Thieves targeting beer kegs

Brewer Geoff Deman stacks freshly washed kegs on a forklift Wednesday at the Free State Brewery production facility, 1923 Moodie Road. As the price of stainless steel climbs, thieves are cashing in by selling the kegs for scrap.

Crooks are tapping into the beer market.

As the price of stainless steel rises, thieves are focusing on beer kegs for supplemental income. And that has affected breweries and distributors across the country, including in Lawrence.

“When the scrap prices started going up : we started seeing a lot of kegs disappearing from places,” said Steve Bradt, head brewmaster for Free State Brewing Co. “A lot of people don’t realize the effect on the brewer.”

A typical keg can be sold to a scrap yard for around $20, Bradt said. It costs the brewery about $160 to replace one.

To help control the problem, beer distributors nationwide have raised deposits on the kegs – from $10 or $15 per keg to $25 or $30 per keg. But it seems thieves continue to take empty kegs from alleys and behind businesses, where they’re often stored.

Brewer Geoff Deman stacks freshly washed kegs on a forklift Wednesday at the Free State Brewery production facility, 1923 Moodie Road. As the price of stainless steel climbs, thieves are cashing in by selling the kegs for scrap.

Bradt’s hopeful a new state law will help deter keg heists. The law adds stainless steel to a list of controlled materials, like copper and platinum, that scrap yards must be careful about buying, he said.

The problem may be hitting some businesses in Lawrence harder than others. Lawrence police don’t remember seeing many reports of keg thefts recently, spokeswoman Kim Murphree said.

And Alvin Joe Schmidtberger, owner of Alvin’s Wines & Spirits, said he hadn’t experienced a problem with thefts – likely because he keeps all his returned kegs inside.

“We don’t throw them outside in a gated area,” he said. “That’s where you’ll find them lost.”