Monday, May 14, 2012

How many taps on your kegerator?

Chalkboard Kegerator, sorry for my poor handwriting.0 (no kegerator) - 30%
3-4 - 27%
2 - 23%
1 - 7%
5-6 - 5%
10-15 - 2%
7-9 - 2%
15+ - 0% (3 votes)

My kegerator has two normal taps (Perlicks), which is about right for my level of consumption. I like the forward seal faucets because they don’t stick, even if they don’t get used for a week. The beers I put on tap tend to keg are either low-moderate alcohol, or hoppy because these are the brews that I want to drink fresh. Much like a good beer bar, I tried to avoid installing more taps than needed. Since I am kegging fresher-is-better batches, I want to avoid letting them sit around too long. If it is a beer I want to drink over the course of months or years, I’d rather bottle.

When I want to put a sour beer on tap, I use a picnic/party/cobra tap to ensure that I don’t mix up the lines (or drink it too quickly). I tend to only keg dry hopped sour beers and other batches that are not my longest-aged most complex creations. Some people are a bit disturbed by the perceived risk of spilling microbe-laden beer in my kegerator, but since the kegs are airtight I don’t see it as a major concern.

As a longtime holdout to kegging, the last two and a half years with my kegerator have been eye-opening. As much as people try to sell kegging as labor and time saving compared to bottling, I’ve found that the real benefit is to the quality of my beers. Kegs can be flushed with CO2 to reduce the oxygen exposure (especially beneficial for hoppy beers). The carbonation level can be dialed in precisely, and there is no risk of over-carbonation because excess pressure can be vented easily. After sucking out the trub on the first few pints the beers tend to pour pretty clear.

However, kegs are not as hassle-free as some people make them out to be. It takes a decent amount of effort to keep them (along with the lines) clean and sanitized. Kegging systems have lots of small areas where microbes can fester. I recently bought Mark’s Keg Washer on a friend’s recommendation. It is essentially a sump pump with a long stem that sprays cleaner, and then sanitizer, on the interior of the inverted keg (or fermentor). I also bought the fittings to attach the pump to the liquid post to clean the dip-tube without disassembling the keg.

I try to minimize mold and moisture in my kegerator with a bucket of DampRid, but despite its best efforts once every six months I still need to pull everything out and bleach the interior. With such a small chest freezer the main issue is the area below the kegs, next to the compressor bump, where moisture pools. Cleaning the kegerator is just another one of those little things that many people fail to mention when promoting the benefits of kegging.

I usually get about nine months out of each five pound CO2 tank fill, probably seven or eight batches depending on whether or not I am keg conditioning or force carbonating, and how diligent I am about double purging both before and after filling. Sadly the DC metro-area only has one shop that is open on weekends and willing to fill tanks. There are a few places closer to my house, but they either close by the time I could get to them after work, or only do tank exchanges (I want to keep my aluminum tank).

For the test batches I have been brewing for Modern Times Beer, I have been using a Blichman Beer Gun to bottle from the kegs. So far it has been pretty easy to use, and Jacob told me that even the hoppy beers I have sent held up pretty well for a month in the bottle. This bottler connects to both the liquid out of the keg, and CO2; a button flushes the bottle with CO2, then the trigger dispenses the carbonated beer. The included liquid tubing is long and narrow enough to bottle well carbonated beers without much foaming, but using chilled wet bottles certainly helps as well.

If nothing else, serving your homebrew on draft fun. Being able to perfectly fill any sized glass, or just have a small taste of a beer without drinking a whole bottle. Although conversely, I sometimes run out of a beer when I’m not expecting to (either kicking a beer I was really enjoying, or having to knock through a mediocre batch to make room for something else). If you have the room, kegs are certainly worth the investment, but don’t think of them as a cure-all if bottling isn’t your favorite part of the hobby.


RSR said...

How do you like the keg washer? We've been using ours for a few months now, and we are very happy with it. I especially like being able to reduce the sheer volume of cleaning and sanitizing solutions we need.

As for the dampness, maybe check this one from someone who considered damp rid at one point:

Adam said...

I'm a kegging holdout. The closest to kegging I've got myself is a 5.4gal pin and a hand pump. I just like naturally conditioned beer, and if I do keg (which will eventually happen I'm sure) I will keg condition rather than force carbonate.

pjdunn said...

It made more sense for me from a storage perspective. Two years ago, I didn't have the space to keep cases and cases of bottles. I built a 2-tap from a Sanyo 4912 and started rotating 3 cornies. That fit my goals at the time.

If nothing else, the psychological relief of not having to bottle every batch has also been a plus for me.

These days I have more storage space, and have a growing cellar of sours and strongs. Session beers for the kegs, everything else in the cellar. Works great for me!

The Idoit said...

Kegging is my preferred method. I find it hard to have the patience to bottle much.
One thing to make sure to do when setting up a kegerator from scratch is to make sure your air hoses have nice tight clamps covering all ends & that o-ring sets are well lubed. I drained two 5 lb. CO2 tanks literally overnight due to leaks, which is a heartwarming $50 mistake. Since then, can't say kegging is anything short of awesome!
Mike, how long does it take you to polish a keg of a standard abv. brew?

Shawn said...

While I certainly don't look forward to bottling, I'm always a little amazed at how much some people despise it. If you wash out/clean bottles thoroughly after pouring a beer, and take labels off in small batches from time to time, you can have a ton of bottles on hand. From start to finish (including bottle-sanitizing), bottling takes me about 2 hours. A bit of a pain, yes, but I do like being able to have 10+ types of beer on hand to age if needed, and 2 hours isn't THAT much of a time investment, in my opinion.

chris said...

Nice post on kegging.

I've got a chest freezer that we picked up on the side of the road originally to store extra garden produce and local seafood but we found we had enough room in our freezer, so turned it into a basic chest refrigerator.

I've got 1 keg on tap with a simple cobra tap but I have three staples crates that I have filled with my fresher & aged Belgian beers that I keep out great. We can have a nice fresh session ale on tap and then 4-5 different beers in the bottle at any time.

I'll keg most non-belgian beers & bottle my 3 gallon batches of belgian beer. I like the ease of not bottling a session beer but get my fix on bottling the 3 gallon batches.

beer_crafter said...

It also opens up a few tricks you can do, for instance dry hopping in a keg, or doing a keg to keg transfer to bring sediment-free beer to a party.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I like the Keg Washer, but I only used it on a keg that had already been cleaned (just to make sure it worked). Thanks for the tip on the dehumidifier, someone suggested it on Facebook as well.

Whether I carbonate naturally or force depends on a couple of factors. I tend to force carbonate all of my hoppy beers since I want to be drinking them as soon as possible, and yeast will only serve to take hop compounds out of solution. I’ll carbonate naturally if I don’t have an open slot in my kegerator. That way the beer will be ready to drink as soon as I can chill it down.

Most of my kegs stay around for between 6 and 18 weeks, but that will probably head towards the low end with Audrey graduating next weekend and moving back to DC.

Jason said...

Regarding CO2 fillups, what sort of places to do you go? Have you tried fire-extinguisher service and sales stores? I've gotten my cheapest fills there.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The place I usually go to builds custom bars ( ). I happened to have taken the day off work the last time my CO2 kicked, so I went to a local fire extinguisher shop. However, they are only open during the day Monday to Friday. A couple bucks cheaper, and they were nice/quick ( ).

Haputanlas said...

For Sanke Keg/Corny keg/Carboy cleaning, I use the carboy cleaner after a PBW or Oxyclean. It's by far the best solution I've used and I KNOW that any and all crusties are gone.

There are different attachments for this device that are designed for the different sized containers.

By far the best investment for cleaning I have made. It's all about peace of mind and actual results.