Two things that make homebrewing fun for me: trying out new equipment and figuring out ways to save time without sacrificing quality.
On that latter point, kegging your homebrew is without a doubt one of the best ways to put precious hours back into your calendar.
One problem with kegging is that new corny kegs are not cheap. Sure, you can buy refurbished soda kegs, but the quality is always a bit questionable. Regardless, all corny kegs have some inherent problems:
- Too many places for leaks to occur. O-rings. Oh so many o-rings…
- A lot of parts to clean, including that always fun dip tube.
- Replacement parts can be expensive
The only option to the corny keg is a standard Sankey D professional style keg, which comes with its own set of problems and costs.
- Cleaning is next to impossible, unless you buy special tools and fittings. Since you can’t easily see inside the keg, you never know how clean it is. And yes, I know you can disassemble a keg, but that is not easy or recommended by the manufactures to do on a regular basis.
- Filling this type of keg requires disassemble of the coupler, which the small valve parts can be easily lost or even damaged.
- Not cheap.
Watch Billy B’s video for a full explanation on the difference between corny kegs and sanke kegs.
Over the past few years, I’ve done a few batches of beers for weddings where a Sankey style keg was either recommend or required. Also, there are times when buying a keg of beer from a local brewer is the best and quickest way to fill my kegerator. Changing over the lines and connectors to convert from corny to Sankey can be a pain if (like mine) your kegerator is a converted refrigerator with limited space.
So is there an answer? A better option than corny or Sankey kegs? Yes. Well, maybe…
I met the folks from EV Container Company at the California Craft Beer Conference last year and was intrigued by their Sankey D keg system, which features a disposable liner. The keg is plastic and really just acts as a shell for the disposable liner. The top of the keg has a large opening on top that allows removal of the stainless steel spear, which is inserted into the liner.
The liner is pre-sanitized and discarded after every batch. What this means is that you never need to clean or sanitize the inside of an EV keg (occasional cleaning of the keg shell may be required.) This a huge difference from corny kegs, which homebrewers go through great pains to clean and sanitize on each batch. Another benefit of this liner system is that you can easily perform a visual inspection of the liner prior to use. No matter how well you clean a corny keg, you're never 100% positive you got every nook and cranny.
I made contact with EV a few months back. Finally, after they completed a few minor design changes, I was able to get my hands on a keg and some liners.
As mentioned, the shaft of the spear is inserted into the top of the liner. The liner then snaps into place on the spear using a large o-ring. Once the liner is in place, a ratcheting style collar to locks it in. Now, the spear with the liner attached in placed back in the keg body. The spear locks into place in the keg with a quarter turn. Sounds a bit confusing, I know. This is where the videos really come in handy. Step-by-step instructions
Between the videos and printable instructions, they really do a good job walking you through the process.
So how did the EV kegs work for me?
My initial use was not completely smooth. I watched the videos a few days in advance and then re-watched them just prior to filling the keg. The videos have a lot of steps and precautions, but I found once you have the product in hand, the steps are quite simple and it’s actually very easy to install the liner on the spear, lock in it place, and insert it into the keg.
The first issue I had was purging and inflating the liner. I did not have a specific problem, but there was no clear indication that the liner was fully inflated or deployed within the keg. As you read further, you will see why I’m not sure mine was fully deployed.
Filling the Keg
Before you can fill the keg with beer, you need to inflate the liner and check for leaks. You do this by hooking up the the Sankey coupler to CO2 tank and filling it to 15 PSI. While you are in the filling process, you will open the beer line a few times to allow all the oxygen to escape, and thus purge the keg. At this point the keg is sealed with 15 PSI of CO2 in an oxygen free environment. This is an important step for a few reasons.
- You want to check for leaks before you fill with beer.
- You need to make sure the liner is properly inflated against the sides of the keg.
- Purging the liner with CO2 and removing all oxygen.
Once you confirm that there are no leaks, you need to release the pressure and CO2 from the keg. This can be done from the valve of the end of the beer line, a party tap works perfectly for this.
Filling the keg should be as easy as letting gravity to fill from your fermenter to the keg. This video does a good job of walking you through the process. I followed the instructions shown in the video, but still encountered problems when filling the keg with beer.
Possible reasons for my filling issues
- My first thought was the liner was not fully inflated, and therefore did not allow the beer to flow freely into the keg.
- I had created some sort of a vacuum that either slowed or stopped the flow of beer. I removed and installed the Sankey coupler, opened/closed valve on the fermenter, and even moved the carboy to a high spot. The flow did get better, but nothing I did was a perfect fix.
- Clogged Sankey coupler. I noticed a build up of hop material in the coupler, but once cleaned it, the rate of flow did not really change much.
Once the keg was filled with the beer, I reassembled the Sankey coupler and began to pressurize the keg. I kept the CO2 at 15 PSI. I checked the keg for leaks over the next few days and everything was good. No leaks, and the beer was carbing just fine.
EV Container plans to have their online store up and running in August. The are going to sell their 1/6th barrel (5.16 gallon) kegs for $97.00 each and liners for 3.95 each. They will have an introductory offer (I’m not sure about the details) of $98.00 for one keg and 3 liners. If you're in the market for new corny kegs, the price is competitive. I found new 5 gallon corny kegs going for as low as $89.99 and up to $119.00 on MoreBeer.
After using the EV kegs, here are the pros and cons I found:
- Relatively easy to use for the first time, but not without a few first time frustrations.
- The disposable liners make for simple sanitizing and cleanup.
- No kegerator modifications. With this system, you will not need to change out of the fittings between Sankey and corny kegs.
- A higher initial investment.
- Unless you dedicate tubing, party tap and a spare Sankey couplers, you will need to do some disassembly/reassembly every time you keg. Check out Billy’s video showing an alternative method for easily switching between Sanke and Corny kegs.
- Unknown lifespan/durability as this is a new product.
Other than some issues filling the keg, which I partially caulk up to my rookie mistakes, the keg worked beautifully. A few recommendations if you decide to invest in EV kegs:
- Dedicate a Sankey coupler and the required hoses so you don’t need to remove the valves each time you fill the keg. I think this will be worth the investment & time savings
- Spend some quality time with the instructions and videos. This is not a difficult process, but steps do need to be followed.
- Make sure you invest in a few spare liners, just in case you don’t get a good seal. You don’t want to put good homebrew into a keg that doesn’t hold pressure.
Being that this is a new product on the market and the first time for me to use it, I would have to say it’s promising, but not perfect. The assembly was easy, but you have to follow the steps very closely.
The filling was a bit frustrating and slow. The carbing and dispensing work beautifully. The clean up was quick and effortless.
I will take some of the blame for the filling issues, but I’m still not sure what I did wrong. I plan to have my second batch in this keg in about a month. I will report back on my 2nd attempt.
Regardless of my difficulties, I’m still very excited about this product. I think this keg has great potential. It could really improve the quality of my kegged beer by allowing a closed system fill, which reduces the amount of oxygen hitting the beer. Never needing to clean and sanitize another keg is pretty attractive too.