31 gallon kegs

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by opwog, Jun 1, 2013.

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  1. opwog

    opwog Defender (663) Jun 16, 2008 Minnesota

    I am always surprised at how many people don't realize that there used to be 31 gallon kegs, while the 15.5 is frequently referred to as a half. I know that it has been almost 30 years since they have been used in the US, but what I was wondering is if anybody has any idea what happened to these kegs as they were phased out in the 70's and 80'?. I can remember as a kid, that there was one family who used to have house parties with these full kegs because the father owned a bar and I believe that it was only bars that could buy full kegs (at least in CT). I never lifted one, but I remember watching at one of those parties where it took two football player guys to get it into a giant ice bucket. I even tried google images thinking that somebody would have photos or on eBay thats somebody would have some to sell, but I can only find one guy who has one from 1955. Even if their was an organized effort to recycle these at the time, I am still surprised that there aren't more floating around and that nobody except this one guy seems to have ever uploaded a photo of one to the internet.
  2. beertunes

    beertunes Poo-Bah (4,790) Sep 24, 2007 Washington
    Beer Trader

    A "barrel" is a unit of measurement, and 1bbl = 31gallons. I've been buying beer since the mid-70's and have never seen a "full" barrel in use, we always bought either 1/4 or 1/2 "kegs". Perhaps the terms barrel and keg get used interchangeably, and that's where the confusion comes from? Maybe the old wooden barrels you see in the old pictures of horse-drawn wagons were full barrels, but I don't know.
  3. Stugotzo

    Stugotzo Initiate (0) Jun 13, 2012 Florida

    31 gallons (of water) weighs 248 lbs. Beer would be somewhere in the neighborhood of that.... plus the keg itself. You're looking at about 280-300 lbs. Lotsa luck lifting that by yourself.
    velcrogrip and semibaked like this.
  4. skunkpuddle

    skunkpuddle Aspirant (259) Feb 14, 2011 California
    Beer Trader

    At this point you should stop being surprised. Some people just don't remember stuff. But if it keeps happening the surprise should have worn off by now.
  5. surfcaster

    surfcaster Defender (643) Apr 20, 2013 North Carolina
    Supporter Beer Trader

    Would love to see a pic of a tapped barrel.
  6. semibaked

    semibaked Zealot (566) Mar 27, 2007 Illinois

    Ya, when I worked at a liquor store, I hated having to lift 1/2 barrels, one time I had to lift one by myself into the backseat of a Toyota Camry, it totally sucked.
    KevinGordon likes this.
  7. MikeEhrmantraut

    MikeEhrmantraut Initiate (0) Aug 28, 2012 Tennessee

    It's amusing when they send a 90 pound girl to pick up 4 half barrels for a party. I've never even seen anything larger advertised on distributor lists. Being that a 15.5g is ~160lbs, I would hate having to fool with anything bigger.

    At any rate, while I don't necessarily enjoy maneuvering and throwing kegs around because they're simply awkward, after working the beer store for a year it's become quite a bit easier. I've actually begun to prefer to lift them into cars solo now because the other person just gets in the way and I have to worry about smashed fingers.
    MontereyBay831, teal and beertunes like this.
  8. beertunes

    beertunes Poo-Bah (4,790) Sep 24, 2007 Washington
    Beer Trader

    One of my locals (where I sometimes help out) still uses the old-school round kegs, and if two folks are going lift those, you really want the other person to have done it before. Otherwise, I've got it, thanks.
  9. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,315) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    One of my friends in Homebrewing remembers the full barrel kegs. That memory is from the late 60's early 70's.

    I have seen kilderkins in England, but never barrels or hogsheads.
  10. opwog

    opwog Defender (663) Jun 16, 2008 Minnesota

    Maybe there were regional elements to this, with some states/regions discontinuing them earlier, but I am definitely not talking about old wooden barrels. These are regular 31 gallon metal kegs. Here is an archived news article from Ohio at the end of 1984, talking about the official end of the 31 gallon keg from the last source in Ohio:


    There are a couple of photos of that 1955 keg here:


    But from what I recall of the late 70's probably up to 1981 or so in CT was nothing unusual looking about these kegs. Just the same as the half kegs available at the time, only larger. Also, through high school parties and through college, nobody ever spoke about "barrels." People would say that they were picking up a "half keg" or a "quarter keg" of one beer or another for a party. And while this may have been while bars were also buying in those same volumes at the same time, it was because only a few years earlier that 31 gallon kegs had been available, even if only for bars.
    nsheehan and beertunes like this.
  11. TheBeerDad

    TheBeerDad Initiate (0) Sep 6, 2012 Michigan
    Beer Trader

    That will never happen again, at least I hope. I bartend and a 1/2 barrel is enough of a bitch to lift five feet onto our ridiculous standby platform.
  12. Giantspace

    Giantspace Defender (649) Dec 22, 2011 Pennsylvania

    I vaguely remember a full barrel with a gravity tap. Was very big and at a big party. Do not remember the beer but being in Philly it could have been a few things back in the early 1980's

  13. Giantspace

    Giantspace Defender (649) Dec 22, 2011 Pennsylvania

    Found this. Bottom left side


    impending and Dizbro21 like this.
  14. azureoval

    azureoval Aspirant (284) Jan 25, 2010 California

    Those computer ads got me a bit nostalgic. 5 1/4 floppies FTW. I miss my 286 running Geoworks.

    305 pounds kegs don't sound fun to move.
  15. djsmith1174

    djsmith1174 Disciple (343) Aug 21, 2005 Minnesota

    The 1/2 barrel ones make beautiful auxiliary gas tanks in old pickup trucks. Nice spun aluminum looked great mounted in the old pickup beds horizontally.
  16. marquis

    marquis Crusader (744) Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    It's interesting that you have a 31 gallon barrel. That's the size of an ale barrel in the UK which isn't used any more, we now have the 36 gallon beer barrel.Of course these are Imperial gallons so a barrel is just over 360 lb of beer plus of course the container itself.
    I well remember the old wooden barrels being delivered.The drey would draw up alongside the pub and a large cellar trapdoor would be raised , ramps set up and big leather cushions put in place.The barrels were rolled off the drey and sent down the ramps when they hit the cushions in the cellar.Very impressive indeed.The weight of a full wooden barrel must have been frightening.
    36s are rare now, I know one local micro occasionally sent out his beer to one customer in one a few years ago.I understand that Holt's of Manchester used hogsheads , if not still certainly very recently. That's a 54 gallon cask which is a beast.
    9s (firkins) are the norm these days , largely because of convenience and also because pubs don't just offer one or two beers but a selection , say 4 different 9s when once it would be a standard 36.Some popular beers are delivered in 18s , called kilderkins. For smaller turnover beers , and also for people to take home, there is the pin of 4.5 gallons.
    Keg beer is normally sent out in 11s which sounds strange but that's 50 litres.
    beertunes likes this.
  17. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,303) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    Don't have an actual barrel, but here are some "1 bbl." labels from my collection:


    And here's a portion of a receipt from P. Ballantine & Sons, with the replacement prices of their kegs in 1951:


    And a poor reproduction of a 1938 Heileman Old Style ad - with all four of their wooden keg sizes - full, half, quarter, eighth, behind their bottle/can line up. That's a ½ gallon "picnic" bottle in front of the barrel, which doesn't help getting an idea of "size" of a barrel. A picnic bottle (i.e., unpasteurized beer) was 14" tall.


    I have an industry article about Hudepohl's last full barrels and I seem to remember it had something to do with them being one of the last brewer to convert to the Sankey keg (which were available larger than ½ bbl. - but don't quote me on that until I dig it out).
    beertunes likes this.
  18. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,303) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    Hudepohl opened a new draft beer facility on it's 100th Anniversary, designed by GKN Sankey, and they converted to "straight-walled...single-valve tapping system" kegs from Hoover Universal.
    At the other extreme of once standard US keg sizes, Straub was reportedly still filling a few remaining true "pony" kegs -eighth bbl./3.875 gallons - although ads often claimed them to be 4 gallons (up until a few years ago, at least).​
  19. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,315) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    JK's post on the Hudepohl barrels reminded me that my friend is form Cincinnati, and would have been there in the 60's early 70s (or at least to visit his family while in college).
  20. WanderingFool

    WanderingFool Poo-Bah (1,807) Aug 7, 2002 Massachusetts

    The owner of my local brewery spent years looking for a 31 gallon barrel. He finally found one last year on Craigslist and put it to use as a giant cask. Here's a picture of the barrel being set up for a fest.
  21. Canfield30

    Canfield30 Initiate (0) Aug 2, 2012 Ohio

    I recently upgraded my homebrew setup to keggles. While easier for brewing 10 gallon batches, they are a pain to move around when full. I can't imagine trying to manhandle a full keg. I don't think i've ever seen one.
  22. Boilerfood

    Boilerfood Initiate (0) Jun 5, 2012 Indiana

    This is awesome, and I want to drink this mans beer because this creativity cant end at choice of firkin vessel.
  23. WanderingFool

    WanderingFool Poo-Bah (1,807) Aug 7, 2002 Massachusetts

    The beer in the cask was Ipswich Ale. It was dry hopped with Centennial (if I remember correctly) and it was delicious.
  24. beertunes

    beertunes Poo-Bah (4,790) Sep 24, 2007 Washington
    Beer Trader

    This brings up something I've wondered about, the jump from 1/4bbl to 1/6bbl. Why wouldn't they have gone 1/8? I've seen, or even heard of, 1/8bbls until your post. It just seemed weird to go full-half-quarter-sixth.
  25. RJM

    RJM Initiate (0) Jan 20, 2013 Djibouti

    Hah... one time... that's a weekly occurence for me... more when there's a holiday.
    semibaked likes this.
  26. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,303) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    Yeah, I've wondered that, too. IIRC, although we associate the sixtel with craft breweries, I think Anheuser Busch was the first user of them (not sure if they contracted for them to be manufactured, or not). I've wondered if they chose 1/6 because the disposable "beer balls" were 5 gallons or if they were influenced by homebrewers using the soda Cornelius kegs - were any commercial breweries using them? I guess some breweries would fill them?

    Perhaps the relatively "small" size of an eighth - less than two cases of beer - made them seem less desirable?

    I have occasionally seen 1/6 bbl. kegs advertised in the pre-Pro era, but from what I've gather, the 1/8-pony was the more common "small keg" (esp. in PA, OH and the mid-West) after Repeal. You can see some ads and articles about 1/8 - pony kegs on my Kegs page (along with some of the image I posted above).
    beertunes likes this.
  27. semibaked

    semibaked Zealot (566) Mar 27, 2007 Illinois

    Got a lot of keg sales in Djibouti?
    RJM likes this.
  28. beertunes

    beertunes Poo-Bah (4,790) Sep 24, 2007 Washington
    Beer Trader

    Arrgh, beer balls. I can feel the hangovers from the beerballs of Matts we used to drink from here. I wondered where the large orange spot on the lawn came from, until I remembered the only thing we had to eat while killing off a beerball was cheap Cheetos. Knocking off a BB with 4 people is not recommended.:astonished:
  29. marquis

    marquis Crusader (744) Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    They were big beasties.But they were the norm until relatively recently.
    paulys55 and impending like this.
  30. impending

    impending Meyvn (1,076) Mar 12, 2010 California

    I'm guessing just about anything cold & alcoholic is forbidden in Djibouti which is the only reason I will never go there
    a bumpy bus ride to border

    the sticky Djibouti air fills the
    bus, making it hot and uncom-
    fortable but none of Omar's 21 cus-
    tomers complain about the delay.
    Neither do I.

    I would choose a saison for this ride
    RJM likes this.
  31. schuey1010

    schuey1010 Initiate (175) Jun 18, 2009 California
    Beer Trader

    So funny you mention this. At my bar we get many old AB branded 1/6 barrel slender kegs that are XXXXXX'd out and now owned by Alesmith. I am guessing they started those years ago and just abandoned them for the standard pony and 1/2 barrels. Don't think AB uses those for their core beers any longer. Probably wishing they had saved them to put Goose Island in now. :slight_smile:
  32. smi69

    smi69 Zealot (507) Apr 8, 2014 New York
    Subscriber Beer Trader

    Remember seeing full kegs in England in 1981 and going to keg parties in HS in NY and there were only 1/2 kegs and that was 1983. Still have a plastic keg cap from England with the label Stones best bitter.
  33. LarryBell

    LarryBell Initiate (128) Dec 2, 2004 Michigan

    I remember some aluminum ones for sale when I first went into business, but I have never seen one.
    funhog likes this.
  34. Brolo75

    Brolo75 Poo-Bah (1,757) Aug 10, 2013 California
    Beer Trader

    I deliver beer, and I hate dealing with 1/2 barrels, they weigh 160 lbs, and you'd be surprised to see what customers want me to do with them, like stacking them on shelves that are 4-5 feet from the ground.
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