Home' Brewers Guardian Digital Magazine : November 2012 Contents ous beer drinker. As Roland Folz, head of brewing & beverage
science and applications at German brewing research institute
VLB says, "Consumers like greater variety and more choice.
Therefore the movement has to go in the direction of smaller
delivery units, and this is something we have not really seen so
far in stainless steel kegs."
With plastic containers, it's also easier to differentiate. Clients
can pick the colour combination they want, and while the end
result may err on the lurid side, it means that containers are
a lot less likely to be scooped up and mistakenly 'returned' to
other brewers' yards.
So they're cheaper, easier to use and more adaptable --
what's not to like about plastic?
Plastic kegs -- handle with care
$63,500 is a lot of money. It would buy quite a few kegs
-- even costly stainless steel kegs. But one United State craft
brewery -- Portsmouth, New Hampshire's Redhook Brewery --
won't be spending that on kegs of any kind. The brewery will
instead be handing every dime of it to the US government's
OHSA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) as a fine,
following an investigation into an incident in April this year which
resulted in the death of an employee.
Twenty six year-old Ben Harris was killed when a plastic keg
he was cleaning exploded, hitting him in the head and chest.
The keg, which had found its way to Redhook by mistake, split
in half along its seam.
The OHSA has just made public some of its findings into
the incident, and it appears that they are laying the blame at
Redhook's door, rather than that of the unnamed keg manufac-
turer. The organisation said:
"An investigation by OHSA's Concord Area Office determined
that the explosion resulted from excess air pressure introduced
into the keg from the keg cleanout line. The line lacked an air
regulator that would have limited its air pressure to less than
60 psi, the maximum recommended by keg manufacturers. In
this case, OHSA also found that other employees who used the
cleanout line were exposed to the same hazard while cleaning
out steel kegs."
Following the announcement of the fine, Redhook Brewery said
in a statement that it believed it was operating safely, because it
has 'historically washed and filled only stainless steel beer kegs'.
The statement continued: "Redhook has installed pressure
reducing and pressure relief devices to ensure that no incoming
keg is exposed to pressure in excess of 60 psi."
Manufacturers of plastic containers are going to considerable
trouble to drive home the message that their kegs and casks can-
not be treated in the same way as stainless steel kegs. They are
less sturdy, for one, but the main difference, particularly where
safety is concerned, is in the level of pressure they can withstand.
Stainless steel kegs will withstand several hundred psi
(pound-force per square inch), but plastic containers can cope
with a maximum of 60 psi. While manufacturers do specify this,
it seems they have some way to go when it comes to educating
"What we're trying to do is to join with the filling machine
manufacturers and everybody in the industry to draw people's
attention to the fact that there is a pressure limit with every
keg, whether it's a metal or a plastic one", says Simon
Wheaton, founder of Brewery Plastics' sister company Plastic
Kegs of America.
"The limit differs between the UK and the US -- it's higher in
the US. It's about making sure people appreciate that there is
a difference, and understand that compressed gas should be
handled carefully and that there are limits around the use of a
pressurised dispensing system", he adds.
A number of manufacturers, in a bid to counteract what
Petainer's regional sales director Andy Carter calls the 'man
and washing machine' philosophy (in other words, a failure to
read written instructions), have produced videos on how to
handle plastic casks and kegs. As Carter points out, this has
the added benefit of working in markets where English is not
the first language.
Despite much speculation among brewers, particularly on
social media, there does seem to be an overriding feeling that
plastic kegs are -- for the large part -- safe, as long as they
are handled as instructed. Yet Harris's death has left them
under something of a cloud, and the Brewers Association even
banned plastic containers from this year's Great American
Beer Festival. Association director Paul Gatza told Brewers'
Guardian that while his organisation does not have enough infor-
mation to determine whether plastic containers are safe, its
technical committee 'is working with staff to develop a project
to determine what research needs to be performed to develop
guidelines we can provide the industry with regard to safety.'
"This project will take time, but we feel that taking these
steps [including banning plastic containers from the GABF] to
ensure the safety of the employees of the member companies
of the Brewers Association is a valuable role for the associa-
tion", he added.
Will plastic taint your beer?
Makers of plastic kegs may be divided over the benefits of
their relative products, but they do agree about one thing --
plastic does not have a negative impact on the taste of beer,
they insist. EcoKeg's Williams even jokes that consumers may
suspect the beer is 'off' when they first taste it without the stain-
less steel taint they have become accustomed to.
Customers rarely ask about taint today, say the manufactur-
ers, although they acknowledge it was a problem in the early
Brightside Brewing Company is one of 250
micro-breweries supplied by Global Polymer Solutions
"The movement has to go
in the direction of smaller
delivery units, and this is
something we have not really seen
so far in stainless steel kegs"
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