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  Kegging  Z Y M U R G Y S u m m e r 1 9 9 5 46 here’s just something about fresh draft beer. It’s not that the chore of bottling is such abig deal; after all, bottles are convenient to give to friends or send to competitions. It’sgreat to be able to come home and grab a bottle of your own homebrew, but there’s something evenbetter about drawing a glass fresh from a keg. You’ve probably admired those shiny cylinders many homebrewers use to “keg” their beers, but  you may also have wondered how complicated it is to learn the techniques. In the words of a great homebrewer, relax. This article contains everything you need to know about dispensing your ownbeer from a keg. If you are a careful shopper you should be able to put a complete draft homebrew system together for $150 or so. That may sound like a lot, but it’s a lifetime investment that will give you many hours of pleasure and save many hours of bottling time. By Ed Westemeier A Bottler’s Guide to T COLLECTINGTHE GEAR Kegs The standard homebrewer keg is a five- gallon (19-liter) container used by soft-drinkbottlers for their pre- or post-mix syrups.They’realsomadeinthree-and10-gallon(11-and38-L)sizes,butthosecanbehardtofindon the used market. They are made by sev-eralmanufacturers,buthaveseveralfeaturesin common: all stainless-steel construction,inlet and outlet valves, a hatch cover for fill-ingand(usually)asafetyvalvetoventexcesspressure. Some feature hard rubber protec-tors around both top and bottom.Beyond those basics, they come in twostyles: ball lock or pin lock, depending on whetherthefittingsontopofthekeguseshal-low grooves where the ball bearings in thequick-disconnectsfit,orprotrudingpinstose-cure the disconnects. The two types are usedby competing bottlers and are designed to beincompatible with each other to make it dif-ficult for a restaurant to experiment with therival brand. There are two types of lids, ovalandracetrack(whichisaflattenedoval).Theyare not interchangeable.It really doesn’t matter which you use, butitiseasiertostickwithonlyonetype.Ifyouhap-pentoobtainakegoftheothertype,youcouldbuyasecondsetofquick-disconnects,ortrade with a friend who’s in the same position. ILLUSTRATIONS BY RANDY MOSHER     There are many different keg designson the market. Your gear may not lookexactly like the kegs illustrated. New kegs typically cost between $80 and$100, but used kegs are normally availablefrommanysourcesforhalfthatprice.Tryyourlocal soft-drink bottler. Our club found thou-sands of used ball-lock kegs in a local Pepsi ® bottler’syard,andwewereabletobuyasmany AvarietyofnewplastickegsisbeginningtocomeonthemarketandI’veheardmanygoodreports about them, but 90 percent of the kegsusedbyhomebrewersarethesodasyrupkind.The good news is that many bottlers areswitching to a newer dispensing system, soused stainless-steel kegs are becoming avail-able in large numbers. The bad news is thatoncethey’regone,that’sit.Ifyou’reevenslight-ly interested in kegging homebrew, I’d advisebuying some as soon as possible. A few generalizations about kegs:   Ball-lock kegs are usually easier to find.   Ball-lock kegs are a little taller, sopin-lock kegs may fit more easily in yourrefrigerator.   Ball-lock kegs are more likely to have apressure-release valve in the lid.   Thestandardball-lockpressure-releasevalveis automatic, but can be used manually.   The standard pin-lock pressure-releasevalve is only automatic(cannotbeoperatedmanually), and if it blows it reseats auto-matically (doesn’t require replacement). Your keg may or may not have a manualpressure-release valve, but models withthis feature are recommended. aswewantedfor$10each.Allhadsomesyrupstillinthemandmanyweredentedandunat-tractive,buttheyheldpressureandthevalves were in good condition. Cleaning them thor-oughly and replacing the O-rings made thempractically as good as new. Dealers in usedrestaurantequipment,scrapyardsandrestau-rant auctions often have used kegs available.If none of these sources works out, several Z Y M U R G Y S u m m e r 1 9 9 5 47 PIN-LOCK KEGBALL-LOCK KEG capspringPIN-LOCK QUICK-DISCONNECTSBALL-LOCK QUICK-DISCONNECTSpressure-release valveTO UNLOCK  valvehosebarbhose barbTO LOCK rubber O-ringpin-lock liquid-out fittingpoppet valvelong liquid dip tubelidlarge rubber O-ringbailgas inlet short gas dip tubepoppet valvepin-lock gas-in fittingrubber O-ringnut ball-lock liquid-out fitting ball-lock gas-infittingnut capspring valve {  {   }  }  homebrewsupplierscarryusedkegs.Theprice will be a little higher and often include ship-pingcosts,buttheirkegshavegenerallybeeninspected and are quite a bit cleaner. Connections  Afteracquiringyourkegs(that’spluralbe-cause you’ll want a few), your next purchaseprobably will be some connectors, calledquick-disconnects. There are two kinds foreachstyleofkeg;agas-inconnectorandaliq-uid-out connector. If your kegs are the pin-lock style, it should come as no surprise thatone fitting has two pins, the other has three.But if you have the more common ball-lockkegs,thefittingsthattheconnectorsattachtoappear to be identical. If you look carefully, you’llseethattheirdimensionsareslightlydif-ferent. Trying to force a gas quick-disconnectontoaliquidkegfittingisafrustratingexperi-ence(that’sthevoiceofexperiencespeaking!).Quick-disconnects are sometimes avail-ableindifferentcolorstohelpyoudistinguish gas from liquid, which is a very good idea.Plastic quick-disconnects are fairly inexpen-sive at $4 to $7 each, but are prone to crackand break from frequent use. Stainless-steel versionsgenerallyaretwiceasexpensivebutshould last a lifetime.Quick-disconnects are available with ei-therahosebarbtowhichyoucanclamptheendofyourplastictubing,orathreadedmaleflare fitting. Or by using a male flare fitting, you can attach a swivel nut and hose-barbadapter to the hose. A swivel nut that is partof a hose-barb adapter screws onto the flarefitting.Eithermethodworkswell,butIpreferthemaleflare/swivelnutassembly.ThatwayI can simply screw a keg connector onto theswivelnutandI’mreadytousemykeg.This way it is also easier to clean and sanitize thehoses and connectors separately. CO 2 Tank The next item on your shopping list is acarbondioxide(CO 2 )cylinder.Themostcom-mon size for homebrewers seems to be thefive-pound tank. It is the shape of a typicalfire extinguisher and is made of either steelor aluminum. My CO 2  tank is aluminum,about five inches in diameter and 18 incheshigh.Thisisahandysizefortaking withyou whenyoutravelwithakeg,andonefulltankthis size should be enough to carbonate anddispenseuptoayear’sworthoftypicalhome-brewing output. The five-pound size sells for$50 to $100 new, half that amount if used.Check bar and restaurant suppliers, weldingshops and fire extinguisher companies.Filling a five-pound tank costs about $9to $12 in my area, depending on where I go.Industrialgassuppliers,weldingsupplydeal-ers,fireextinguishercompaniesandsoft-drinkbottlers are all good sources, so check yourphone directory and call around. Not all are willing to bother with such small orders andsome refuse to fill aluminum tanks. WhenyoubuyaCO 2  tank,besureithasa current certification. It is required by lawto have a pressure test every five years, andtobestampedwiththecertificationdate.Forexample, mine has “5-91” stamped on it, soI’ll have to get it recertified in May 1996 bytaking it in to the place where I get it filled. If itfailsthecertification,whichrarelyhappens,they’ll drill a hole in the side, making it nec-essary to buy a new tank.Inmanyareasyoucanavoidthehassleof recertifying a tank by simply leasing one in-stead of buying it. With a leased tank, youmerelyexchangeitforafullonewhenyoursisempty. The supplier is responsible for havingthe tanks certified. The exchange costs a littlemorethanafill,butitmaybeworthittoyou.Theempty(tare)weightofthecylinderal-so is stamped on it. For example, “TW 7.50”meansitweighs7.5poundswhenempty.Af-terfillingwithfivepoundsofCO 2 itshouldweigh12.5 pounds. Weigh your tank at home rightafter you get it filled so you’ll be able to tellhowmuchCO 2 isleftinitbyweighingitagain.Ifyoudon’tplantotakeyourkegstopar-ties, or if your production of homebrew isstarting to increase, you should consider a20-pound CO 2  tank. My 20-pound tank isabouteightinchesindiameter,27incheshighand weighs 50 pounds when full, includingthe regulator. The advantage of a 20-poundtank is that it only costs a few dollars moreto fill it than a five pounder, but it holds fourtimes as much. If you shop around, the 20-pound size can often be found for less than$100newor$50to$60used,butinanycaseshouldn’t cost more than $125. AlwayskeepCO 2 cylinderssecuredintheuprightpositiontoavoidaccidentsandinjury.Keeping the keg upright will keep liquid CO 2 out of the regulator, which could damage it. Regulator  A full CO 2  tank holds a pressure of 800pounds per square inch (psi) at room tem-perature. That’s a bit more than the 10 to 30psi I need to carbonate or dispense my beer, Z Y M U R G Y S u m m e r 1 9 9 5 48 hose-barb adapter, sometimescalled a stem (fits inside tubing)flare fittingswivel nut (fits over hose barb) CO 2  TANK BALL-LOCK QUICK DISCONNECTSPIN-LOCK QUICK DISCONNECTSFLARE/HOSE BARB/SWIVEL NUT push quick-dis-connect downover lockingpins and turnclockwise tolock, counter-clockwiseto unlock These are some examples of gas and liquid connections.The base of the gas fittings for ball-lock kegs are usual-ly indented with small notches.TO LOCK lift ring andpush quick-disconnect down ontofitting toattach valveregulator nut TOUNLOCK  }  inch ID (inside diameter) food-grade vinyl(not polyethylene) tubing. You can probablyfindthisatalocalhardwarestoreforlessthan50centsperfoot.Buyatleast10feettostart.Cut it in half and use five feet for each line. Agaugecageisaniceinvestmentfor$10to $15. This is a steel wire frame that attach-es to the regulator and protects the gaugesfrom breakage in case the tank falls over.Some regulators come with a one-waycheck valve that makes it impossible for beertoaccidentallyflowbackintotheregulatorandruinit.Checkvalvescomeinmanyshapesandsizes and can be difficult to spot. Check withthemanufacturertoseeifyourequipmentin-cludesthisfeature.Youcanadditlatertoanyregulatorifyoudecideyouwanttheextrapeaceofmind.Likethegaugecage,acheckvalveisnot necessary, but I recommend getting bothbecause a regulator is one of the most expen-sivepartstoreplaceofyourwholesystem. Disassembly  When you get your used kegs home, thefirst order of business is a thorough cleaning.First, vent any pressure by lifting the tab orring attached to the pressure-release valve. If there’snosafetyvalve,pressdownonthepop-petinthecenterpartofthegasfitting(labeled“in”) with a key or small screwdriver. If you venttheliquidor“out”fittingfirst,youwillgetanunpleasantshower.Kegsarealmostalwaysshipped with some pressure in them: be cer-tain to release all of it for safety reasons. With the pressure vented, you’ll be ableto open the hatch. Lift up on the bail. Therearemanydifferenttypes,butyou’llseeasteel wire frame that obviously is meant to be lift-ed up. Using this bail as a handle, push thehatch cover down into the keg an inch or so(don’t drop it). If you can’t budge it, there isstillpressureinthekeg,sogobacktothepre- viousstepandreleasethepressure.Caution: Whennewthesekegsareratedtoholdupto130 psiof pressure soyou could injure your-self if you try to force the lid open with pres-sure inside. After pushing the cover down asoaregulator is amust. The regulator screwsonto thetank valve and reduces thepressureto safe levels. A set screw lets you adjust theregulator’s output pressure with an ordinaryscrewdriver (or even a dime) and a gaugeshows the working pressure coming out of it(yourarelyneedmorethan25to30pounds).The CO 2  in the tank starts out as liquid,and the pressure of the gas in the head spaceof the tank will be between 700 and 800 psidependingonlyonthetemperatureofthecylin-der.Thehigh-pressuregaugeontheregulator willonlybegintofallwhenalltheliquidisgone.Depending on your tank size, this could beenoughCO 2 todispenseonlypartofakeg.TheaccuratewaytoestimatehowmuchCO 2 isleftin a tank is by weight, not by pressure.Theregulatormayhaveahosebarbadaptertowhichyoucanclampapieceoftubing.Oth-erwise, it has a flare fitting to which you canscrewahosebarbattachedtoyourtubing.Reg-ulatorscomeinmanystylesandcostanywherefrom $25 to $75 new. You can generally findthem at any place that sells CO 2  tanks. MiscellaneousParts Thefaucetisthefamiliarplasticgizmowithaleverthatyoupresstostarttheflowofbeer. You’llfindthematmosthomebrewsuppliers,beerdistributorsorbar-supplydealers.It’sin-expensive at $4 to $7 and works well provid-ed you have the correct pressure behind it. Itmaynotbeobvious,butthetypicalfauceteas-ilydisassemblesintothreepiecesforcleaning.FlexibleplastictubingisusedbetweentheCO 2 tankandthekeg’sgas-inconnection,andbetween the keg’s liquid-out connection andthe faucet. Your best bet is three-sixteenths-little, rotate it a quarter turn and you’ll beable to lift it right out.Notice the large rubber O-ring on the lipof the cover. After years of contact with soft-drink syrup, the rubber is thoroughly im-pregnatedwiththestuffandI’veneverfoundan effective way to remove the aroma. Youdon’twantthatflavorinyourbeer,soit’sbestto replace the O-ring. Many homebrew sup-plierscarrythem,andsomeevenofferkitstoreplacealltheO-ringsinakeg.Ifyou’reluckyenoughtohaveawell-stockedhardwarestorenearbyyoumaybeabletofindthem,buttakeanoldonealongtobesureyougetthesamesize and one of food-grade quality. A com-plete set of new O-rings for a keg shouldn’tcost more than $5 to $7 in most areas.Using an open-end (your only option forpin-lock fittings) or deep-socket wrench,loosenboththegasandliquidfittingsontopof the keg. There are several sizes of fittings,butthemostcommonareseven-eighths-inchdiameter for ball-lock kegs and thirteen-sixteenths-inch for pin locks. Loosening thefittings might take some strength, but once youhavethemloosened,theyshouldbeeasyto unscrew with your fingers.Remove both fittings as well as the tubesbeneaththem.Thegasfittinghasashorttubeand the liquid fitting has a long tube that goes all the way to the bottom of the keg.Each tank fitting has a small O-ring aroundit on the outside, and each tube has an evensmaller O-ring around it. All four of these O-rings should be replaced for the same rea-sonasthelargeone.Youmaybeabletofindfood-grade quality replacements at the localhardwarestore,butahomebrewsupplierwillbe your best bet. Keep in mind that pin- and Z Y M U R G Y S u m m e r 1 9 9 5 49 psi gauge indicatingpressure delivered tothe regulator outlet to tank to keghigh pressure(CO 2  tank) gauge(optional)regulator valve(sometimescalled a “lever thingy”)set screw (turn with coin or screwdriver toadjust psi)picnic faucet (disassemblesinto three pieces for cleaning) REGULATOR    PICNIC FAUCET Pull up on the release valveto vent pressure.Lift bail, after vent-ing pressure, toremove lid. REMOVING LID


Sep 22, 2019
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