Home brewing doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Add some yeast and a few days later, you’ve got alcohol. But the final piece of the home brewing puzzle is carbonation.
And while bottling can be an inexpensive way to get started, if you bottle enough beer, you’ll naturally want to upgrade to kegging. It’s quicker, easier, and nothing beats pulling on your own home tap for bubbling brews on demand. I’m Trent Musho and this is the Bru Sho. Let’s get kegging.
When I started brewing beer and fermenting at home, I bottled everything. There’s something special about bottle conditioned beer and I do think it helps the brewer appreciate all the hard work that goes into making beer.
After weeks of waiting, but to me, it’s painstaking to clean, sanitize, fill up, and then cap dozens and dozens of bottles. It can take hours depending on the size of your batch. And if you don’t take precautions, you can end up with some wicked bottle bombs that can destroy your hard work and your motivation to try brewing again.
That’s where kegging comes in.
To make brewing fun, it’s like filling one big bottle instead of a bunch, and you can dial in the carbonation to be exactly how you like it. All with the benefits of no explosions. Yay!
Probably the biggest reason brewers don’t initially get into kegging is price. Sure, it can be more expensive than a reused glass bottle and some caps, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. I’ll show you a few options to get started, including some DIY ways to save.
But if you’re looking to get started with no work needed, I’ve got you covered on that too. I promise you, kegging is not hard at all and anyone can do it. You just need to familiarize yourself with some basic equipment. When we strip away all the fancy components of a keg system, at the minimum kegging requires a keg, a CO2 tank, a pressure regulator, and a way to pour.
The keg is what holds our beverage and there are a few options for kegs, but on homebrewing scale, the popular choice is the Cornelius keg or corning keg. I went over kegs a bit in my bottling versus kegging video, so check that out for some additional info.
But to recap, Cornelius kegs were once used for sodas and now have a second life as our beer kegs. And there’s two types: ball lock and pin lock. It doesn’t matter what you get, but it’s a good idea to be consistent to save on parts needed. Usually, they can hold five gallons, but you can find smaller or bigger ones.
Of course, you can buy new, but they’re going to be way more expensive, so try to find them on Craigslist, OfferUp, or at your local homebrew store. They’ll have the best price and used is perfectly fine here. It should cost you anywhere from $30 to $60, depending on your luck.
And if the keg is older, you may want to replace some of the gaskets and O-rings for a couple bucks. These will help the keg hold a tight seal when under pressure. The basic idea is that gas goes in one post and liquid comes out the other. The liquid side has a dip tube that goes all the way to the bottom, while the gas tube is short.
The CO2 tank is what holds the carbon dioxide or simply CO2. This is what gives the bubbly mouthfeel we love in our brews.
They commonly come in 5 or 10-pound sizes, but sometimes bigger or smaller. Again, the homebrew shops and local community boards are your friend to find them. Usually, if someone is selling a keg, they might also be selling a CO2 tank, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Depending on where you find them, they can be about $50. Getting one is the first step, then filling it is the next. Google your local welding supply shop and give them a call to see if they can do it for you. Sometimes, homebrew shops can also fill in, but don’t get too attached to your tank.
Most cases, they just swap it out and give you a pre-filled one, so save your stickers for something else. I have a 10-pounder, it’ll last me about six to nine months, depending on how much I brew. The pressure regulator is how you control the amount of pressure going into the keg.
This determines the amount of bubbles or how carbonated your drink is. It attaches onto the CO2 tank. These can be expensive around $70, but you do want a reliable one that can accurately measure the PSI going into your keg, and hopefully, it’ll last many, many years.
And just remember to take it off before taking your tank to get filled. Lastly, is a way to pour or more accurately a way to move the gas and liquid around to get yourself a filled glass of fizzy drink. It just takes a few inexpensive accessories tubing that goes from the regulator to the keg, usually sold as gas line.
A gas quick connect, the type depends on your keg, ball lock or pin lock. Then tubing from the keg with a liquid connect. The tubing is usually sold as beer line and comes in several materials. Vinyl is a popular and inexpensive starter option. And then some sort of tap, the cheapest being a cobra or picnic tap.
Finally, just some hose clamps to keep the tubing from flying off or leaking precious beer or gas. A quick way to check if you have leaks is to spray some star sand on the connection points. If it bubbles, then there’s a leak. Just tighten it down and then check again.
That’s all kegging is, gas goes from the tank into the keg. You set the amount of pressure via the regulator, and after a few days, that forced CO2 will absorb into the liquid in the keg giving bubbles. The amount of pressure is determined by the style of drink and your personal preference, but there are a lot of charts and calculators online to help you, and they take into consideration your desired carbonation and the temperature of your brew.
Most times, I set the pressure to 10 PSI and it takes about 7 days to hit full carbonation, but of course, there are some tricks to getting it fizzier faster.
First is burst carbonating, which is setting the PSI to a higher amount for a shorter amount of time. An example would be setting to 40 PSI for 24 hours, and then releasing the high pressure and dialing back the regulator to about 10 PSI. You should get a good carb amount in a day or so.
Or you can always do the rock and shake technique where you apply pressure and shake or rock the keg for a few minutes until it’s carbonated. This definitely works, as can attest to, and that is how you carbonate your beer in 30 minutes, but it always makes me a bit nervous of over carbonating or even accelerating oxidation. But do whatever works for you.
Oh, and a note on overcarbonating: if you do get too much pressure in, just pull the pressure relief valve or push in the poppet on the gas side of your keg a few times a day until the pressure is lowered into your range.
It’s a fairly easy fix, so don’t worry. The length of tubing also helps with the perfect pour. 10 feet of liquid lines is the sweet spot for 10 PSI of pressure. That length of tubing helps restrict the flow so you don’t get foamy pours. But there’s also some flow regulators for taps that you can use, but I’ll save that for another episode.
Oh, and gas lines can be any length, so just do whatever is needed to reach the keg. So, at the cheapest option, you can get these items and just start kegging. The trouble is that for the best results, you need the liquid to be cold for the CO2 to fully absorb.
A workaround that I’ve found is that if you can fit your keg into the fridge until it’s cold, then take it out and apply the pressure, then disconnect and put the keg back in the fridge with your tap. It might take a few extra days of this back and forth, but it works.
And then you just need to add pressure when the keg runs low. But that’s why kegerators are so great because you can put all that stuff into a mini fridge, add a tap, and it looks and performs much better. But it does come with some extra costs. The first being the mini fridge itself.
Scour the internet for cheap used ones and check the measurements of the interior to be sure your keg can fit. Then you need a way to regulate the temperature of your fridge, so add in a temp controller that you can plug your fridge into. It uses a thermometer to keep the fridge on and only at the temp you desire.
And lastly, you’ll need some sort of tap tower and the tap itself. Pricing can vary but they are sold on homebrew websites. The DIYer just needs to drill a large hole in the top of the fridge and attach the tap tower and tap. Boom, you got a no-frills kegerator.
You can totally put the CO2 tank inside the kegerator, but if you’re limited on space, you can always drill a hole in the side or the back, just big enough for the gas tubing to go through. That way your tank can be on the outside. Just check with your fridge specs to be sure you don’t drill into any cooling coils in the walls that can kill the fridge.
If you’re thrifty, you can find good deals on these items, especially the fridge which can be very expensive to find. Or if you’re really lucky, you can find ones already made for you online.
For those of us who are not as handy, today’s partner, Newair, has you covered. Newair just launched their first single tap kegerator, NKR058MB00, which comes with all the bells and whistles you could want.
This kit includes a CO2 tank, pressure regulator, temp control setting panel, and all the parts to assemble a single tap tower. And there’s some pre-drilled holes in the back for you to keep your gas tank on the outside, saving you even more room.
Speaking of which, it’s huge on the inside, and I plan to upgrade the single tap to a triple tap eventually, to be serving even more. It’s a nice upgrade from my DIY kegerator that’s always had some bugs. It’s sometimes nice to go with the pro versions so you can have some peace of mind. If you’re interested in getting your own New Air kegerator, I have a link below for you.
The only thing I needed to do once assembling my new kegerator was to swap the liquid lines to be 10 feet and swap out the gas and liquid connects to fit my ball lock kegs. Just a heads up, the kit does not come with a keg, so you’ll need to get that.
So, while there is a bit of setup and cost to get started kegging, in the long run, the time you save is priceless. I can kick a 5-gallon batch in about 15 minutes and then be drinking a fully carbonated beer by the next day. That’s a saving of at least two weeks right there. And moving forward, your only cost will be gas and the occasional replacement parts or tubing. Tubing should be changed every year at least.
As far as cleaning goes, it’s a good idea to clean and sanitize the entire keg between brews for the best results and to minimize contamination issues. You can disassemble the posts on the keg to really get in there and clean, but I only fully take apart my keg maybe once every other beer.
A good PBW soak inside followed by some star sand does the trick. Once you finally pour your first glass straight from the tap, you’ll see that it’s all worth it. You have your own pub right there in your house, and you’ll feel motivated to keep that keg full by brewing more. And before you know it, you’ll have some crazy nine-tap keezer and be brewing every weekend.
Feel free to blame me for getting you into kegging. I didn’t mention this, but there’s a ton of cool accessories and customizations you can make for your kegging system, and I hope to show off more keg-related topics in the future.
So, if there’s anything I missed or if you have any questions, be sure to let me know down below. I hope you got something out of this video, and if you did, be sure to hit the like button. Thanks for watching. Cheers and happy brewing.
Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.