Which is Cheaper: Keg or Canned Beer?
My wife and I throw a party every Memorial Day weekend. We supply our guests with choices of soft and alcoholic beverages including beer. During party planning, each year my wife and I discuss whether to buy cases of canned beer or a keg. The perception is getting a keg is similar to buying in bulk, therefore it’s cheaper. But is keg or canned beer cheaper?
I decided to break down the math and compare the cost of a keg of domestic light beer to buying the same beer in cans.
Note: Prices may vary by location.
Keg Beer (16 Gallon)
- 16 Gallons x 128oz per gallon = 2048 ounces of beer
- $110 for the Keg / 2048 ounces of beer = about $0.054 per ounce
But, we also have to take into account the stack of 300 cups I purchased ($10 at Sam’s Club), and the ice I purchased to keep the keg cold (4 bags of 20 pounds of ice at $2.79 at Costco = $11.16). After taking these factors into account, the cost of keg beer looks like this:
- $110 for the keg + $10 for cups + $11.16 for Ice = $131.16
- $130.20 / 2048 ounces = $0.064 per ounce
- 24 Cans x 12oz per can = 288 ounces of beer
- $16 per case (on sale) / 288 ounces of beer = $0.055 per ounce
We also have to take into account that I’d likely put ice into coolers since I have to keep the cans of beer cold as well. If we assume using the same amount of ice, and that we’d need 7 cases of beer (it’s actually 7.1 cases) to equal the keg, our cost for canned beer looks like this:
- 7 cases of beer x $16 per case + $11.16 for Ice = $123.16
- $122.20 / 2016 ounces = $0.061 per ounce
Keg Beer (8 Gallon Keg)
A 16 gallon contains 170 twelve-ounce servings, which may be more than you need for your gathering. An alternative is an 8-gallon keg. Unfortunately, even though an 8-gallon keg is half the size of its 16-gallon counterpart, it is not half the cost. While a 16-gallon keg of domestic light beer costs $110, the 8-gallon version will set you back $80. Assuming you’d need to buy the same package of cups, but only half the ice the cost breakdown is as follows:
- $80 for the keg + $10 for cups + $5.58 for Ice = $95.58
- $95.58 / 1024 ounces = $0.0933 per ounce
If you go the route of having a keg, a refundable deposit may be required for the tap as well as the keg which could total $150. If you have leftover beer, it will need to be consumed quickly or you will incur additional costs to keep it cold. Eventually, the beer will also go flat. However, it’s a neat feature to have a party with a keg as a conversation piece adding to the overall party atmosphere.
If you buy canned beer the leftovers can easily be stored for later use. However, you will need coolers or a large container of some sort to fill with ice to keep it cold.
The cost of having a 16-gallon keg is actually slightly more than canned beer if you can find it on sale. Buying an 8-gallon keg is much more expensive. Given the perception that buying in bulk is usually cheaper, this was a surprise.
The bottom line is, the cost of having keg beer isn’t the money saver you might have thought. Whether you buy a keg or canned beer for your large gathering will come down to convenience, taste, and personal preference.
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Brock is a software engineer by day and personal finance blogger at night. He is a fitness junkie and enjoys grilling and smoking meat. Married with two children, Brock strives to improve his skills as a husband and father, and is always on the lookout to stretch his family’s budget as far as he can.