Whether you are making your own beer at home, hosting a party, organizing a wedding, or any other social event where beer will be served, a dilemma that many a person in those situations has had is how to keep a keg cold.
There is no question that kegged beer is simply more convenient to serve and transport than bottled beer, however where bottled beer can simply be placed in a refrigerator or coolers to keep cold, due to the size of kegs keeping them cold creates a bit of a challenge.
In this post, we are going to review some of the different ways available to you to keep your kegged beer cold at home, at any function or party, or even when out camping…
1) Serve Some Beer Styles Warm
If you are in North America (which I am), the concept of warm beer might not be something you have heard tell of before and not sound very appealing.
The fact is that many styles of beer were originally and still are in many places around the world consumed warm. Drinking a beer cold actually diminishes much of its flavor and aroma characteristics.
The present-day mindset that beer is meant to be consumed cold came about as a result of North American companies starting to sell mass-produced commercial beers that are less costly to make but nowhere near as flavorful as traditional ales and lagers.
To get around this lack of flavor problem they discovered that the colder their beer was the better the consumer liked it as the cold numbed the senses of taste and aroma making this new style of beer more enjoyable. As a result they started promoting that beer should be consumed ice cold.
So one of your options depending on the style of beer you are serving is to actually serve it warm. Traditional English & Irish beers are better suited for this. English pale ales, milds, and bitters as well as stouts and porters for example. I would not recommend you serve the mass-produced commercial beers this way as they do have an undesirable taste when warm.
2) Kegerators Are Your Best Option
A kegerator is basically a fridge that’s whole purpose is to keep a keg of beer cold. Depending on the size of the keg you can buy kegerators that fit 1 or more kegs and in the majority of cases, they will even have beer taps on the top or built into the front of them and a space to store your CO2 tank.
Kegerators come in all shapes and sizes. Most beer coolers in bars and restaurants are basically just large kegerators. The cooler/fridge is typically located directly behind the wall of the bar and has taps coming out the front of it.
You can buy kegerators that are the size of a minibar fridge or models that are closer in size to a standard deep freezer you would find in most people’s homes. The smaller, more compact models are easily transported to any wedding or party you are hosting.
A spare fridge will serve as a kegerator, and mini-fridges are also easily transported. Many homebrewers will convert old fridges into kegerators by adding beer taps to them.
You can also easily convert any freezer into a kegerator with the help of a temperature controller. Doing so is as simple as plugging the unit’s power cord into the controller and the controller itself directly into the wall; then simply setting the temperature you want the controller to maintain. Ink Birds are the most widely used temperature controllers and do a great job. I have one on my freezer for this exact purpose.
How to Keep a Keg Cold Without a Kegerator
If you are going to be keeping beer on tap at your home on a regular basis you really have no other option than to have either a kegerator you bought or built (modified fridge/freezer). However, if you are just looking for ways to keep a keg of beer cold for special functions the following options will do the job nicely for you.
3) Keg Tubs, Garbage Cans, or Plastic Containers
The most economically friendly way to keep a keg cold at a party is to simply place it in a bucket filled with ice. Large plastic garbage cans or plastic containers you can pick up at your local hardware store work just fine for this. You can also order Keg Tubs that are designed for this exact purpose. Keg tubs come in the right size for your standard keg and also have strong rope handles on the sides of them which allow you to move them around as needed.
To ensure you are keeping the temperature constant throughout the keg, start by adding ice to the bucket prior to adding the keg, layer the bottom with at least 6 inches of ice. Place the keg into the bucket and fill the remainder of it with ice, being sure to cover the top of the keg also. You can also create an ice bath by adding cold water to the bucket as well which keeps the temperature of the beer even colder.
4) Keg Jacket, Sleeve, or Blanket
For an easier less hassle option you can insulate the keg by wrapping it in a keg jacket, sometimes also referred to as sleeves or blankets.
They are quite popular options as you do not need to worry about purchasing ice and keeping the bucket filled as the ice melts. They surprisingly work quite well and will keep the beer cold for up to 8 hours. They are constructed out of neoprene and you can even purchase higher quality ones that come with pockets built into them that will hold ice packs to provide additional and a longer period of cooling.
These come in handy if you have to transport the keg for longer distances as you can wrap it in the jacket prior to leaving resulting in the beer maintaining the cooler temperature during transport.
5) Jockey Box
A jockey box gets an honorable mention in this post as it is more of a portable means of dispensing beer than keeping a keg cold. A jockey box is basically a typical picnic cooler but with tap handles on the front of it. The cooler is filled with ice and water and the tap handles are attached to liquid tubing in the cooler, the ice water in the cooler keeps the beer in the tubing cold.
The longer the length of tubing in the cooler the more beer the jockey box will be able to keep cold. The tubing then runs out the back of the cooler and connects externally to the keg itself.
In order to keep the beer in the keg cold, you will need to have the keg sitting in an ice bucket or insulated with a jacket.
The main reason for using a jockey box would be if you want to have a more professional look at your event. Instead of pouring straight from the keg with a picnic-style tap, this option provides for a more formal look. When I owned my nano brewery we would use our jockey box at beer shows and they looked and worked well for that purpose.
6) Keg Sheets
Similar to how the jacket or sleeve is used but a more economical method is what is referred to as a Keg Sheet. Instead of being an insulating blanket, it is made of thin material that reflects the sun and heat off of the keg.
They do not keep the beer cold as long as the other methods we have talked about in this post. In most cases, you will see the sheet being used in conjunction with an ice bucket to keep the beer colder longer and also cutting back on the need to add additional ice to the bucket.
By itself, without an ice bucket, the company that manufactures Keg Sheets reports they are able to keep the beer cold for 6 – 8 hours. Although they do not give a time frame they report that when used in conjunction with ice the beer stays cold even longer (which clearly makes sense).
Frequently Asked Questions
How long will a keg stay cold without ice?
If your keg was first chilled at fridge temperatures when placed at room temperature you can expect the beer to stay cold for 3 – 4 hours. Clearly, if the environment is hotter you can expect the keg to warm up faster and if it is in a colder than room temperature area you can expect it to stay colder longer.
This is a difficult question to answer and it does depend on many variables such as the ambient temperature of the area, is the keg exposed to the elements such as the sun or wind. One quick trick you can try if you don’t want to implement any of the methods we reviewed today is to try your best to insulate the keg with blankets, towels, sleeping bags, etc. Doing so will keep the temperatures lower longer.
Does a keg need to stay cold?
A keg should definitely stay cold or you will affect the quality of the beer. If it becomes too warm you will notice that the beer coming out of the keg is very foamy. This is due to higher temperatures allowing the CO2 to escape the beer which will also result in a stale tasting beer.
How long will a keg of beer stay fresh once tapped?
I have never had a kegged beer that I have brewed go bad on me as long as I kept it pressurized and at the right temperature. This might be because beer does not last long in my keg, it tends to disappear quickly. The general consensus however is that as long as it is kept at the right temperature and pressurized non-pasteurized beer will stay fresh for 6 – 8 weeks without any problems and pasteurized beer will stay fresh for 12 – 16 weeks.
Beer that you dispense using a party pump at your buddy’s backyard bbq will only last for 8 – 12 hours, this is because these pumps use air to pressurize the keg and dispense the beer, air causes bacteria to form and ruins the beer.
How long will a keg last at room temp?
Some brewers claim that as long as the beer is properly kegged and sealed with no leaks they can store the beer at room temperature indefinitely. My recommendation would be that as long as stored at temperatures under 70 degrees Fahrenheit you could store your kegs for several months without running into any problems.
What temperature should I store my keg at?
In an ideal world or perfect environment, you would store your keg at precisely 38 degrees Fahrenheit. However, anywhere near that temperature is good and will keep the carbonation levels where they need to be and your beer as fresh as possible.
There you have it, you now know how to always have cold beer on tap anytime and anywhere you need it. Let us know if you have any questions on any of these methods and if you have other methods you would like to share let us know about them also.
Cheers, Big Robb is Out!
P.S. If you are a homebrewer and would like to get access to the recipes to my top 5 all-time best selling beers from my brewpub you can sign up to get them now on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on a smart device. Enjoy!