How-To

So You Want to Start Kegging?

 

So there it is. That carboy or bucket full of beer. It’s finished attenuating, the yeast beasties have all settled down for their long nap, and you’re sooooo close to being able to drink the delicious brew you’ve put so much time into. You just got home from work or  it’s the weekend and you have so many other projects you need to finish. It sounds like you need to start kegging that beer!

 

Believe it or not, bottling is one of the aspects of homebrewing that turns the hobby from fun and interesting to tedious and time consuming. There are many homebrewers out there who have stopped brewing solely because they don’t want to have to deal with bottling day. This week we’ll take a look at the bits and pieces you need to kg started with kegging. In future posts we’ll discuss the actual kegging process, and I will wrap up the series with keg and draft line cleaning and maintenance.

 

Some Reasons to Make the Investment

  • Save space. You don’t need to take up your space with empty bottles, bottling buckets, priming sugar and racking canes.
  • Less time than a bottling day. Rack your beer into the keg, turn on your regulator and you’re done!
  • It looks cool. ‘Nuff said
  • More control over carbonation. No more bottle bombs and messing around with priming sugar calculators. You know every beer will pour consistently.
  • It’ll keep you brewing. You won’t want to quit after the third bottling day

Why Some People Put it Off

  • It’s “expensive” to get started.
  • Can be intimidating. “Where do I start!?”
  • Ironically, kegerators take a little space. You’ll need a dedicated corner of your dwelling.

The Bits and Pieces

  • Kegerator or Keezer?

    • Kegerator
      • Can find commercially already “assembled”
      • You can put stuff on top
      • Towers look cool
      • Tend to be less efficient (cold air falls out when you open the door)
    • Keezer
      • DIY project for those that have time for that sort of thing
        • Customizable
      • Many sizes for more kegs than you would ever need
        • If you don’t want a ton of kegs, use the extra space for lagering

 

  • Ball or Pin Lock?

 

Pick a type of keg from day 1 and stick with it. I chose ball lock because the pressure relief valve seems like it makes things a little easier. Keep in mind that the fitting for the gas and liquid connections ARE NOT interchangeable between ball and pin lock kegs

 

  • Ball Lock
    • Pressure relief valve in the lid
    • More expensive than pin lock because they’re more popular
    • Any 7/8 or 11/16 wrench or socket can be used on the posts
    • I can fit one more ball lock than pin lock in my fridge because they’re narrower

 

I use ball-lock. Notice the manual pressure relief valve in the lid.

  • Pin Lock
    • No pressure relief valve
    • Wider, and about 2.5 inches shorter than a ball lock
    • Require a special notched socket to remove the posts

  • CO2 cylinder and regulator

    • 5 lb. cylinders are pretty common and federal law requires they be shipped empty. Small 2 lb. are great for tailgating and larger 20 lb. cylinders are great for a multi-keg (3+) system.
    • Most local homebrew shops will fill a cylinder for you. Mine charges a flat rate of $17 for a fill.
    • You can push more CO2 into a cylinder if it is cold. Place your cylinder in the kegerator overnight and take it to be filled while it’s cold.
    • A basic regulator will include a gauge that shows you how much pressure you are putting onto the beer.
      • More expensive regulators will have a second gauge that shows you the remaining amount of CO2 in your cylinder. These are not very accurate, and a good rule of thumb is that you probably already need gas when the needle starts to move.

 

My 5 lb cylinder and simple single-gauge regulator

 

  • Lines and Faucets

    • Serving Lines
      • The lines will go from the liquid “out” post of your keg and will attach to your faucet.
      • Make sure these are food safe. Lower quality vinyl will impart nasty flavors into your beer.
      • Line Length
        • Typically you’ll be using a 3/16″ inner diameter serving line. This will give you 3 psi of resistance. The equation for line length is as follows

L = (keg_pressure – 1 psi) / Resistance

Therefore: 12 psi serving pressure with 3/16″ ID tubing would require 3.7 feet of tubing to provide 1 psi at the faucet. (Thanks, BeerSmith)

  • Faucets
    • Picnic taps
      • Small black faucets that you see at tailgates and parties. Cheap and simple. You might want a few of these around to have in case you want to transport your keg

 

 

  • Rear Sealing Faucets
    • Generally cheaper. The seal is closer to where the beer enters the back of the faucet.
    • Beer tends to dry and seal these faucets shut when they haven’t been used for a while.
  • Forward Sealing Faucet
    • More expensive. Brands like Perlick and InterTap make these.
    • The seal is closer to where the beer exits the faucet. Beer remains in the faucet and will not dry out and “glue” the seal shut
    • These are what I use and have never had one get “glued” shut

Left: forward-sealing Perlick
Right: Rear-sealing no-name brand

  • Cleaning

    • Faucet brushes / plugs
      • These will help keep the inside of your faucet clean of dried sugars. Just dip the brush in some oxi-clean, brush and then put a faucet cap on to prevent further mold / bacteria.
    • Line Cleaning / Maintenance
      • Buy an aquarium pump and circulate oxi-clean through your serving lines after you empty a keg. Aquarium pumps are about $15 and you won’t need to use your CO2 to push cleaning solution through your system.

Same rule of thumb for kegging as for brewing. All of the plastic stuff for sour beers needs to be different. Use separate “sour” serving lines for sour beers. Using the same kegs for clean and sour is OK, so long as you have excellent cleaning and sanitation techniques.

 

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