When I first got into home brewing I — like many others — bottled my finished beer.
…bottles are a drag.
You wash, and sanitize bottles only to risk oxidizing your precious beer while you mix in a priming sugar solution, and spend the next hour getting your brew into the bottle only to wait 2 more weeks before you start enjoying the fruit of your labors.
After about 10 batches I decided to get over the investment, face my fears, and embrace kegging my beer and putting it on draft.
How did I finance this endeavor?
Well like any other freshly graduated college student I sold all of my old textbooks to Amazon, and used the credit to purchase a draft setup. Honestly, it’s a little intimidating when you’re on the fence about the purchase, but after that first experience I promise you’re completely sold on kegging.
Types of Kegs
This type of keg is most common, and typically the easiest to find. It has two posts at the top. One post functions as an IN for CO2 gas, and the other post functions as an OUT for liquid beer. Gas in, Beer out. You’ll also notice that the lid itself has a pressure release valve (the little ring) that you can pull to let off Co2 pressure.
The grey Gas Ball Lock disconnect looks like this:
Remember: Grey Gas Goes In. If you force the gas disconnect onto the OUT post, it is a pain in the rump to remove.
The black Liquid Ball Lock disconnect looks like this:
The same rules apply for the liquid disconnect. You need to put it on the OUT post of the ball lock keg. If it goes to the IN post the disconnect can basically fuse to the post, and once it’s on there best of luck getting it off.
Pin lock kegs operate pretty much the same as a ball lock except that there are small pins around the posts that you use to lock the disconnects into place. You’ll also notice that the pressure release doesn’t have a valve you can pull… lame.
The Pin Lock Gas Disconnect looks like this:
You’ll notice that the gas pin lock has a grey base — remember, grey gas. It functionally works the same way as the ball lock. Attach the gas disconnect to the IN post, and you’ll be good to go.
The Pin Lock Liquid Disconnect looks like this:
You’ll notice once again that the same color convention applies with the “black beer” liquid connect. Attach the liquid disconnect to the OUT side of the keg.
Now that you understand the two types of kegs and their accessories let’s move on to the types of hosing. Standard gas tubing for beer has a 5/16″ inner diameter (ID), is typically made of vinyl, and is pictured below:
Beer liquid hose is 3/16″ ID, made of vinyl, and is pictured below:
When cutting your beer line be sure to use 5 ft at a minimum. I’m not a scientist, but that is the hydrodynamic rule of thumb for foam control, and creating a good head with properly carbonated beer. The black opaque line is also a good choice when you’d like to avoid exposing your beer to light. Light interacts with hop compounds, and skunks beer. Boo skunked beer.
This tends to be another big purchase when putting together your draft system, but it’s an absolute necessity because… well… beer needs to be carbonated.
This is a CO2 Tank:
These tanks will ship empty when purchased online, but you can swap them out at your local homebrew store, or a welding supply store. Don’t think that you’re going to get the same tank back. The process works like a propane exchange, and typically runs you $20.
This is a CO2 regulator:
With the regulator, I’ve had my best success wrapping the threads on the tank with teflon tape and screwing the regulator down over that. Test your connection by pouring some soapy water over any potential leak points.
This is a CO2 Distribution Manifold:
The CO2 distribution manifold allows you to take a gas line from the CO2 regulator, and split it into multiple lines in order to facilitate more kegs. The barbs are one way flow, so that the beer cannot flow back up into the gas lines where an infection could possibly develop. The only catch with this setup is that both beers will have the same PSI, so if you want to carbonate at different levels you’ll need a special regulator with multiple pressure capabilities.
Cleaning and Sanitation
Just as with bottling you’ll need to clean and sanitize your keg and beer lines in order to mitigate the risk of contamination.
This is PBW:
PBW is a caustic cleaner. The instructions want you to let the solution set for 30 minutes, but I usually let it hang out in the keg overnight. From there run the PBW solution out of your beer lines, and be sure to give everything a good rinse. PBW is a high powered brewery grade cleaner, so it’ll power through just about any scum.
This is StarSan:
StarSan is a sanitizer. You mix 1 oz per 5 gallons of water. I let this sit in my kegs after I’ve used the PBW and done a thorough rinse. From there I pump the StarSan out of the keg through the liquid out, and store the solution for later use — StarSan is reusable.
Proper sanitation is key for great beer even on the back end. If your beer lines get dirty or develop an infection you can look forward to off flavors, and a risk of headaches. It’s pretty easy to taste when a taproom has dirty lines — no bueno.
Taps and Hardware
Here is the final step with your draft system: dispensing. If you want something extremely simple go with a picnic faucet.
With a picnic faucet you simply hook it into the end of your beer hose, and you’re good to go. I’m not a huge fan of picnic faucets because the foam control is pretty subpar, but it’s not a bad choice when you’re just getting started.
This is a Draft Beer Kegerator Tower:
With a draft tower you have all the taps pre-assembled along with the beer line. You simply install this to top of a kegerator with the lines running through the lid, and hook your lines into the appropriate disconnect. BOOM! You’ve got a working dispenser.
This a Beer Faucet Assembly:
With a beer faucet assembly you drill a hole into the front of whatever you’re refrigerating your beer with, run the shank through that hole, attach the liquid beer line, and serve. They work great just be sure not to hit any internal cooling lines that might be running in your refrigeration unit. This is what I have on my home keezer setup.
These are 5/16″ Stainless Steel Clamps:
These clips are great because you simply tighten them down with a flathead, and they are extremely secure. You can also remove them if the clamps need to come off. I personally use one on every line connection in order to provide extra security. Some people feel that the clamps are overkill, but I prefer not worrying about if a line is snug. A little precaution is much better than empty CO2 tank or a beer all over the bottom of your kegerator.
Putting Together Your Homebrew Draft System
Now that you’ve gotten a rundown on all the gear let’s go step by step on the setup.
SETTING UP YOUR CO2
- Choose a refrigeration unit for your system.
- Connect your CO2 regulator to the CO2 Tank.
- Install your CO2 Distribution Manifold to the inside of the fridge.
- Connect a gas line from your CO2 regulator to the CO2 Distribution Manifold making sure to secure the line on the barbs with Stainless Steel Clamps.
- Connect gas line from the out on your CO2 Distribution Manifold to your Gas Ball Lock Disconnect. Again, use clamps and to clarify, I’m using ball locks in this step-by-step, but go ahead and use pin locks if that’s what your system needs.
- Your gas setup is now complete.
SETTING UP YOUR LIQUID
- Drill a 7/8″ hole in the front of your refrigeration unit for your shank assembly to go through.
- Assemble your Beer Faucet Assembly through the hole you just drilled, and tighten everything down.
- Connect at least 5′ of beer line to your Liquid Ball Lock Disconnect with a SS clamp, and then connect it to the barb on the Beer Faucet Assembly.
- Your liquid setup is now complete.
KEGGING YOUR BEER
- Clean and Sanitize all equipment (kegs) and hoses that will come into contact with your finished beer.
- Connect your Gas Ball Lock Disconnect to the IN post of your Ball Lock Keg.
- Turn on your CO2 at 12 PSI and allow your keg to fill with CO2.
- Pull the air pressure valve, and allow the keg to push out all the O2 so that you leave behind only CO2. This procedure helps prevent the oxidation of your beer.
- Turn off your CO2, and remove the lid from the keg. You’ll see the CO2 built up in the keg. Don’t worry. CO2 is denser than air, and will stay in the keg while you fill.
- Drain or siphon your finished beer into the bottom of the keg allowing the hose to touch the bottom and be submerged in order to prevent splashing.
- Once your finished beer has completely drained into the keg, remove the hose, and return the keg lid to the top.
- When the lid is in place lock it down.
- Turn the CO2 on, and allow the beer to carbonate for 2 weeks at 12 PSI. I typically turn my pressure up to 24 PSI, and agitate the keg in order to speed up the carbonation process. Once everything is carbonated I turn the PSI back down to 12 as my serving pressure.
- Once the beer has carbonated, connect your Liquid Ball Lock Disconnect to the OUT post of the Ball Lock Keg.
- Your beer is now ready to serve.
Upgrading to your first draft system is a big step for most homebrewers, but man it is an awesome step forward. Once I made the jump, I never looked back because filling one keg is a million times better than filling 52 bottles.
If you’re not into piecing together a keg setup piece-by-piece here’s a fully assembled kit:
All you have to do is fill the CO2 tank, clamp everything together, sanitize, fill, carbonate, and enjoy!
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Keep on brewin’