Homebrew Kegging Systems Make Packaging Your Beer a Breeze

Homebrew Kegging is such a convenient way of packaging, conditioning and dispensing your home made beer that all homebrewers contemplate switching over from bottling pretty quickly.

I bottled three five-gallon batches before I had enough of that fun. Sure it costs a bit to get started, but have you ever put a value on your time before? If you think your leisure time is worth say, $10 per hour, it won't take too many batches to pay for a homebrew kegging system.

Much of the equipment can be located cheaply and sometimes it is free (I found a large chest freezer in someone's yard with a sign that said "Freezes well, free for the taking").

If you are thinking of packaging your beer inkegs, but just don't know the in's and out's, here is a homebrew kegging guide that can help. Here are just a few of the

Reasons For Kegging:

  • Foremost, it's about convenience. Admit it, you hate storing empties, cleaning, sanitizing, drying, filling, capping, labeling, finding a place to put them all, then waiting weeks for carbonation to occur in all those bottles of homebrewed beer (about 50 bottles for each 5 gallon batch).

  • You control the amount of carbonation in your beer. If you have ever over or under carbonated your beer for whatever reason, you know how frustrating it can be. After all that work you find that your beer is flawed and there is no way to correct the problem once it's bottled. With kegging, you can easily adjust the carbonation level up or down whenever you like. If you get gigged at a competition for too much or too little carbonation, just correct the problem, then re-bottle a few for the next competition (more on this later).

  • Let's not forget another big perk, you will be the envy of all your friends.

  • Having the ability to filter your beer. There may be another way to filter your homebrew, but I don't know of it. All you need is an empty sanitized keg to transfer your crystal clear homebrew into, a jumper hose with connections, and a household filter housing with filter, that's it. I don't filter often but I have the option to filter or not since I started kegging.

  • Oxygen-free transfer is another great plus for kegging. All you have to do is purge the kegs or carboy with CO2, put a little pressure on your keg, and stop worrying about oxidation or contamination.

  • Dispense a taste or a gallon, you now have the option.

  • What about the ability to serve a Guinness-style stout the way it was intended, on beer-gas with special European faucets which produces the signature "Guinness cascade".

  • And last but not least, did I say that you will be the envy of all your friends?

About the only drawback is that you can't take a 6-pack of different kegs to an outing. For most homebrewers the pros far outweigh the single con, and there is even a few work-arounds for the negative aspect.

You can buy growlers (large quart sized bottles with a handle and Grolsch-style swing top) to carry your kegged beer in.  

Or you can purchase small kegs (as small as 1 gallon) which will fit in a small ice chest. You can purchase CO2 chargers for your kegs and use a picnic tap.

Some inventive homebrewers even build elaborate travelling kegerators in a large wheeled trash can which they fill with ice.

Components of a Jockey BoxComponents of a Jockey Box
Front taps of a Jockey Box Draft SystemFront taps of a Jockey Box Draft System

The ultimate traveling keg system is commonly called a "Jockey Box" or draft box.  It is a portable dispensing system used to cool beer as it travels in-line from your keg to the faucet.

A draft box design is especially useful for the homebrewer! You can take it camping, tailgating, or just pull it out when it is time to party.  It’s not heavy to move around, it’s very sturdy, and it’s easy to clean! Add ice to the cooler, & your beer will pour cold for hours! 

You can build your own or purchase one of the many pre-made ones on the market.  A jockey box with large stainless steel coils will be your best option.  Check out the one at MoreBeer.com.

Homebrew Kegging Equipment

Although the initial cost is pricey, between $180-$240 for the initial kegging setup (cheaper if you're a scrounger), you will make that back many times over in the convenience. Small chest freezers or old refrigerators are everywhere, at garage sales, on Craig's List, on the side of the road (that's where I found one of mine) or at used appliance stores. Almost all homebrew kegging systems use Cornelius brand soda kegs.

Torpedo Ball Lock Kegging System 5 GallonTorpedo Ball Lock Kegging System 5 Gallon
Torpedo Ball Lock Kegging System 2.5 GallonTorpedo Ball Lock Kegging System 2.5 Gallon
Torpedo Ball Lock Kegging System 1.5 GallonTorpedo Ball Lock Kegging System 1.5 Gallon

The soda manufacturers are going to the plastic-lined bag-in-a-box for their soda concentrate so there WERE a lot of these used kegs around. The most popular ball-lock kegs are getting harder and harder to find, and many homebrewers will have to settle for the less popular "pin-lock" corny kegs.

Used corny kegs once averaged about $35-$45 each with brand new ones quite a bit higher. These days new kegs are being manufactured and the prices are not too bad compared to what we had to pay a few years back for beat-up used kegs. 

Most homebrewers still purchase the used kegs however. They come in a variety of sizes with the 5-gallon keg the most popular and most available.

Here are some of the other items you will need:

  • CORNELIUS KEGS These are the old soda kegs used everywhere for dispensing soda concentrate. They are made of stainless steel with inlet and outlet valves, a lid to fill and clean the keg, and some have a pressure relief valve for releasing pressure inside the keg (these are mostly found on the ball-lock style Cornelius kegs). To learn all about cleaning your kegs, click here.

    Most have black rubber protectors around the top and bottom of the keg to protect the valves and keep the bottom from being dented. There are two types of kegs with different connections, the ball-lock and pin-lock kegs and the connections are not compatible.
Kegging-Torpedo Ball Lock Kegs from MoreBeerTorpedo Ball Lock Kegs from MoreBeer.com
  • TORPEDO BALL LOCK KEGS  Set your sights on a brand new Torpedo Keg! The sleek all-stainless design represents a new era of homebrew kegs. With features like welded stainless handles, the ability to stack with fittings in place, amazing quality and a great price these kegs will become the standard by which other kegs are measured.  

    Th
    e first thing MoreBeer! does is check out interior welds. They've spent a decade rejecting kegs made overseas because the interior welds have never met their standards. If a weld is not perfect and shows evident burn marks along with nooks and crannies it cannot be sanitized effectively. Torpedo kegs are machine welded and exceed their standards for quality. The weld quality is possible because these kegs made by an ISO certified commercial keg manufacturer.

    Some Cool Features: Torpedo Kegs were designed to stack with Ball Lock quick disconnects in place and serving which is a cool feature for some brewers who have vertical space in their refrigerator. We also like the rolled stainless steel handles.

    They are comfortable to grab and will never come off like some rubber handles can over time.

    In and Out is etched near the keg posts for easy identification which is very handy when you are connecting lines in a refrigerator or kegerator and trying not to make a mistake. 

    Overall for the price and quality, along with free shipping from MoreBeer!, the Torpedo Keg is an amazing value! Dimensions:   Height (in.) Diameter (in.) 1.5 Gal 10 9.125 2.5 Gal 14.5 9.125 5 Gal 22.75 9.125  Please Note: These are about 1/2" wider than standard Ball Lock Cornelius Kegs.

  • REFRIGERATOR With temperature control just about any old freezer or refrigerator will make a great kegerator. I use a small chest freezer with a Johnson Controls temperature controller to keep the temperature where I want it (I use a digital two stage controller for convenience and accuracy). You will need to be able to adjust the temperature from just above freezing at 33°F for lagering to 50°F for serving cask ales. Most people like their beer served cold but you have the option to serve at any temperature.

  • CO2 TANK Specialized tanks filled with liquid CO2 that supply the pressure needed to dispense and carbonate your kegged beer. Since CO2 is a byproduct of fermentation anyway, it makes sense to use it to dispense your beer. It won't react with and oxidize your beer like pressurized air would.

    These tanks are sold at every homebrew supplier and are even available on ebay. They are can be refilled at welding supply stores for a nominal cost. The CO2 is in liquid form so the bottles are sold by the amount (weight) of liquid carbon dioxide they hold.

    Common sizes are 5 lb., 10 lb, 15 lb., and 20 lb. and bottles are either steel or aluminum. If you have the space for a larger bottle inside your kegerator (which is what your fridge or freezer is now called), the larger bottle is more convenient.

    You can even drill a small hole in the side or back of your kegerator (be careful of freon lines) to run an air line and keep the CO2 bottle outside.
Kegging RegulatorBasic Kegging Regulator

  • REGULATOR Since the CO2 in your tank is under high pressure, between 800-1000 psi, and you will be dispensing your beer at around 5 psi, you will need a way to drop the pressure coming from the tank. This is what the regulator does. It has a screw which adjusts to the pressure you choose.

    There will be at least one and usually two pressure gauges on the regulator for precise control. The two gauge set-up is used so you can read the pressure in the tank and also read the dispensing pressure This allows you to guess when the CO2 tank is almost empty.

    There is nothing worse than running out of CO2 in the middle of your party. You will use the regulator to apply the correct amount of CO2 when carbonating your beer. To learn how to force carbonate your homebrew, click here.

  • HOSES AND CONNECTIONS You will need to connect your CO2 tank to the kegs and to the faucets. This is usually accomplished with two quick connects (one for gas and one for beer on the keg), a gas line and a beer line.

    The most commonly used type of kegs are the old Pepsi soda kegs which use ball-lock connections. Decide on one type, ball-lock or pin-lock, and don't try to mix the two.

    If you happen to have both types purchase your quick connects with the 1/4" male flare fitting instead of the barbed hose fitting. This gives you the flexibility to connect to either type of keg with your CO2 or beer lines (fitted with 1/4" ffl fittings).

  • Draft TowerKegging Two Tap Tower

    TAPS and TOWERS The dispensing end of the whole kegging system. It can be a simple picnic tap or a chrome or brass faucet with a tap handle. To Learn about dispensing your beer and balancing your kegerator, click here.

    I keep a few picnic taps around for purging keg lines with sanitizer, or to dispense a keg that isn't connected to the faucets on the tower. The best faucets are the foward-sealing Perlick faucets which minimize contamination inside the tap.

    Keep a spray bottle filled with StarSan or vodka to spray inside the faucet with when you're finished using them for the day. There are many tap handles available on ebay and some homebrewers have a collection.

    When Your Kegging System Arrives

    Complete Homebrew Kegging Systems are available from many online kegging equipment suppliers, or from most homebrew stores. The specialty suppliers are probably the most knowledgeable and will gladly help you with all your questions.

    If you have a special request, such as combining a commercial sanke keg with a cornelius kegging system, they will be able to help you with all the fittings (they may even be able to design the system from scratch and put it all together for you).

    Almost all homebrew suppliers, local and online, are also homebrewers who keg their own beer. They are very knowledgeable and will help you with all your kegging questions and equipment needs.

    Because of the dangers involved in picking up glass carboys full of fermenting beer, many homebrewers are learning to ferment in their kegs.

    To learn all about fermenting in a keg, click here.

    After you have gathered or purchased your equipment, the first thing to do is check it all out. The CO2 tank will be shipped empty, so you will need to have it filled with carbon dioxide.

    New tanks come with a 5-year DOT certification stamp which will be required for filling. The tanks must be re-certified by hydrostatic testing every 5 years. Check the date on the tank and then have it filled at a welding supply, fire extinguisher companies or industrial gas suppliers.

    The CO2 should last about 6 months to a year (for a 5 lb. tank) of normal homebrewer use.

    A really good article from the Brewing Techniques Magazine archives is called Discover The Joys of Kegging Set up a Simple Home Draft System, by Kirk R. Fleming; John Palmer, column editor. Republished from Brewing Techniques' January/February 1997 issue.

    Access the article Discover The Joys of Kegging by clicking here.

    Good luck with your foray into the wonderful world of kegging. Be sure to check out the links above for more information, and don't forget to support your local homebrew shop.

    Information for this article taken from my own experience with kegging, and the article by Ed Westemeier called A Bottler's Guide to Kegging which appeared in Zymurgy Magazine Summer 1995 (vol. 18, no. 2).


    To purchase all your kegging equipment at MoreBeer.com, Click Here.


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