Update: I've consolidated my kegerator build instructions. There are pictures of the finished product and step by step instructions for building your own. Start there.
When you lose a loved one it's hard to take your mind off the hurt and pain.
Ever since my kegerator died I've missed its presence in my living room. The glistening tower, the fresh homebrew only a handle pull away. Once you go tap, you never go back.
So it's time to build a new kegerator.
Kegerator, the Second Coming
To cure my withdrawal, I am planning a set-up that is bigger, better, and more badass than my last one.
I'm about to release a comprehensive kegging course to Homebrew Academy members where I'll go into much more detail, but I still want to share this project with my blog readers. Hope you follow along.
Chest Freezer or Fridge?
I'm going with a chest freezer, which will make this a “keezer”. For one I just think they look better as kegerators. They look like a nice piece of furniture while a refrigerator looks like well, a refrigerator with a faucet sticking out.
They are also more energy efficient since they open from the top which prevents the cold air from escaping.
This will be a four keg set-up. More than that is more than I want to deal with. As easy as people make kegging appear, there is actually a good amount of work involved with keeping the whole system clean. Four is enough to keep up with my brewing schedule but won't become a hassle to maintain.
On my trip to K-Mart I sized chest freezers using cardboard cutouts that represent the keg footprints. I came across a sexy 8.8 cu. ft. black Kenmore that spoke to me. Sure enough, it will fit 4 kegs as long as I use a collar (see below).
I didn't bite the bullet on the freezer because there is a Sears outlet in town that carries imperfect models. I'm waiting for the right size to come in so I can jump on it at a discount.
You have a choice with chest freezers on where to put the taps. One option is to drill a hole in the lid and put a tower on top. This is what I had on my deceased keezer. The benefit of tower is that it's attractive looking and there are some very nice looking towers. Construction is easy because it mainly involves just drilling a hole in the top.
The drawback is that you're damaging the freezer. You can say goodbye to the warranty. There were also many occasions when I would open the lid and the handles would open, shooting beer into into the abyss behind the freezer.
The other option is to do what many homebrewers do and use a collar. This thing is best described with a picture:
Basically, it is a wooden box that extends the height of the freezer. The benefit of the collar compared to a tower is that you can use it as a pinboard for all your parts without damaging the freezer. You can install:
- Gas manifold or secondary regulator
- Temperature Controller
- Drip tray
- Hooks to organize beer/gas lines
- Hole to run external gas line
- Bottle opener
- Gun rack
The collar also allows you to give your kegerator a unique look so it doesn't resemble your copycat neighbor's. Also, if the freezer craps out (I know about this), then you can transfer the collar/tap set up to a new one.
Another huge benefit is that you can add more kegs. Most chest freezers have a small shelf for the motor, and without a collar a corny keg won't fit on the shelf. Since the collar extends the height, you can fit a corny keg on that shelf. This is crucial for my 4 keg setup.
Standard beer faucets are known for getting stuck if you don't use them daily. They also gunk up easily which is not only one more thing to clean but it compromises your beer. I dealt with both of these problems with my old faucets.
Perlick faucets on the other hand are forward sealing, meaning they stay full of beer and you don't have the sticking or gunk problem. Yes, they are pretty damn expensive at $30-$40 each, but they'll be worth it. Plus they just look cooler.
The faucets will install onto 4″ metal shanks which go through the collar and connect to the beer lines on the other side.
Kegs are pretty simple. For homebrewing you're almost always going to be using Corny kegs. Officially called Cornelius kegs, Cornies were used for soda at restaurants before they were replaced by those cardboard box and bladder things. Now they are very popular among homebrewers.
The keg you're probably most familiar with is the Sanke, or Half Barrel keg. In college I spent a lot of time inverted over one of these. The picture below is very useful for distinguishing the different keg types.
Corny kegs are split into two categories depending on how the gas and beer lines connect: pin lock and ball lock.
There's really no advantage to one or the other, and Wikipedia tells us that Coca-Cola used pin locks while Pepsi used ball locks. Fun fact.
Since I already have two pin-lock kegs I'll be using those. To keep things consistent I'll probably use pin-locks for the other two.
I have a 5 lb CO2 tank from my previous set up that I'll use for this one. For this size system a 10 or 20 lb tank is ideal, but they're expensive so I'll only upgrade if I really need it.
Another option you have with the gas is your regulator. You can choose to supply the same gas pressure to all of the kegs or give them each their own pressures. For the latter you need a secondary regulator. With a secondary regulator, you feed in gas at a higher pressure (~35 psi) and can then control the outgoing gas to individual kegs (9-13 psi).
While it would be nice to carbonate my English Mild at a different pressure than my Berliner Weisse, it's not worth it for the price of secondary regulators which can cost $200.
Instead, I'll spend $50 and get a 4 way gas manifold. It splits the gas to four different kegs, but unlike the secondary regulator you can't control the pressure to individual kegs.
This baby will look nice mounted on the inside of the collar. If I ever want to upgrade to a secondary regulator it's an easy switch, but I'll start out with the cheaper option.
Getting it Done
I'm hoping to have this completed in the next 1-2 months. To be able to put food on the table during that time I'll probably start with 2 taps and then expand to 4 when the funds allow.
Speaking of money, I'm sure you'd find it useful for a cost breakdown of the whole system. I'll provide that in a follow up post once it is built and I know all of the costs. So consider this part 1 of a 2 part series.
Thanks for following along. If you have questions about the kegerator or suggestions for improvement, let me know down in the comments. I'd also love to hear from other kegerator owners about their setups.