We have a very important topic on our hands – how to put your batch of home brew into a keg. Kegging is a beautiful thing indeed. If you are a hop-head like me, kegging is the only way to go!
Before we get started, let me start by telling you that I still have no problem bottling to this day. Many home brewers who keg complain about bottling and down-talk those who do bottle. If you start kegging, it is important to remember that you don’t want to be that person who down-talks bottlers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with bottling. When it comes to Belgian beer or sour / funky beer, many would agree, the only way to properly finish the batch is to bottle condition it. Take Duvel for example, the delicious bottle conditioned champagne of beer. Do you really think Duvel would be the same on draft? What about Orval? While kegging is faster and easier, there are still plenty of advantages and reasons to bottle a batch of beer.
Kegging works for many styles of beer, but it isn’t universal. Before you keg, make sure you know what your objectives are for the batch of beer.
Without further adieu, here is my kegging tutorial!
First, we need to familiarize ourselves with the anatomy and vocabulary of the keg and draft system. You don’t want to be that guy who goes into a home brewing shop asking for the tap for the tapper on the tap. Let’s also clear the air on the use of the word, tap. To me, the only appropriate usage of it is regarding the action of hooking up a keg to a draft system for the first time, “Hey, I just tapped this keg of beer.” or “Hey, BRI just tapped a new keg of Street Cred.” This makes sense because hooking up a keg is essentially tapping into it via usage of the correct draft system.
Now, for talking about a pint of beer:
I just got a pint of Street Cred on tap.
I just got a pint of Street Cred on draft.
Grammar aside, below is my diagram of a home brew keg along with the names of its various components. Please take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the vocabulary as I am about to start dropping keg vocabulary all over the place in the coming text. You may want to grab a beer, sit down, and relax. There is a decent amount of learning to do here, but don’t worry – I’ve kept it extremely visual.
Okay, now breathe.
Congratulations! You’ve made it through the vocabulary section. I know that was a lot to digest, but it’s much easier to keg when you know the names and functions of all of the major components. Now for the process of kegging your beer! Let’s get started!
The first thing you’ll need to do is remove the lid of the keg. We need to fill the keg up just past half-way with sanitizer. I like to use Star San for all of my home brew sanitation. To remove the lid, pull upward on the latch, as shown in the picture above.
This is what the inside of a keg looks like.
If you’re using the style of disconnect without the hose barb, remove the nut and stem from the disconnect.
Since I am using a proper faucet for pouring my beer, I need to sanitize the components involved. Using a spray bottle, I spray Star San on the tail piece and the back of the shank. The tap gasket goes into a kitchen prep bowl along with a few other components that I will list below.
Remove the pressure relief valve by twisting the pull-ring counter-clockwise. This goes in the kitchen prep bowl of Star San.
Remove the lid o-ring and place this, along with the lid itself in the kitchen prep bowl of Star San.
Remove the gas disconnect from the nut and stem (if using the same style of disconnect as pictured above).
I prefer to disassemble my disconnects when I keg a beer. To do so, simply use a flat head screwdriver and remove the top piece.
This is an exploded view of a pair of keg disconnects. Place the pair of disassembled keg disconnects into the bowl of Star San. Don’t worry – the internals of the disconnects are interchangeable.
Remove the keg posts with a wrench.
Again, I am a fan of fully disassembling things for cleaning and sanitizing. Above is an exploded view of a keg post. I prefer using the universal style poppets, as they come right out for cleaning and sanitizing. Some posts may have different poppets that use a retainer clip to hold the poppet in place inside of the post. Place the disassembled pair of posts and their components into the bowl of Star San.
Lift up the dip tubes on both sides, pull the dip tube o-ring downward slightly, and spray down thoroughly with sanitizer. If you wish, you may also remove the dip tube to slide the o-ring completely off for soaking in sanitizer. I find spraying it down thoroughly with sanitizer to be sufficient.
Set the dip tube back down and spray down where the post connects with sanitizer.
Put the posts back onto the keg the same way they were removed. Be sure to match up the gas post (the one with notches on the vertices of the nut) with the gas dip tube (the short one). Tighten the posts down with a wrench. Now, fill the keg just past half-way with properly diluted sanitizer…
Re-assemble the keg lid in the same way it was disassembled. Don’t forget the lid o-ring! Close up the keg with the sanitizer in it. It should look the same as when you started.
Lay the keg on its side for a couple minutes.
Rotate the keg slightly and let it rest for a few more minutes.
Rotate the keg again slightly and let it rest again for a few more minutes. Continue this process until you have made one complete rotation. This ensures that all of the internals of the keg get to soak in sanitizer.
After completing this process, I usually pick up the keg and shake it around for a minute or two, just for good measure.
Now it is time to remove the disconnects from the bowl of sanitizer and reassemble them. Once reassembled, reconnect each disconnect to its corresponding nut and stem. Remember, gray = gas, black = beer. They both begin with the same letter. That’s how I remember it.
I am connecting the reassembled black (beer) disconnect to the beer line.
Connect your regulator up to your CO2 tank.
Spray down the bottom inside of both disconnects with sanitizer, as well as the keg posts. Connect the disconnects to the posts, and with the faucet in the off position, open the CO2 tank master shut-off and dial in a typical serving pressure of about 12 PSI. Open and close the faucet a few times to work sanitizer up the keg’s dip tube, into the beer line, and into the nooks and crannies in the faucet. Now, run a good liter of the sanitizer out through the faucet. Close the faucet and allow the whole system to sit for a few minutes to sanitize. Now close the CO2 tank master shut-off. Vent out all of the pressure in the keg by pulling on the relief valve ring on the keg lid. Remove both disconnects from the keg’s posts.
After this, I like to remove the nut and stem from the disconnect again. Hold the beer line above the closed faucet though or else sanitizer will come out from the line.
I then open the faucet, place the open beer line below the faucet, and allow the sanitizer to drain out. Once this is complete, re-attach the liquid disconnect to the nut and stem on the beer line.
Remove the keg lid, dump out the sanitizer and behold! Now your keg is sanitized and ready to fill with beer!
Siphon your beer into the keg from either your secondary (preferred) or primary. If you normally go from primary straight to bottling without the use of a secondary, I recommend leaving the beer in the primary fermentor for 4 weeks prior to kegging. You can clog the dip tube with yeast and other sediment if you don’t allow your beer to properly clear prior to kegging.
Behold this beautiful sight! This is what beer that will be carbonated and ready to drink in 2 days looks like!
Put the lid back on the keg and latch it shut. Open the CO2 tank master shut-off, connect the gas disconnect to the keg’s gas post (remember, the one with the notches). Dial in typical serving pressure of about 12 PSI. You will hear the gas go in, and then it will go quiet.
Once it goes quiet, pull the relief valve open on the keg for about 1 second. Let go of the relief valve and let the keg fill back up with CO2 until it goes quiet again. Pull the relief valve open again for about 1 second. Let go, and let the keg fill back up again. Repeat this process about 10 times. This process flushes out most of the oxygen from inside of the keg and replaces it with CO2. Remember, oxygen is bad after fermentation, so this process is a must!
Now, with the serving pressure still dialed in on the regulator, we need to check for any leaks. You don’t want to be that person who didn’t use soapy water but who insists that there is no leak in the draft system, despite having leaked an entire CO2 tank overnight. Check every connection. EVERY connection. If you’re using soapy water and checking every single connection, the leak WILL reveal itself. Bubbles don’t lie! Take your time with this.
By every connection, I mean where the disconnects connect to the keg posts. The keg pressure relief valve. The keg lid itself. The connection between the disconnects and their nuts and stems that attach to the tubing. The hoses that are connected to the hose barbs on the nuts and stems. The connection between the CO2 tank and the regulator. The connection between the regulator body and the shutoff valves. The exterior of the shutoff valve where the handle for the shutoff pivots. The connection between the regulator body and the high pressure gauge / low pressure gauge… etc. See what I mean? There are tons of connections where CO2 could potentially leak from. Be sure to test them all. While performing the soapy water test, I hold a towel underneath where I am spraying to avoid making a mess. If you spot a leak, tighten the connection. If this does not work, you may need to replace a seal. It is a good practice to keep spare parts around if you own a draft system.
Once you have determined that there are not leaks in your draft system, set the pressure to 30-35 PSI and put the whole keg system into the refrigerator, leaving the CO2 on the whole time, for 2 full days. It is a good practice to leave the liquid disconnect off of the keg while waiting for carbonation – not all faucets can hold 30-35 PSI, especially the plastic “party faucets.”
At the end of two days, back the pressure all the way down on the regulator. Pull the relief valve on the keg and let all of the CO2 out. Close the relief valve and then dial in 12 PSI on the CO2 regulator.
Grab your favorite glass. Hold it under the faucet at an angle and pull the base of the tap handle towards yourself. Close the faucet when the glass is mostly full of beer.
Now savor the moment! Your first batch of beer on draft is a big deal! Congratulations! Sit down and enjoy a pint. As you can see what needs to be done from the picture above, I’ll be enjoying this pint while I clean up the office. You may however want to call your friends over for this one!