A homebrewer’s journal, by John Kleinchester
One of the best upgrades a homebrewer can make to their setup is to start kegging. Bottling is a long and arduous process made even more difficult if you’re doing it solo. Kegging, on the other hand, is not hard for one person to handle. Not only is it an easier process overall, it can also provide beer that’s ready for drinking much sooner than the few weeks it can take for bottles to carbonate.
The homebrew standard for kegging is five gallon cornielius or “corny” kegs. These used to be the soda industry’s primary means of dispensing. But since they have moved onto other technology, us homebrewers have benefitted greatly from their disposal.
If you’re looking to get into kegging, most of the homebrew supply websites have great package deals that come with (almost) everything you would need: a used corny keg, CO2 tank and the tubing required to dispense. This is a great way to get started, but if you want to get fancy you can look into getting a kegerator so that you’re serving homebrew from a faucet instead of a party-style tap.
Once you have your kegging kit, you’re still going to have to fill your CO2 tank. This can be a bit tricky depending on where you live. Your best bet is to Google “CO2 refill” and look for a vendor in your area. Most places will take your empty tank and exchange it for a full one. This is why it’s best to buy a used CO2 tank, because chances are you’ll be exchanging it right away. No sense in springing for a new one.
So you have your setup and a full CO2 tank. Now what? You’re going to want to thoroughly clean out your keg with Professional Brewer’s Wash or “PBW” before putting any beer into it. These used kegs can also have “soda stone” in them which need to be scrubbed to be removed. It might also be wise to replace all of the o-rings on the kegs to ensure everything will properly seal once pressure is applied. Next up you’ll want to sanitize the keg. I usually put about 1/2 oz. StarSan in with some warm water and let it soak in the keg for about fifteen minutes or so. Don’t forget, there’s no need to rinse out StarSan bubbles.
Next, you’re going to transfer your beer from your fermenter into the keg. If you’re transferring directly from primary fermentation like I do, you should first transfer into another vessel and off of the yeast and hops sediment. This will help for a much clearer beer. I use an auto-siphon and a long tube so that it will reach the bottom of the keg. Avoid any splashing as it’ll oxidize the beer. Usually I’ll hook up the CO2 at this point and apply a small amount to blanket the beer so that it won’t actually come into contact with the Oxygen that’s in the keg. CO2 is heavier than oxygen so it’ll fall to the bottom of the keg and rise up as the beer fills. Once your transfer is complete, close up the keg and apply a bit more pressure. With the CO2 still attached, use the small pin in the lid of the keg to release the pressure and any lingering oxygen. Repeat this a few times to ensure all the oxygen is out. Did I mention oxygen is bad for beer?
In order to carbonate your beer, you’ll want chill down your keg to 32 degrees overnight and then attach your CO2 set at 12psi. Let it sit for about a week. You can set it higher if you’d like it to carbonate quicker. Once the beer is properly carbonated, lower the pressure so that it doesn’t foam as it come out of the tap. You’ll have to play with it in order to get the correct balance for your system. If you’re in a bind and you need to get your beer carbonated really quickly, chill the keg down and set the psi to about 50. Place the keg on its side and roll it gently to distribute the CO2 throughout the beer. This one is a bit difficult to describe, check out this YouTube video.
So what are you waiting for? Get kegging already!