Many potential customers have asked me what they need to keg beer. You will need a quality keg, a way to chill your beer and some sort of delivery system. I’ve outlined each piece of a typical home brew system below and I hope that the information is useful to you if you are considering kegging your own beer.
Just starting out?
If you are new to homebrew beer then I suggest that you start out by bottling your own beer. A typical five gallon batch will fill about 50 - 12 oz bottles. Any non-twist off bottle will work for homebrew – just make sure that they are clean and sanitized. You don’t want any of the wrong bugs growing inside your brew!
You can even bottle in clean 2 liter plastic soda bottles! Just make sure that they are sanitized before bottling.
Cornelius (Corny) Kegs
Cornelius kegs were originally used by the soft drink industry for soda fountains. The tanks contained syrup which was pushed up to the drink dispenser by CO2 pressure and mixed with carbonated water for the final drink (Coke, Pepsi, etc.). The soda industry still uses Cornelius kegs today for pre-mix setups, but the entire industry has converted over to BIB (Bag in Box) type systems for syrup type systems.
There are two types of Cornelius tanks on the market. One is a pin lock system and the other is a ball lock system. Pin lock and ball lock refer to the way the quick disconnects attach to the kegs. Pin locks have small pins around the perimeter of the posts. The quick disconnects press on and the collars rotate and lock onto the pins. Ball lock disconnects work similar to an air line disconnect. You just retract the collar, press the quick disconnect onto the post and release the collar. I prefer the pin lock system myself, but most home brewers use the ball lock system.
Pin lock kegs are also referred to as Coke kegs since the system was (and still is) used exclusively by Coke. Ball lock kegs are commonly referred to as Pepsi kegs, but the more correct term is general beverage kegs. The posts are not transferable between keg types.
Once you get your beer inside your keg, you’ll need someway to deliver it back out. You could naturally carbonate your beer and just let the head pressure push your beer out, but you’d find that your brew would go flat before you could drink even half the keg. You could also rig up a hand pump to pressurize your keg, but you’d be introducing airborne contaminates and oxygen into your brew.
This is where CO2 comes in. You can pressurize your keg with CO2 and eliminate all of these problems. An added plus is that you can use CO2 to actually carbonate your beer! But the pressure inside a CO2 tank is way too high, which means that you will need a regulator to drop your CO2 pressure down to a manageable level. There are several regulators on the market, but the best type is one with a dual gauge. A dual gauge regulator monitors your line pressure and your tank pressure, letting you know when to refill the tank.
First, let me say that not all CO2 tanks are created equal. All CO2 tanks used to be made of steel and some tanks are still made of steel, but now you can purchase new CO2 tanks made of 100% extruded aluminum. Aluminum tanks are ½ the weight of the old fashioned steel tanks (empty), plus they don’t have the corrosion problems of steel tanks. CO2 tanks come in a wide range of sizes and I sell only new 2.5, 5, 10 & 20 pound aluminum tanks.
A word of caution if you are contemplating the purchase of a used CO2 tank. All tanks must be inspected and hydro tested every five years. If a tank fails hydro test, the filling facility is required by law to confiscate & destroy the tank. The seller of the used tank might be offering you a money back guarantee, but the guarantee is useless if you have no tank to return to the seller.
Most home brewers use a pony tap. A pony tap is a low cost tap with a thumb valve. Others use a conventional tap mounted through the door of their fridge. A third solution is a beer tower mounted on top of a short fridge. Any of these taps will work well and what you use depends upon how much money you wish to invest on your hobby.
Some home brewers purchase a low cost or used chest type freezer and they override the internal thermostat with an external thermostat. This system works well because you can usually place three kegs plus one CO2 cylinder down inside the converted freezer. To use this system, you just open up the lid and dispense from one of your pony taps.
Others prefer a “Kegerator” type setup. They will convert a conventional refrigerator into a kegerator by mounting one or more beer taps through the door and placing their kegs inside the fridge. A typical Kegerator setup does not require an external thermostat, plus it just looks cool!
The third setup is a short fridge converted into a kegerator, with beer tower mounted on top.
A compromise system is to store your kegs inside a fridge without beer taps through the door. With this system, you just open the door and dispense from one of your pony taps.
By the way, BestBuy is selling a Haier brand 10.5 Cu. Ft. single door refrigerator for $299.99 (7/13/04). The fridge makes an excellent two keg homebrew kegerator system!
Connecting it all Together
All that’s left are the hoses and fittings that connect everything together.
Most home brewers use ¼” or 3/8” tubing for their gas line and beer line. What you use is really your preference but I do sell far more ¼” hose than any other size. You also have an option of clear plastic line or braded line. Clear plastic is great when you need flexibility and I’d definitely recommend clear plastic for your pony tap, unless you have the type of tap with the black beer line already attached. For everything else, I’d recommend braded line. Braded line is a little less flexible but it has excellent abrasion resistance and it won’t kink if bent into a tight radius.
Many home brewers use the screw type clamps for their line. Screw clamps work OK but they have a nasty habit of chewing up your line. Oetiker clamps work much better because they are a step less design and they will not destroy your hoses.
Tees and cross tees are also available for sending your CO2 regulator output to several kegs at the same time.
All fittings should be stainless steel for no other reason than they will not break or crack.
Copper and brass fittings are OK for the CO2 side of your setup, but never ever plumb the liquid side of your system with either copper or brass. The beer will leech copper, making you very sick.
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