Thinking of Kegging

Breaking from the recent trend a post about Keg beer…. As a homebrewer I enjoy every aspect of brewing, it’s all good apart from one thing… bottling.

For me there is nothing worse cleaning out 60 odd bottles (from a 5 gallon batch) sanitising them, carefully adding in 1/3 of a teaspoon of sugar (you can batch prime I know) sanitising 60 caps and then carefully filling each bottle to around the right amount before capping.

I’ve had siphon tubing fall out from the top of the FV onto me, I’ve had the FV carefully balanced to ensure I got every drop of beer into the bottle slip off the ledge onto me, and more bottles than I can count being knocked over.

I’ve found solutions to the mess, by bottling over an open dishwasher, adding tubing to the bottling wand to help stem the flow of beer into the bottle, but it’s still, for me, an absolutely thankless task! and I could never get the sugar solution mixed in enough when batch priming leading to random carbing.img_6518

So I made the decision to invest in a kegging system, and embarked on the search to find the kit that suited me, (which in the end was pretty easy) but I wanted to know just what I needed to make sure I had a good set up.

I can’t honestly say I found a website that spelt it all out for me @broadfordbrewer’s Blog (£70 + Keg + Gas) was a great start. I decided though my initial set up would be more straight forward getting it complete from Keg Kingdom it wasn’t cheap but I had decided I wanted everything to be new, in hindsight a keg is a keg so unless you don’t want something that is “aged” go second-hand.  I have subsequently topped my kit up with a couple of second-hand kegs, and also a small 6 litre keg that I found on aliexpress.  Tom Lewis of FiveClouds has also always been on hand with pointers and tips whenever needed.

We’re lucky in Macclesfield to have Bollington Beer Supplies who sell CO2 at comparatively low prices (my refill after 2 years and probably 20+ kegs was £13.90 as at 8th Jan 2017), and between my purchase from Keg Kingdom and Bollington Beer Supplies I had a kit that allowed me to very quickly transfer beer from the FV into a keg, add CO2 to get the desired carbing and after a week I had beer I could drink that was fizzy and generally has a good head. Cleaning sanitising and transfer can easily be done in 15-20 mins.

Sadly though for me kegging seems to be a sick addiction, I couldn’t stop at one and I need more kegs, I needed a fridge to keep my beer cool, I needed some nice taps to pour my beer and this is where things get a little more complicated.

My first error, not buying two shanks at the same time, I now have two shanks that are very slightly different diameters which means I can balance one tap perfectly, but the other tap is a little bit to foamy, or pours far to quickly.

John guest fittings, the amount of connectors that I’ve bought that don’t seem to fit anything despite on the face of it the sizes being right.

Fridges, I always go second-hand, and cheap my current upright keg fridge set me back a whopping £3 from eBay I had to pick it up but it works, sadly though I can barely get two kegs in it, and the shelf placing isn’t ideal for my set up (or rather I drilled the gas line in hole in the wrong place)

Beer line – I don’t think you can ever have long enough beer line well it feels like it anyway sometimes, I reckon always get at least 5m of beer line per keg if you’re using an upright fridge, remember you can only cut once.

Shanks – make sure they’re the right size, and then get a John Guest adapter to the beer line adapter this makes connections so much easier, plus I could never get a good seal with any other adapter.

But despite the issues I’ve had balancing beer, getting the right CO2 for my beer, and drilling holes in the wrong places of my fridge, kegging makes life so much easier, force carbing means that you get a consistently carbed beer every time. if you purchase a bottling gun (again Aliexpress is a great place to get them but there are other places) you can still get your beer into bottles without having to bottle condition and it’s pretty quick too. If I can avoid it I won’t be bottling again, kegging isn’t perfect for everyone but for me having a beer fridge in the corner of my a kitchen is perfect!!

Here’s the set up and places I purchased the various parts of my kit from, if you’re not local to Macclesfield try looking for local brewery supplies to get CO2 as that can be a pricey element of the set up.

I’ve mainly used 3 places for my kit.

Keg Kingdom

Brew UK

and gas from Bollington Beer Supplies

At the time of posting Keg Kingdom seems to be out of stock, but you can get the full set up from them when they have stuff in. and as with anything homebrew related I’d advise think longer term in relation to what set up you need, for me I regret not buying a couple of kegs, faucets etc at the same time, I had always planned to have two kegs on so should have purchased to that and would have probably saved a couple of £’s.

So my set up as I initially bought was from Keg Kingdom and adding it all up it’s still pretty good value buying everything in one go as a kit

The block of wood is holding the drip tray on.
The block of wood is holding the drip tray on.

Keg Starter Kit (£145) I just needed to add CO2. (they now do sell  complete kit –  new starter kit (including gas)  at £189) second-hand equivalents range from £115 – £140 (including CO2)

The one draw back I found with the starter kit is trying to get the beer to dispense without being overly foamy (balanced) as the tap is so close to the keg it needs very little pressure to dispense the beer.

After a few months of kegging I decided I know longer wanted to open the fridge door to pout my beer and that I wanted taps on my fridge, my solution was to add the bits that are marked with an * in the table below. I didn’t need a drip tray or new disconnects but I choose to add them for ease and cleanliness.

and If you want to expand or use a second-hand kit it’s relatively simple too.

The table below is everything you need to set up your kegging system if you wanted to go straight into a fridge.

1 keg 2 kegs
John Guest Splitter 3/8″ (only required if you have two kegs used to split gas line)  £3.00
*4 inch Shank  £12.50  £12.50
Intertap Faucet  £22.00  £22.00
Tap Handle  £1.60  £1.60
*Beer Line 5m 3/8  £2.00  £2.00
Gas Line 2m 3/8  £2.00  £1.00
*John Guest 5/8 BSP X 3/8 Push Fit  £4.00  £4.00
*Pair of Cornelius Keg Disconnects & John Guest Fittings  £10.75  £10.75
2nd Hand keg  £50.00  £50.00
Gas Regulator  £35.00
CO2  £54.00
*Fridge, keep an eye on twitter, forums, free cycle  £-  £-
*Drip Tray  £18.00
Total  £211.85  £106.85

The main difference between the starter kit I listed earlier and this set up are

  • A party tap – the starter kit is doesn’t need a shank or beer line to dispense beer
  • The inter tap faucet, listed is better quality than the standard tap you get with the starter kit
  • Push fit rather than screw disconnects which make it a bit harder to disconnect and clean beer line.
  • No CO2 of drip tray with the starter kit.

Obviously you can shop around to find the best deals possible @broadfordbrewers blog is testimony to that, but do keep in mind delivery charges if you don’t get everything from one place. I’ve mainly used KegKingdom and am very happy with their service so wholeheartedly recommend them. Building your set up from scratch (2nd hand) you’re probably looking at around £110 plus gas without the versatility of the keg tap adapter. (obviously eBay would be your friend here to reduce prices, and the list above should get you going.)

As mentioned before shop around for Gas, my local doesn’t charge a deposit for CO2 so it’s a total cost of £13.80 for a large canister which lasts a long time, but when it’s back in stock the 2nd hand party set up with CO2 is pretty good value.

Admittedly compared to bottling it’s by no means the cheapest option, but for speed, consistency of carb, and a lighter recycling bin kegging is the way to go. If I were to start again I’d definitely by a starter kit again but probably go second-hand.

As a very vague cost comparison over 20 batches it works out at around £9.45 a batch, if I were to bottle that from and replace my bottles every brew (which admittedly I’d never do) it would be £9.96 + priming sugar.

I wouldn’t go back to solely bottling now, if I do bottle I bottle from keg using my knock off beer gun it really has made my life a lot easier. I still use my little keg faucet too when I go to BBQs I pack my little 6l keg with a portable CO2 regulator and It’s done.

At some point in the near future I plan to actually ferment in a Keg using a Spunding Valve (eagerly awaiting deliver of) which should mean I can ferment and use the CO2 usually wasted during the process to carb the beer at the same time…???

If you’re not sure which parts you need drop you’re local homebrew store a line or @KegKingdom who’s always around to help.

Missed something out please comment below.

and here’s my upgraded fridge, with plenty of space to store Yeast starters and bottles.

 

 

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