and how many were returned. The net difference between went out and what came back is what your customers and your brewery should still have on hand.

A Deeper Dive into Orchestrated's Keg Tracking Reporting

Orchestrated knows what gets shipped to customers based on the Bill of Lading and can assign keg deposits on a shipment. That deposit is held in a liability account until the keg shell is returned. Once returned, Orchestrated automatically applies invoice credit to the customer’s account.

Keg Container & Deposit Activity Report
Keg Container & Deposit Activity Report

The keg container activity report uses this process to determine what was shipped out and what was returned. The net difference indicates what’s on hand at your customers & distributors.

Orchestrated tracks kegs and provides you the following critical information:

  • The number of kegs that are out in the field in general and by customer

  • The number of kegs that have been returned to your warehouses

  • The net difference between how many kegs you have out in the field and in your warehouses

If you want to serialize your kegs and know exactly which kegs are out floating around at any given time, then we recommend considering in investing in a RFID or barcode scanning system to provide that information supplement to Orchestrated.

Talk to the large regional breweries around you to get their take on RFID keg tracking. Chances are that the Orchestrated’s keg tracking reporting capabilities is a healthy balance between practical and ambitious, without the hefty price tag.


When it comes to keg tracking, there are many options your brewery can take: barcode scanning, outsourcing, RFID tracking or great keg tracking reports. The best solution is going to be different for every brewery depending on how many kegs they produce and the costs of each method. What we have found though is that our keg tracking capabilities have been the best, most cost-effective solution for many of our customers, both large and small.

Simply put, Orchestrated makes keg tracking easier than ever with our keg tracking reporting capabilities. We encourage you to sign up for an Orchestrated demo today, so we can learn more about your keg situation and help you determine which keg tracking method is best for your brewery.

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