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.
Along the same lines, I wondered if anyone had done the math on dry ice versus regular kind. I’m doing a fundraiser party on the cheap and had figured to buy canned or bottled from Costco so I could return (some of 🙂 the leftovers.
Would dry ice give me a comparable cool for a comparable price and, here’s the kicker, do less damage to the labels or boxes. Of course, I could probably de-box cans and then use crafty Mrs. Sawyer’s glue gun to put it all back together.
What say you, gents?
little late but, I’m pretty sure dry ice would be to cold. You could not let the dry ice come in contact with the cans, bottles or kegs of beer. if you used both it would just freeze the regular ice to a solid.. I’m sure you could toy with the dry ice vrs the distance, and size of the container, how offten the container is opened, that’s going to let out the cold.. etc.. Dryice isn’t meant to keep things cold (above 32F) it’s meant to keep things FROZEN.
@Sawyer – That’s a great question…I’ve never purchased Dry ice…although my neighbors have. Maybe a great subject matter for a future post!
A keg has a couple big advantages. one it saves space, if you have worked in a restaurant that serves beer by the bottle than you would know that cases of beer take up a lot of space 4 or 5 times the space of a keg for the same volume of beer. Secondly, the quality of the beer is much better in a keg, this is due to getting beer from different batches and ages etc with cans and bottles so it is not as consistent as kegs. Also you are wrong about the size of a keg you are talking about is 15.5 U.S. Gal and is actually a 1/2 keg full keg being 31 gal. here is a list of prices and brands for 15.5 gallon keg (prices obviously subject to change/location)
Budweiser – $101.99
Bud Light – $101.99
Busch – $81.99
Busch Light – $81.99
Coors Light – $97.49
Keystone Light – $75.69
Labatt Blue – $102.69
Miller Lite- $97.69
Natural Light – $79.09
Yuengling Traditional – $92.59
It is not so bad you just have to plan and shop around for the best deals.
@Robert – Good to know that the size is actually 15.5 for a half keg (even though they do represent it as being 16gallons). That might alter the price per cup nominally, but I think for the most part the comparison will still be very close. The quality is definitely the kicker for me – I like Keg beer much better. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
The numbers stated are pretty far out of line.
My research was with Anheuser Busch Natural light (which was purported as the cheapest kegs). Everywhere I called, they told me that their distributor doesn’t sell it. I found a local guy that will sell Rolling Rock at $59.99 a keg. For my comparison, I use 12 oz portions (I use the term “cans”). A keg is 165 cans. 60 bucks divided by 165 is 36.636 cents a can. Multiply that by 30, and you get the “30 pack price”. In my case just under $11.00 a 30 pack. Most kegs (Miller and Bud) sell for $89.99, so the “30 pack” price is $16.364.
I defy you to go to a store and buy a 30 pack of Bud for under $20 (let alone $11)…
For the record, I am in Albuquerque too…
@anchornm – interesting analysis…..but I can’t find Miller and Bud for $89.99 in my part of the world. $110 is the standard price here. A couple of other things you forgot: Ice to keep it cold, cups to serve (although you could use reusable cups). If you can find Rolling Rock for $59.00, kudos to you……I don’t care for it. 🙂 But the moral of the story is, do the analysis see what’s cheapest at that time in your location and do what’s best for you – thanks for sharing your perspective!
Jack Tors says
You are all wrong a quarter keg of beer is 7.75 gallons a half keg of beer is 15 it’s very hard to find in 2022 of full keg of beer they just do not sell them like they used to in the old days when all is said you are not saving money if anything it’s cheaper when it comes to a beer for example Bud Light to buy seven cases of beer in bottles from Walmart then it would be to buy a half
I won’t be returning to this page I am simply leaving some food for thought. Clearly you all need to realize that prices differ around the country. A lot of your numbers are wrong and I’ll just simply say kegs always have the edge over cans. First if you’ve never had a draught beer or don’t regularly have one you might forget that draught is significantly better tasting than cans. They are a lot smoother especially especially if you get imported beer. Don’t forget there are different sizes of kegs from the 1/2 barrel (what most picture when they think of a keg, it’s the biggest one) to the pony keg, down to the little 5L keg. You get the biggest price break am the full size keg which follows the whole “everything is cheaper in bulk” model. If you are looking at doing a keg more than once or maybe even want something around the house consider getting a kegorator. A friend of mine has one and I am ordering one now. They use CO2 to pressurize the keg so your keg stays fresh for upwards of 4 months as long as you keep it at the right temp in the fridge. A kegorator eliminates waste, the need for ice, and the possibility of needing beer runs constantly. I loved his so much I’m getting my own. Remember, never frost a glass. The beer should be ice cold not the cup. If the cup has too much frost on it it will condense and turn to water quickly and you will have watered down beer 3 minutes into drinking. I’ve run the numbers several times and each time it’s the same. If I buy a dual tap $600 kegorator it would take only 6 kegs of bud light before I get the kegorator paid off in savings over cans. I think I’ll drink over 800 cans by myself let alone when having people come over. If you have any questions about how he likes his or (if you wait for it to ship) how I like mine email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to answer. His holds up to 5 kegs but I’m just getting a dual tap that can fit 2 sixtels in there at the same time or one full keg.
@Austin – It’s unfortunate that you won’t be returning to give me a chance to respond to your comment…..but I’ll respond anyway.
Obviously you take your beer seriously to the point that you are buying a kegorator to have beer on tap at your home at all times. But, this post is not for the beer connoisseur, it is for the average person who is having an occasional large party and trying to figure out which option may save them some money.
Certainly I am aware that there are different size kegs – which is why for my comparison I chose the 1/2 barrel (16 gallons) because, as you mentioned, that size gives the best value.
The point of the post is to encourage readers to do the price comparison themselves. Again, as you mentioned, prices do vary around the country. I do, however, question how you can make that statement (which I agree with) and then tell me my numbers are wrong. My numbers were obtained from my local liquor store and nearby retailers. They are not wrong. They were the prices as listed at the time of the writing of the post.
I’d also like to mention that the taste of draft beer vs cans vs bottles is completely subjective. I know people that absolutely hate draft beer, and I know people that won’t drink anything but draft beer.
I thank you for your analysis of the savings of a kegorator. I certainly agree with your analysis for the home use of a person who drinks beer commonly at home with his or her buddies – your analysis has added a dimension to the discussion I hadn’t thought about. My intended audience was for someone throwing a very occasional party – but your argument certainly holds water for a different situation.
I too, have a kegorator. I drink beer at home pretty regularly, and the cost savings are immense. When I buy Miller Light at the local Total Wines (in half barrel), I pay about $90. Quite often, I am forced (by availability) to by quarter barrel (pony kegs). They are WAAAY easier to haul out of the truck and into the kitchen, but the 1/2 barrel is the economical way to go.
Brock says he pays $110 for half barrels — if you can buy 30 packs for $20.00 in an environment that charges $110 for kegs — save your back, and buy it by the can…
@anchornm – I always view the moving of a keg as a challenge – I workout every day so it’s not that big of a deal. LOL. Seriously though…as I mentioned, the point of this article is for the person who is buying beer for a rare occasion – a “once a year” party sort of thing. I appreciate your thoughts though!
Brock, You talk about working out.
Did you know that you can prove (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that beer will make you stronger? Consider this, unless you work with kegs every day (and you know exactly how to move them), you probably can’t lift a 1/2 barrel of beer. If you drink half of the beer, you can lift it easily!
How I move kegs. I have a suburban, with ambulance doors, so you don’t have to reach over a tailgate. I edge roll it to the back. I have a metal chair that I position behind the suburban, and I edge roll it off the cliff down about a foot to the chair. It is a controlled free-fall. Then I stack two 2 by twelves on the ground next to the chair, and I slide it off the chair, down to the 2 bys. Again, a controlled free-fall of about 10 inches. Then I slide it off the two bys to the ground (about 3 inches) –I usually have the two wheel dolly waiting there.
@anchornm – I love your logic…..drink beer, get stronger!
Steven Smith says
This was handy, thanks so much to the poster and to some of the commenters for helping my for my event. 🙂
You’re welcome, Steven, happy to help!
I am under the impression that initial cost includes the cost of the aluminum keg itself, which is deducted when you bring it in a second time.
Which if someone is buying a keg I am assuming they are habitual drinkers or someone who hosts a lot of parties…
While buying a keg does normally require a deposit for the actual keg, and a tap rental, I don’t include any of that in my analysis because (as you mentioned) you get it back.
You wouldn’t necessarily have to host a LOT of parties to buy a keg…..we have a party once a year which is the only opportunity we have where we make such a purchase.
Every keg party I have been to has a large wet spot ground the keg where they poor off the foam. A lot of wasted beer from a keg. I buy cans.
That’s a true story, Joe…….the people using the keg aren’t very careful with spillage or getting the most beer possible out of the keg. But then again, when we have bottles or cans I find more half full ones laying around after the party than I care to count.
Thanks for sharing the cost analysis, I was surprised as well. As I had assumed that it would be cheaper to buy a keg. However, that is why you should always do the math!
Impersonal Finances says
That really is a surprise. As an avid beer drinker, this is the kind of cost analysis I need in my life! I guess I won’t be switching to weekend kegs for my football viewing beverage of choice!
Brian gallagher says
90 bucks for a quarter keg in dc. Not at all cost effective. Pissed my money away on a kegerator
I just happened upon this old post and found to be spot on. I work in on of the largest liquor stores in our region. Good reasons to buy a keg of beer are less waste, freshness, and the fun factor. It is definitely more expensive, and more than half of all our kegs come back partially full, which is just a waste. I’m surprised by how many come back almost full.