It happens to every homebrewer at some point; they have made a few batches of beer and have come to realize the only part of the process they do not enjoy is cleaning and filling the beer bottles, it takes a lot of time and effort and is simply not that fun; if you have reached that point congratulation it is time to start kegging homebrew. It is a great point to get to as a brewer and trust me once you start kegging beer you will never look back.
In this post I am going to show you exactly how to keg homebrew, we are going to look at the equipment you need, the steps involved in kegging your beer, as well as explaining how to carbonate and serve your beer from a keg.
Let’s jump right into it…
Table of Contents
Equipment Needed to Keg Beer
When I first thought would like to start kegging my beer, I actually held off for a while because I was intimidated by the process. I figured it would be a daunting task, very complicated and expensive to get started.
Surprisingly none of those things are true, kegging beer is not hard or complicated and if you are thrifty the start-up cost is not that expensive.
The following is the equipment you will need to get started:
A Keg – Starting out I recommend going with a cornelius keg often referred to as a corny. They are the old-fashioned pepsi and coke kegs. They work great for homebrewing, are easy to clean, easy to fill, and are a lot less expensive than the sanke kegs. Depending on how big of a batch you are brewing you might want to look into using sanke kegs as they do come in bigger sizes; you can learn about the different keg sizes and how much beer they hold here: How many beer in a keg?
A CO2 tank – When I started kegging I purchased a 5lb tank. This was the most expensive component of the system. In hindsight, I should have purchased a 10lb or even a 20lb tank, simply because the gas lasts longer and the cost to fill a 5b versus a 20lb is pretty much the same.
A Keg Regulator – The regulator connects directly to the CO2 tank. It controls the flow of gas from the tank to the keg. Depending on how fast you are carbonating the beer the PSI will be set higher or lower.
I do recommend a dual gauge regulator. The dual gauge shows you how much gas is still in your tank, so you will know when it is getting lower. The dual gauge regulator is not a necessity but the price for one is about the same as a single, so might as well have it.
Keg Disconnects – These connect to the keg and allow the gas in and the beer out. Depending on if you get a coke or pepsi cornelius keg you will require either a ball lock disconnect set (pepsi) or a pin lock disconnect set (coke).
A Faucet or Tap – This attaches to the liquid line to pour your beer into your glass. Starting out, I would simply recommend you purchase a picnic tap. Later on, as you advance in kegging you can build a kegerator and get yourself some nice fancy tap handles.
Gas and Beer Line – You will need two lines. A gas line to go from the regulator to the keg and a beer (liquid) line to go from keg to picnic tap.
Refrigerator – Starting out do not worry about having to spend a lot of money on a kegerator or a large fridge, a small bar fridge works fine and has enough room to hold one keg and a small CO2 tank. This is what I used started out, I had to remove the shelves from mine to make room for the keg and tank.
That is all you need for equipment, you can either purchase all of it new or used. I would recommend buying new for everything except the keg. Making sure you have a good tank and regulator is important for safety reasons and gas and liquid lines with a picnic tap are not expensive to buy new. However used corenlius kegs are easy to find and work great, so might as well save yourself some money in that area.
Alright, let’s get into the steps involved in actually kegging your homebrew…
How To Keg Homebrew
It is a pretty straight forwarded process and after you do it once you will have the hang of it…
Step 1) Filling Your Keg – It is important that you do not just pour your beer into the keg straight from the spigot, I made this mistake the first time I kegged and although the beer did turn out just fine I ran the risk of oxygenating my beer, which is a bad thing. The correct way to fill your keg is by using a beer line. Put the line on the end of your fermenter’s spigot or siphon and put the other end into the keg, all the way down to the bottom of the keg. This ensures that when you are filling it you do so from the bottom up, which prevents splashing and oxidization.
Step 2) Seal the Keg – Put the keg cover on. Sometimes I put Keg Lube around the gasket to seal the keg better. Vaseline works just as well and is less expensive.
Step 3) Purge the Keg of Oxygen – After you have filled your keg with beer, put the lid on the keg, now you connect the gas line to the keg. Give the keg a good shot of gas. 35 psi for a couple of seconds is fine.
Now you need to release the C02 you just put it, doing so pushes all of the Oxygen out as well. The pepsi cornelius kegs have pressure release valves at the top that you just pull to release the gas. The Coke corny kegs do not have a pressure release valve so you will have to release the gas through the pin lock disconnect. With my coke kegs, I bought a separate pin lock gas disconnect, put some gas line on it, and use it to release the gas.
Some sources will tell you to purge the keg 5-7 times. I have found no difference in the results of the beer if I do this twice versus seven times. As a result, I prefer saving CO2 and purge the kegs only the two times.
Step 4) Connect the Keg to the Gas – The next step is to connect the gas line to the keg and turn the C02 on. Now place the keg and CO2 tank (if you have room) into the refrigerator. It is important to carbonate the beer cold.
How to Carbonate in a Keg
There are a few strategies you can choose from when it comes to carbonating your beer, which one you choose really comes down to how fast you want to be able to drink your beer.
1) 7 – 10 Days – If you can wait 7 – 10 days this method provides for a nice carbonation. Turn the gas up to approximately 10 – 12 psi. I say approximately as every system is a little different, so you will have to experiment a bit. After a couple of days try the beer and see how it is tasting, what is the carbonation level like. You may find that after 5 days you are happy with it. On my system, I have found that 12 psi for 5 days carbonates very nicely. Yours may turn out to be 10 psi for 7 days, etc. It’s homebrewing so you can create whatever carbonation level in your beer that you most enjoy.
2) 48 Hours – If you want beer ready in 48 hours, the following method carbonates the beer perfectly. In reality, I find it works as good as the last method we just discussed and this is now how I carbonate all of my beer. It is also how I carbonated the beer in my brewpub. Turn the gas up to 35 psi and leave it on for 24 hours. After the 24 hours turn the gas off and let the beer sit for another 24 hours. At the end of the 48 hours you will have a perfectly carbonated beer.
3) 5 Minutes. – This method is for when you are in a bind and need beer fast. I do not like this method, but it does kind of work. I have not had great luck with it, but when in a crunch it will produce a beer that is no longer flat tasting. It does not really produce a full carbonated beer but more of a foamy beer. But it is definitely better than drinking the beer flat.
All this method involves is connecting the keg to the gas and turning the psi up to 35. Now lay the keg on its side (still connected to the gas) and begin rolling the keg back and forth on the ground for 5 minutes.
4) The QuickCarb by Blichmann – Another option to carbonate that does a really great job and only takes 30 – 60 minutes is the QuickCarb by Blichmann. It connects directly to your keg and the CO2 tank. You plug the unit into the wall and power it on, the beer and CO2 then circulate through the Quickcarb. We use it at the brewpub when we are getting low on beer. It allows us to keg some from the fermenter and within 30 – 60 minutes have perfectly carbonated beer.
Serving Beer From A Keg
Now that you have perfectly carbonated beer the last thing we need to cover is what psi to keep the beer at while serving it. There is no hard and fast rule and this will be something you have to test for yourself. It will be somewhere between 5 – 10 psi typically, but you will need to dial it in with your own system. If the beer comes out too foamy turn it down and if the beer pours to slow turn it up.
Kegging Vs Bottling
I do enjoy bottle-conditioned beer and I do try to bottle a few from each batch that I brew. However when it comes down to it kegging has many advantaged over bottling, the following are a few of them:
1) Cleaning and sanitizing bottles is simply timing-consuming and no fun. It doesn’t matter what gadget or tool you have for cleaning your bottles, it still takes up a lot more time than cleaning a keg.
Getting bottles ready involves emptying the old beer from the bottle, rinsing the bottle, then cleaning and sanitizing it before putting it away until the next batch. When you then need to sanitize and rinse all of the bottles all over again.
Whereas when you are kegging beer you only have to do all of that one time to one keg instead of 24 bottles and you are done.
2) Filling bottles vs filling the keg. Kegging wins out there. Attach the fill-up hose to the keg, place it into the keg and open your tap.
With bottling the process is similar except instead of filling one vessel you have to fill each bottle which is time-consuming and can be messy, plus you have to cap each bottle when done
3) Carbonating. The worst part of bottling homebrew is waiting for the beer to be ready. 2 weeks of bottle conditioning is the longest 2 weeks in a homebrewers life. Kegging beer takes a fraction of the time. Plus when bottling you have to add the priming sugar. Which is either done by batch priming in a bottling bucket or adding sugar directly to each bottle.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is kegging cheaper than bottling?
No there is a higher upfront cost to get all of the gear you need to keg beer. However, if you value your time then kegging is cheaper in the long run.
How long does kegged homebrew last?
In most cases, it is going to last a lot longer than you will be able to keep yourself from consuming it. If you have it stored correctly in a refrigerator area with temperatures between 35 and 43 degrees Ferenheight and maintain the property pressure within the tank (8 – 12 psi) then your beer should last at least 6 months if not a lot longer. I cover this more here: Does beer go bad?
Do you need priming sugar to keg beer?
No, you do not require sugar, the beer is carbonated with CO2. However you absolutely can use priming sugar to carbonate in a keg instead of CO2 if you prefer to do so, this is called naturally carbonating. I go over how to do so in this post: How to carbonate beer.
There you have it, my friend, you now know everything you need to know about kegging beer. If you have any questions feel free to ask me in the comment section below.
Also if you already keg your homebrew let us know what your favorite method of carbonating is, do you do anything different than the 4 methods I shared?
Cheers, Big Robb is Out!
P.S. Be sure to take advantage of my limited-time offer to get your hands on the recipes to my top 5 best-selling beers at my brewpub. Sign up is on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on a smart device. Enjoy!