Easy Upgrade Series: Building a Keggle

Recently, I have begun posting some more advanced brewing articles, but I don’t want to alienate any beginning brewers, so we’re going to start an “easy upgrade” series on some affordable, simple upgrades you can make to your own system that will hopefully lead to better beer.

We’ll start with a popular upgrade.  Whether you’re doing extract batches or all-grain, five gallons or 10, it is always good to have the ability to boil the full volume in your kettle.  This is preferred to having to boil a smaller portion and add water after the boil. A simple way to do this is to convert a stainless steel 1/2 barrel (15.5 gallon) sanke beer keg into a brew kettle.

3 keggles

I have done this for my own hot liquor tun and boil kettle, and I recently helped a friend of mine, Dave, convert three kegs into keggles (yes, that’s keg + kette = keggle) to use in his own system.

Working with stainless steel can be a bit tricky.  Stainless is a very hard metal and requires a few special tools and a little elbow grease.

Remove the Dip Tube

The first thing you need to do is to remove the dip tube from the keg.  There’s a few tips and tricks involved in getting this done smoothly.  Make sure you release the pressure first.  The tricky part is removing the spring, and then it’s just using a little force to twist the dip tube into position and pull it out.  For some more in-depth on this process, I recommend watching this YouTube instructional.

sanke keg dip tube

The dip tube after being removed from the keg

keg spring

The hardest part to remove is this little spring

Cut a Hole in the Top

Now you have a keggle! …Only it’s going to be hard to do much in a pot with a 2″ hole in the lid, so we’ll need to make that a little larger.  The best, and easiest way to do this is with a plasma cutter.  But I doubt you have one of those laying around your garage, so I recommend taking it to a professional or your local tech shop.  It can usually be done for less than $10 and only takes a few minutes.

Or, if your more of a do-it-yourself guy (or gal), you can rig up an angle grinder to make the cut.  That’s what we did with Dave’s kegs.  Using a couple scrap pieces of wood clamped to the angle grinder as a guide, we were able to cut circular holes.  The cuts are rough, so be prepared to spend some extra time filing down and sanding the cut so that you don’t slice your arm every time you reach into the keg.  Here’s another great video that shows how this is done.

angle-grinder-rig keg-lid-removal

Install Weldless Fittings

If you’re a welder, you can always weld in couplings where you want to install your spigot, thermometer, sight glass, etc.  But if you’re not quite that handy, or don’t have the equipment, you can purchase weldless fittings online that will also work very well.  I personally recommend checking out Bargain Fittings.  They have reasonable prices and flat rate shipping.

The hardest part about installing the fittings is cutting the 7/8-inch holes for the couplings.  You’ll need a hole wherever you want to install your spigot or any other additions such as a sight glass or a thermometer.  To do this, I suggest using a step bit on your drill.  These allow you to slowly drill through the stainless and get a hole exactly the size you need.  Bargain Fittings also sells these for $16!

step bitDo this carefully and slowly because as you drill, the keg metal will heat up, and as it gets hot, the metal literally gets harder and stronger.  If the drill and the hole heat up too much, the metal could get too hard to drill through.  We almost had this happen to us, and it is not fun!

The best way to avoid this is by keeping some oil handy.  Whether is spraying the bit with WD-40 or dipping it in vegetable oil, a well-oiled step bit is much less likely to overheat and cause troubles.  If the bit does start to get excessively hot, simply step back and give it some time.  It’s not worth rushing if it ruins your keggle!

Next, just instal the couplings and bulkheads and whatever ball valves, quick connects, hose barbs, etc. that you have.  The only key here is to be sure you wrap all of your threads with teflon/plumber’s tape to keep them from leaking.  You’ll want to do a test run of the kettle with water to make sure it holds up and doesn’t leak, because it’s more acceptable to leak a little water than to leak some of your homebrew!

false bottom

Inside of my kettle with a coupling to a 90-degree pick-up tube that draws from under a false bottom

3 keggles

Dave's single-tier brew stand with 3 keggles we built ourselves

Check back soon, because we’ll be taking a look at some other easy upgrades like an immersion wort chiller, cooler mash tun, and the hop spider!

14 Comments

Chris Shields

I hate to be the spoil sport, but you failed to mention the problem of obtaining kegs. It may not seem like much, but kegs cost over $100 (even used) to breweries and theft is a large source of loss. I see in the photo that the kegs are from Micro Star. If these were purchased legitimately (as in from micro star or a distributor) then you should say that, otherwise they were most likely stolen as a keg-deposit is often less than the keg’s value. I’m not accusing you or Dave of stealing kegs, but you should address this issue in the post. There are ways to get used kegs legitimately, but more often than not, if you bought it on Craigslist or from “some guy” it was stolen from a brewery. I’ll step off my soap box now. All that said, this is a good concise post for those looking for a keggle. Cheers.

Chris

Thanks Chris – you are absolutely 100% correct. Definitely an oversight on my part. Kegs are hard to obtain legally. And can be expensive. And the worst part is that you can buy a keg that someone says was purchased legally, but you never know for sure. There is a lot of moral gray area when you dig into that.

There are sites online where you can purchase kegs legally, or even purchase pre-made keggles, but it’s much more expensive than doing it yourself.

Hey Chris – since you’ve been both a homebrewer and working in a brewery, how would you feel about writing a guest post on the legality of obtaining used kegs and the best ways to do so? Let me know if you’re up for it. I think this is a great topic and definitely very relevant.

Chris

Oh and just a follow-up, those kegs were purchased from a friend that I trust from a local homebrew club. He said he got them legally, but then never used them. So again, I want to believe that the kegs were legal, but I have no real way of knowing for sure.

Chris Shields

Chris,
Thanks for the response. As much as I appreciate the offer to write a guest post, I don’t honestly have any experience getting used kegs. I never used them as a homebrewer and for us commercially we are using a leasing program. My main suggestion is that if you want to get them legally, purchase directly through Micro Star (they do eventually retire their kegs) or from a brewery. Both of these entities will at some point have small numbers of kegs that are not worth their time or effort to replace a damaged stem housing for example and may be willing to sell to a homebrewer. Another option, while expensive is to purchase new kegs. Not that I expect many people will go that route, but they will be shiny and new and fully legal! One place is http://geemacher.com/pricing.php. Hope that helps.

Andrew B

Hey, Chris(s),
What a timely post and follow-up comment. I have been looking to get a new HWT to complement my new kettle, and your post jogged me into action. After seeing a keg for sale on craigsist, I came back to check this post. Mostly I wanted to see if you guys had any prices listed so I’d know if I was getting ripped off. That when I saw Chris #2’s comment about sourcing a legal keg.

I called over to the guys at Carolina Brewing Co in Holly Springs, and whaddayaknow, they had a damaged keg available. The top weld had begun to separate, but otherwise it’s very usable for my purposes. They priced it /exactly/ the same as the fellow on craigslist. From what they told me at the brewery, they get requests all the time, but I was just lucky enough to ask at a time that they had a busted keg. With half-a-dozen breweries operating in the Triangle, as well as a few distributors, it shouldn’t be THAT hard to get a legal keg.

Perfect. I now have a keg to convert, and it came legally from the brewery that really got me started on craft beer. Thanks for the timely post and comments. I appreciate yall’s work.

Andrew

Derek

A little late to the party on this one but I thought i would address the issue of stolen kegs. I work for MicroStar and we have never sold our kegs to anyone… it appears these kegs were not obtained legally. When purchasing kegs the buyer should ask the seller for proof of ownership (a bill of sale from the previous trasaction). This Bill, or bills, of sale should go back far enough to show the original owner of the kegs (the name stamped on the chimb).

brian

im a bit late but you lacked info on drilling the bottom rail of the kegs to stop pressure building up could be a bit of a nasty surprise for someone otherwise nice how to 😉

Chris

Hi Brian,
You’re absolutely right. Luckily, most kegs already have holes drilled in the bottom rail, so it is not an issue, but it is DEFINITELY worth checking to make sure. Thanks for pointing that out.

Andrew Enea

A little late to this party, but I wanted to share my personal experience getting a used keg. I bought a couple off craigslist from a guy a while back and only later read up on the whole theft issue. I called the local distributor to see how I could get them back in cycle to minimize their loss. He said that they were most likely stolen from a bar, and as we couldn’t figuring out which bar it’d be impossible to compensate whoever lost their deposit.
I then asked him how I could legitimately buy one from them. They rarely sold “retired” kegs, and he actually suggested just buying one from a local bar, for their deposit $$. I called back and talked to a different guy at that distributor and he told me the same thing – offer a bar $30 for their deposit.
I’m sure this isn’t standard protocol, but I would recommend talking to your local distributor and see what they have to offer: it may be better than you’d imagine. Or maybe not.

Jason

Chris,

I’m wondering where you got the false bottom for your keggle? Did you make it or buy it somewhere? I have been looking for one just like yours.

Thanks,
Jason

Chris

I don’t recall, exactly, as it’s been about 6 or 7 years since I bought that one. I would imagine I either got it at the local homebrew shop or from homebrewing.org, as they usually have pretty good deals and are an advertiser on this blog. Good luck!

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