How to move from the epic tedium of bottling into the wonderful world of kegging
So, you have finally mastered the fermentation side of things and you have decided that instead of sanitizing fifty bottles and caps, you would much rather put your beer into a serving tank. Excellent! It’s easy… sort of.
First, as usual, I will go through some nomenclature:
Regulator: The body and gauges on a regulator connect to your CO2 tank and allow you to adjust the amount of gas pressure that you are pushing into the keg.
Manifold: A device used to split the gas line to multiple kegs
Purging: The process of forcing pressurized gas into a keg and releasing it a number of times in order to dilute and replace the existing gas (usually just air)
Gas/Liquid Lines: Usually you have two lines that you are concerned about – one connects the regulator and CO2 tank to your keg-this is the gas line. The other connects your keg to your shank and tap handle-this is the fluid or liquid line
Taps: There are many different types with the most simple being picnic style (made from plastic for portable use) and the most elaborate being an entire series of high end style specific all stainless faucets
You should be treating your kegs much the same as you would a carboy. When it is time to use the keg, you should wash, rinse, and sanitize it. This can be done in advance if you would like to cap the keg and purge it.
When filling a keg you will want to transfer the wort with a sanitized siphon to ensure you get as little turbulence as possible to avoid oxidation (the same way you did from primary to secondary fermentation). Now that you have racked your beer into the keg, you will need to purge the headspace. Between the beer and the roof of the keg there is a bunch of air that you do not want shoved into your beer, so you fill and purge the keg 2-3 times to remove as much air from the environment as possible.
Here’s the rub: There is an exact science to carbonation that is really difficult to master as a homebrewer, so I am going to run down the general principles and give you two surefire ways to accomplish a good level of carbonation. Beers have different ideal levels of carbonation based on the styles, and you can find a good resource for that at the bottom of the page. A beer with more residual sugars will be harder to carb up, and a light beer will be easier (big imperial stouts or high gravity beers will be finicky).
Method 1 (High Pressure Forced Carb)– In general you can always set the PSI on your regulator up to 20 PSI and leave it for two days. With this technique it will be better if the beer is already at your dispensing temp (usually 40°) as beers hold carbonation better at lower temperatures. Once you have done that, you can set your PSI back down to dispensing pressure (anywhere between 4 and 12 depending on several factors. Find what speed works best for you and your set up).
Method 2 (Set it and Forget it)– You can set your regulator to the pressure you want in the beer and leave it for a full week. If you do this you can almost rest assured that the pressure will be somewhere between 8 and 16 depending on your system, and after seven or so days it should be fully carbed!
Method 3 (The Shake Method)– A bit less reliable than the first two, the shake method requires some experimentation. Typically this is achieved by attaching your keg, setting your PSI to somewhere between 10-20, and shaking the heck out of the keg until you hear it stop bubbling (a few minutes). Once the keg seems at pressure you can unplug it and let it sit over night to let the head space settle down. Try it out at dispensing pressure and see how close it is, and if it is not there yet you can set it a little higher and try again.
You will have to play with your particular Kegerator but generally dispensing pressure is between 4 and 12 PSI and it will be higher if your CO2 tank is in the fridge with the kegs. When you pull the tap handle make sure you pull the tap full on and full off to ensure you don’t get a whole bunch of foam.
Links of Interest:
We have everything you need (minus the fridge) to get you ready to keg your beer, including 5# CO2 tank exchanges for $25. Please feel free to come in, and we can help you set up your dream kegerator.
Home Brew Expert and O’Connor’s General Manager