Intro to Kegging Your Home Brew

Kegging your home brew is one of the more expensive jumps you can make, and it doesn’t really make your beer any better.  However, I think it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Kegging home brew, how I love thee.  Oh let me count the ways…

  1. The perfect pour out of a draft faucet is just so much nicer than from a bottle.  Beautiful.
  2. You only have a single vessel to clean instead of 50-100 bottles and caps.
  3. You only have a single vessel to fill, instead of 50-100 bottles
  4. You only have a single vessel to seal, instead of capping 50-100 bottles
  5. If you force carbonate your beer, it can be ready to serve almost two weeks sooner
  6. Kegging allows you to cold-crash your beer at the end of secondary, causing more of the yeast to fall out of suspension, resulting in a much less-cloudy beer.  You can also filter your beer if you are kegging.

Now that I have professed my love for kegging, lets look at what you need to get started kegging your own brew.home brew kegs

You first have to bite the bullet and purchase a kegging system.  This usually consists of:

co2 regulator
  • A 5-gallon cornelius (corny) keg that is either ball-lock or pin-lock (both work, ball locks are taller and thinner, pin locks are shorter and fatter, so it is personal preference)

  • A tank of CO2 (carbon dioxide) that comes in a range of sizes (5 lbs being the most common and affordable)
  • A pressure regulator to control the flow of the CO2 out of the tank.  You can get a single gauge that just tells you the rate of flow, or a dual-gauge that will also show you how much gas is left in the tank.
  • Two hoses: One for the gas, and one for the beer.  They usually come with quick disconnects (QDs) so that you can easily attach and remove them from the keg.
  • A tap.  This can be a cobra-head party tap, which is the most affordable, or it could be a cull tower or wall spigot set up.  These are usually sold separately and are more expensive.A typical one keg system with a 5# C02 tank, single or dual-gauge regulator, and a party tap will usually run you between $120 and $180 plus shipping from any of the online retailers such as Keg Cowboy or Keg Connection.

Using Your New Keg

Once you give your keg a good thorough cleaning, you are ready to fill ‘er up!  Whenever you are filling a keg, the first thing you want to do is prime it with CO2.  This fills the keg with carbon dioxide and forces all of the oxygen out, which will help your brew last longer and avoid any off flavors due to oxygenation. To prime the keg, simply close it up and connect the CO2 line to the gas in valve (usually a gray QD.  Gray for gas, black for beer).  Then set your regulator to about 3-5 psi and let it start filling the keg.  Use the pressure relief valve on the lid of the keg to let the oxygen out a couple of times, then just let it fill.  Kill the CO2, release any excess pressure and open the lid.  The keg is now primed.  The CO2 will stay in the keg as long as it sits still because it is heaver than the air around it.

Now that the keg is primed, simply siphon your beer from your fermentor into the keg.  I recommend dropping your tubing all the way to the bottom of the keg and fill from the bottom up to avoid any splashing and oxygenation (even though you primed the keg).  Once the keg is full, seal the lid, and you are ready to carbonate.

How to Force Carbonate Your Home Brew

There are three ways to carbonate your beer in a keg.

  1. Cask/Keg conditioning – adding priming sugar and letting the yeast do the carbonating, the same as you would for your bottles.
  2. Saturation over time – Setting your CO2 to the desired carbonation level and letting it sit for 4-7 days until carbonation level is reached.
  3. High Pressure carbonation – Setting the CO2 to a high level of pressure and forcing it to carbonate quickly, then reducing to serving pressure.

homebrew kegsTo condition it in the keg, you will do everything just like you would the bottles, but you should first push about 3-5psi of pressure into the keg just so that it pushes up on the lid, making sure everything is sealed and not leaking.  Then let it sit at your fermenting temperature for about 2 weeks, or until the desired carbonation level has been reached.

The other two methods require your keg to first be cooled down to serving temperatures, because the CO2 will dissolve into the beer better at lower temperatures.

Saturation over time seems to be the best compromise of speed and precision.  Set your regulator to about 4psi above what it will be served at and let it sit for a few days, tasting it daily to see when the desired carbonation level has been reached.  Once the beer is at the right carbonation level, turn down the regulator to the serving pressure and enjoy.

High pressure carbonation allows you to be drinking your beer within a day of kegging it.  It requires you to set your regulator up to about 30psi, then shake the keg to force the CO2 into the beer, and repeat until no more CO2 enters the keg when you hook it up to the tank.  Let it sit for a day, then turn it down to serving pressure.  I don’t recommend it, as it is hard to hit the precise CO2 setting that you want, and some will swear it doesn’t taste the same, but I kind of doubt that.  I have done it when I need my beer ready to serve quickly, but otherwise, I recommend the saturation over time method.

If you are looking for some more in-depth info on kegging and carbonating your kegged beer, I would recommend you check out the following articles:
Kegging equipment basics from MoreBeer
In-depth article about how to carbonate
Carbonation chart (and how to read it)