Kegging homebrew?
October 2, 2011 11:43 AM   Subscribe

For homebrewing, is a kegging system enough of a convenience to justify the extra cost?

I brewed lots of beer about 25 years ago. I'd like to get back into it. One of the things I remember hating about homebrewing was bottling. I would like to avoid it all together this time around, but I'm wondering if people who have done it both ways feel it's worth the extra cost.

Also, what exactly are the cons with kegging vs bottling? How do I get refills on the CO2, and how often does that need to be done? If I don't refrigerate the keg for serving, what happens? Any complications I may not have thought of?
posted by y6y6y6 to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Take a look at; they've discussed kegging time and time again. You can get CO2 refills at gas shops, they're often attached to welding outfits. E.g. I have a buddy who has a full kegging system, and he loves it, though he brews a lot. At any given time he probably has 50+ gallons of beer in his house, and 4 taps set up at any given time. It's great if you're doing high volume. I don't think I know any brewers who have gone to kegging and regret it; the thing that usually keeps homebrewers from kegging is the time and money involved in the setup. If you're ok with that, do it.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:21 PM on October 2, 2011

I made bottled beer for years, then switched to kegging as soon as I could afford it and had the space. Really good move--enormously less hassle than bottling. Nowadays, I don't have the space (you really do need a dedicated refrigerator) and I've decided that it's just not worth the hassle unless I can keg.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:42 PM on October 2, 2011

I bottled for years, then started brewing w/a few guys who keg. It is much faster to fill a single keg than four dozen bottles, and much more convenient to clean.

Like c_m said, you can get CO2 at gas shops. You just swap empty tanks for full, like propane. I got two refills a couple weeks ago, it cost $30. Depending on usage, they can last quite a while. We brew frequently and have three or four kegs on tap at any one time, and we get a couple/few months out of each tank. Beats scrounging for bottles.

If you don't refrigerate, your beer will be really foamy.

One minor con is portability, but if you have growlers you're in pretty good shape. If you need to store beer to go and it need to stay carbonated for more than a few days (although most growlers that I've ever drank beer out of have stayed fizzy enough for almost half a week after they've been opened... if the beer in them lasted that long, that is), you can always fill a 20-liter bottle and cap it with a carbonation cap, or make them.

Another con is that word will get around that you have beer on tap at your house. Take it from a former moocher, many more people will find excuses to invite themselves over to your place.

If I went back to brewing solo, I'd buy or build a kegging setup in a heartbeat.
posted by cog_nate at 1:14 PM on October 2, 2011

I've been debating this question with myself for a while now, and I'll be eager to read the discussion.

Another option, with its own pros and cons: the cask (I have no relationship with Northern Brewer other than 'satisfied customer').
posted by box at 1:15 PM on October 2, 2011

Yes, a million times yes. There are small refrigerators you can buy that allow you to run the CO2 hose through the drain so there's basically no work on that end. Kegging itself is super easy and allows you to do things like dry hopping. Do it, you'll be happy.
posted by fshgrl at 1:21 PM on October 2, 2011

I brew with a buddy. I generally brew 3-5 or so batches a year. He brews more like 8-12 and has the disposable income to buy kegs pretty regularly. Kegging makes perfect sense for him. To me it seems like a gigantic pain in the ass. But I sympathize - bottling is the pits. I minimize that by bottling into 22oz bombers.

To me, the huge upside is being able to tap commercial kegs. At any given time he's got a couple of his own brews going alongside a keg of something incredible from a local craft brewer. That said, he's got a lot of time and money invested in the system.

If I had the time and money to build a keg system, I would. But I wouldn't put the effort in for anything less than 4 taps. I wouldn't toss my bottling cane, because there's something nice about showing up at a friend's house with a couple bombers and some time to kill.
posted by Perthuz at 1:32 PM on October 2, 2011

Oh, man is it ever. I can't imagine going back to dealing with cleaning, sanitizing, filling and capping bottles. There's also much better control of carbonation and it's a better utilization of space. Best investment I've ever made in my homebrewing career.
posted by tommasz at 1:59 PM on October 2, 2011

> If you don't refrigerate, your beer will be really foamy.

That doesn't follow --- just reduce the amount of gas you pump into it. I don't refrigerate my keg. I keep it in my basement and got used to British-temperature beer.
posted by goethean at 2:46 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You don't have to make a lot of beer for kegging to be worth it. Sometimes I brew 5 gallons, sometimes 3, and I put the beer in soda kegs. I do have a little refrigerator that just fits a soda keg and the CO2 bottle. I haven't bothered to make a kegerator. I just open the refrigerator door and pour from the party tap.
posted by Captain Shenanigan at 3:21 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

It works several ways for me:
-small fridge rather than bottles everywhere in storage
-no more washing, rinsing, capping, etc. Brewing is more pleasurable as a result.
-the capability to switch over the tap to a keg from a local brewery occasionally
-extra fridge space for storing ingredients, wine, etc
-I've had the same fill of gas for two years of continuous use. Low maint.
-generally lowers the cost of quality beer
posted by kturner at 8:57 PM on October 2, 2011

Yes a million times yes. It is completely worth the cost. I build my own kegerator with space for 4 ball lock kegs (3 tapped) and the CO2 cylinder mounted in a space outside. It was simple enough to make a box that could open out of MDF and then insulate it with standard foam insulation. I drilled holes out of the top with a hole saw and then drilled those same holes through a refrigerator. Some pvc pipe as a conduit for the cold air and bingo you've got a kegerator for the cost of the taps and piping one sheet of MDF and a dorm fridge.

I was able to scrounge kegs from a friend that had a store that served pepsi. He had quite a few just laying outside that weren't being returned so in exchange for a couple of batches of beer I got 8 kegs. They are so much easier to use than bottles and you are now able to force carbonate to get exactly the carbonation you want. As long as you keep the system balanced with the CO2 pressure and the restriction on the tubing leading to the tap there isn't any problem with foaming. As a plus I also got a party tap and connected that to a connector so I could take a keg of beer to picnics and other random places. Friends really enjoy throwing picnics when they don't have to worry about beer and seeing as I was brewing 70 gallons per year or so I was never in short supply.
posted by koolkat at 3:44 AM on October 3, 2011

Hah! People laughed at me when I made a kegerator out of plywood, foam insulation, and a small dorm refrigerator. I built a box about the size of a chest freezer, with a hinged lid. I left a hole the size of the fridge in the side of the box, took the door off the fridge, and set it on the floor of the box, with the coils exposed to the outside. A little weatherstripping, and it worked like a charm.
posted by MrMoonPie at 5:36 AM on October 3, 2011

Also, you don't necessarily need to have a fridge for your keg. I just fill up a growler every so often and put it in the fridge, leaving the keg in the basement.
posted by orme at 7:47 AM on October 3, 2011

Absolutely yes, and if you can find a brew buddy to work with, then you can split a 10 gallon batch in half . Corny kegs can be had on Craigslist for around $35, as can CO2 cylinders. I built a kegerator out of a cheap (but compatible) fridge, using plans from the Internet - just make sure you can squeeze a couple of kegs into the fridge and don't accidentally drill through the refrigerant lines as then you will have an expensive box. Fridge plus tower and two taps set me back about $200 in total.

Use OxyClean and a scrubbing brush then some sanitizer before kegging and you shouldn't get any issues with infection.

Also, most every brew shop will exchange CO2 cylinders for a couple of $$ more than a gas company - In PDX it's $17 vs $15.
posted by nicktf at 9:48 AM on October 3, 2011

I know that this was posted a while ago, and so it's probably moot, but...yes, yes, yes. My buddy and I have been homebrewing pretty consistently (1-2x per month), and the switch to kegs has been huge. Also, as nicktf points out, if you do brew with a friend -- which I find is a really great thing -- then it also means that you can easily make 10 gallon batches and split them.

Of course, it's also all part of the virtuous / vicious equipment cycle. After all, once you're brewing 10 gallon batches, it's really only a matter of time before you obviously need to upgrade to a full 15.5 gallon "keggle". (Which we got a little while ago, and love.) And then, of course, because you do still want to bottle some of your beer, occasionally, you need to get a CO2-driven "beer gun", so that you can easily pour off and cap a few bottles off your keg, once it's carbonated.

Not that that's a _problem_, right?
posted by LairBob at 10:25 AM on June 2, 2012

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