If you are tired of cleaning, sanitizing, and filling bottles it is time to begin kegging beer. In this article, we will review all of the equipment you need as well as show you all of the steps involved in kegging beer.
Kegging Equipment Needed
1) Beer Keg – To start with you need the Keg itself. For kegging home-brewed beer, I highly recommend using Cornelius kegs. They are easy to use, simpler to clean, and much less expensive than Sanke kegs.
Cornelius kegs are old pop (soda) kegs, you can use either the Pepsi or Coke variety kegs. They both work fine, the only difference between them is the posts and their fittings, which will be either Pin Locks or Ball Locks.
2) CO2 Tank – Next you will need to get a co2 tank. Tanks range in size from 2.5lbs up to 20lbs. The 5lb tank is convenient if you have a smaller setup, but if you have the space a 10 – 20lb tank will last much longer, and they do not cost much more and in most cases, the price to fill a 5lb tank as compared to a 20lb is the same.
3) A Regulator – The regulator connects the CO2 tank to the keg. It allows you to control the pressure of the CO2 that you are releasing from the tank into the keg. There are typically two dials on a regulator.
The first dial will tell you how much gas is still in the tank and the other one controls how much gas you are letting flow into the keg. Regulating the amount of gas going into the keg is as simple as tightening or loosening the screw on the regulator. Before turning the gas on make sure the regulator is attached properly to the tank and tightened.
4) Tubing for gas and liquid lines for the beer. The gas lines run from the co2 tank to the keg and should be about 3-5’ in length. The liquid lines are what the beer travels through from the keg to your beer tap and should be approximately 5 – 6’ long.
5) Gas & Liquid disconnects – These attach to the top of the keg and to the gas tubing and liquid lines. Be sure they match the type of keg you purchased, i.e. ball or pin lock.
6) Beer Tap – Most people starting out will purchase a picnic-style tap and as they upgrade their system will transition to using the bar tap handle.
7) A Refrigerator – You can start with a minibar fridge, they are capable of holding 1 keg and a 5lb CO2 tank. Other options are apartment size and regular size fridges that will hold more kegs and larger CO2 tanks. You can also use a freezer that plugs into a temperature regulator such as an inkbird to keep it at fridge temperatures. And of course, as you progress you can either build or purchase a kegerator with taps already installed.
Assembling & Leak Testing Your Kegging System
The first step is to assemble your system, The regulator attaches directly to the co2 tank by screwing onto it. On the other end of the regulator, you attach the red gas tubing. The other end of the red gas tubing connects to the gas disconnect that is attached to the gas pin or ball lock on the keg.
The liquid (clear) line attaches to the other pin or ball lock on the keg and the other end of the liquid line is attached directly to the beer tap (picnic).
To test the system for leaks, put the lid on the keg and get a bucket of soapy water and a sponge. Sponge the water all over the system, including all connections, the CO2 tank, the gas line at the regulator, the regulator itself as well as the gas line at the keg and on the disconnects. Also, put some soapy water around the lid of the keg and around the liquid disconnect. Turn on the gas and open all of the valves. If there is a leak you will see the area of the leak start to bubble and you will need to tighten that area or perhaps change out gaskets.
Clean and Sanitize the Keg
Regardless of whether you purchased a brand new keg or a used one it is recommended that you clean and sanitize it before using it.
You will first need to vent the pressure out of the keg, if it has a pressure relief valve you can use that, if not you will have to vent the gas out through the gas disconnect.
Next, remove the lid and disconnects from the keg. You should also remove the gas and liquid posts, you will need a socket wrench to do so. Next, remove the liquid and gas lines.
Give the keg a quick rinse with water, next fill it with about 3 – 4 gallons of water and 2 – 3 ounces of PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) or unscented OxiClean.
Soak all of the components of the keg in the solution. You can use a separate bucket or large bowl to soak the keg lid and disconnects, etc. Let the items soak for an hour or so and then give them a light scrubbing with either a sponge or a gentle scrub pad, do not use scouring pads or heavy abrasives as it will damage the components. Soaking followed by a light wiping will usually do the trick every time.
It is also recommended to use a thin bristle brush to clean the inside of the dip tubes.
Put the posts and lid back on the keg, turn it upside down and give it a good shake to get the top side of the keg clean.
Next, empty the solution and rinse it thoroughly with hot water ensuring all of the cleaning agent is gone before proceeding with the sanitizing phase.
To sanitize the keg simply fill it with water and add a sanitizer such as star san. Seal the keg and give it a good shake. Let it sit for ten minutes. Turn it upside down and let it sit for another ten minutes. Soak all of the other components, such as disconnects and the liquid line, and the tap in the solution also. Putting them in the keg to soak works well. Empty the solution. You are now ready to transfer the beer to the keg.
Transfer Beer to Keg
To transfer your beer from your fermenter do so as you would when bottling. The main concern here is to transfer the beer as gently as you can, do not allow any splashing or sloshing of the beer. This is important as you want to keep as much air out of the beer as possible so that oxidation of it does not occur.
Seal, Pressurize and Purge the Keg
Next seal the keg with the lid, making sure that the gasket is properly seated. It is recommended to put keg lube or even vaseline around the gasket to get a better seal.
Next, connect the CO2 gas inline quick disconnect to the gas in post. Now turn your gas on to 10psi, while simultaneously pulling up on the handle on the lid, this will seal the lid in place on the keg. Next, tighten the handle down.
In order to purge the oxygen out of the tank, you can pull the pressure release valve for a few seconds. If your lid does not have a pressure release valve turn the gas off, remove the gas disconnect and release the gas through the gas post. Repeat this process a few times.
Some brewers will also go through this seal and purge process before filling the keg with beer in order to ensure there is as little oxygen in the keg as possible.
Kegging Beer Video
How to Carbonate Beer in a Keg
You can carbonate beer in a keg by either using the CO2 or using priming sugar just like you would when bottling. If you are going to use priming sugar it is recommended that you use half of the amount that you would with bottling. Simply put it in the keg, seal the keg as described above, remove it from the gas and let it sit for 7 – 14 days.
When it comes to carbonating your beer with CO2 there are 3 methods to do so:
1) The Quick Method
This is for people who are impatient and need beer right away. Yes, it can be done, however, we do not recommend it unless you are in a major pinch and need it right away.
This is because when using this method the beer doesn’t carbonate well and it ends up more foamy than carbonated. But it is drinkable.
To perform this method, fill your keg with beer and hook up the gas line. Turn the gas on the regulator up to 40psi. Now lay the keg on its side and roll the keg back and forth for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes or so you will have carbonated (foamy) beer.
2) The 48 Hour Method
The 48-hour method is what we now recommend. We used it exclusively at our brewpub as well. It works well and the beer turns out nicely carbonated within 2 days.
Start by connecting the gas line to the keg and then turn the regulator up to 30 – 35 psi. Now let it sit on the gas for 24 hours. Once the 24 hours is up, turn off the gas and let the keg sit for another 24 hours.
At the end of the 48 hours, you will have perfectly carbonated beer.
3) The Set It & Forget It Method
This method is how many people start out kegging beer. As long as you have the patience to wait 5 -7 days it works well and provides for very nice carbonation.
To use this method simply hook the gas up to your keg, turn the regulator up to 8 -12 psi and let it sit for 5 – 7 days. You can sample it as it carbonates to determine when your desired carbonation level is reached.
Pour Your First Draft From Your Keg of Beer
Once the beer is carbonated you will need to adjust the gas levels down to serving pressure. The level is going to depend on your system and the length of your liquid lines. Some systems will require 4-6 psi for dispensing pressure and others will be higher at 8 – 12 psi.
How Long to Ferment Before Kegging
90% of fermentation is actually completed within the first 4-5 days. However, it is recommended to leave the beer in the fermenter for at least 10 days in order to allow all of the fermentation to complete as well as giving the yeast time to clean itself up, resulting in a better-tasting beer.
You can also take gravity readings daily and when the reading has not moved for two days in a row that indicates that fermentation has finished.
How to Filter Beer Before Kegging
There really is no reason to filter your beer before you keg it as long as you are cold crashing for 48 hours. Cold crashing will drop most of the proteins and yeast out of suspension and result in a very clear beer.
You can also add fining agents such as gelatin during cold crashing and directly to the keg which will also clear your beer even more. If you do want to filter your beer before kegging it; at our brewpub for some beers we used the bouncer beer filter and it does a great job.
How Long to Cold Crash Beer Before Kegging
It is best to cold-crash beer for at least 48 hours. If you are using fining agents like gelatin you need to cold crash for 24 hours and then add the agents and cold crash for another 24 hours before kegging.
Frequently Asked Questions
How soon can you drink beer after kegging?
It all depends on which method you use to carbonate your beer. If you naturally carbonate it will be 7 – 14 days before you can drink your beer, using the quick method you can drink your beer in as soon as 10 minutes, the 48-hour method will let you pour a pint in two days, and the set it and forget it method will take 5 – 7 days before you can take a drink.
Is Kegging better than bottling?
This depends on your perspective. Kegging beer has many advantages over bottling, but having bottled beer on hand is also enjoyable. What we recommend is when brewing a batch brew more than you can keg and bottle the rest, this way you get the best of both worlds.
How long does a keg last once you tap it?
As long as you keep the keg pressurized with gas the beer within is going to last for months if not years. We have never had beer in a keg go bad.
Do you add sugar when Kegging beer?
Only if you want to naturally carbonate the beer. If you add sugar you do not also use the CO2 to carbonate it. You let the beer carbonate in the keg with sugar for 7 – 14 days and then connect it back to the gas just to dispense it.
Can you bottle beer after Kegging?
Yes, you can, simply fill the bottles up as close to the top as you can with the carbonated beer and cap them. The beer will not last as long as it would in the keg as there will be some oxygen that got in, but they will last for a couple of months, especially if you refrigerate them.
The Final Word
Kegging beer has many advantages over bottling and is surprisingly not that expensive to get started. Follow the steps outlined in this article and you will be pouring yourself some beer on tap in no time.
Cheers, Big Robb is Out!
6 thoughts on “Introduction to Kegging Beer”
Hey Big Rob, I’m interested in kegging! I enjoy the cooper’s, and clone extract kits from adventures in homebrewing! I always do 5 gallon batches. I’m considering getting a 1 gallon mini keg, and tap that works off the co2 cartridges. Is this a good start to kegging? Also: Can I store my fermented batch in the mini kegs, and just swap the tap when I empty 1? The mini keg and tap would fit perfectly in my mini fridge in the garage. Sorry for such a long question! And, do I add any kind of priming sugar to the mini kegs, or does the co2 do all the work? Thanks so much, Edward Griggy
Hey Edward, good to hear from you man! Oh the mini kegs, I used these a few times and loved them. It’s been awhile though. They are a great way to get started kegging in my opinion and an even better way to not have to use (clean and prime) so many bottles. Not sure what you mean by storing your fermented beer in them. You can not ferment in them, but you can definitely pour your fermented beer into them just like you would a bottle. Yes you prime with sugar. 1 level table spoon of corn sugar will do it. The co2 is just for pouring purposes. The following is a link to Adventures in Homebrewing, it is an affiliate link but it also gives you all of the instructions and explains how they work. Take a look as I have not used them in awhile, but really did enjoy them. Mini Keg Link Let me know how you make out. Cheers man!
Cheers Big Rob, Sorry to keep bugging you! I did have a follow up question on the mini kegs? I’m ordering 2 mini kegs, and the co2 tap! The instructions say 1 tbl spoon of sugar to each mini keg! My question is: Can I prime my whole 5 gallon batch with 5oz pack of priming sugar, and fill both kegs! Then bottle and cap the remaining brew? Thanks again, Edward
Hey Edward no bother at all man, happy to help. No you should not do that, because with the mini kegs you use less sugar then you typically would for the same amount of beer that you are going to bottle. So fill the kegs, add the 1 table spoon of sugar to each of them, then batch prime the rest of the beer you are going to bottle, or you could use the carbonation drops for the rest also, which I always preferred as it has always been make beer as easy as possible for this guy! 🙂 Here is a post on the drops vs sugar.
Thanks for the quick response! I have carbo drops on hand! I’m doing a Pacifico clone I got from AIH! Can’t wait to try the mini keg, and bottle the rest! I’m anxious to see if there is a big difference? Thanks for the help, and great info! You really do “make beer easy”, Edward
Cheers man, keep me posted!