Kegging 101: From Cleaning to Pint

As homebrewers, almost all of us have been there at some point: aching back, bent caps glued to the floor by sticky beer drops, clogged siphon, only thirty bottles left to go and then a three week wait. Let’s face it, bottling is the worst part about making beer. Kegging can take most of these headaches away and it couldn’t be easier.

keg4The Cornelius or “corny” keg is widely used by homebrewers. They are relatively cheap, they were produced by the millions, and they hold five gallons of liquid which is pretty darn convenient. There are many other types of kegs but this article will focus on the Corny’s since that’s what most homebrewers use.

The basic principal of a Corny keg is simple. Gas is compressible, liquid is not. Therefore if you fill the empty space at the top of the keg with compressed carbon dioxide, the liquid beer will not compress but it will want to escape by any outlet it can find. A tap opens, lets the beer out, a glass fills, and a drink is enjoyed.

Equipment

You need a few basic things to keg your first beer:

  • Keg
  • CO2 tank
  • Regulator and manifold or secondary regulator, if you have more than one keg
  • A way to keep the keg cold – either a jockey box or a kegerator/keezer
  • Quick disconnects
  • 4 feet of gas line for each keg
  • 10 feet of serving line for each keg
  • Faucet to control the flow of beer from each keg

We’ll go through each of these in depth.

The Keg

2013-03-10_06.45.23 There are two main types of Corny kegs. Ball lock kegs are taller and slightly thinner. They use ball bearings clamped into a groove to attach the gas lines, hence the name “ball locks.” Pin lock kegs are shorter and a little larger in diameter. They are called “pin locks” because the gas lines connect by latching onto pins. Both types of kegs hold five gallons, and there are conversion kits to make them interchangeable.

Pin lock vs. Ball lock fittings and quick disconnects

Realistically it doesn’t matter which you choose very much. If you have a tall narrow kegerator you might want ball locks because one more keg could squeeze in. If the kegerator is short and wide, pin locks will likely be a better fit. Pin lock kegs also need a specially cut socket to take apart easily. This can be purchased or made at home. In the end it’s a personal choice usually decided by the availability and price of kegs in your area. Just remember to get the correct quick disconnects for whichever you choose.

When your new keg arrives, the first thing you need to do is break it down and clean it. You should also change the gaskets if they weren’t replaced by your keg supplier. Breaking down a Corny keg is simple and takes just a few steps.

WARNING: kegs are often shipped with some CO2 pressure in them! Before attempting to open one, always pull the pressure release valve, or use a screwdriver to depress the poppets on the gas post and relieve all of the pressure. The gas post of a pin lock keg is the one with two pins instead of three.

Cleaning your keg

  1. Make a five gallon solution of Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW) or another brewing-appropriate cleaner of your choice and a one to five gallon solution (the volume here isn’t critical) of sanitizer such as Idophor or Star-San.
  2. After depressurizing the keg, remove the lid by pulling up on the handle until it is vertical and then pushing downward on the lid with your hand. Turn the lid 90 degrees and lift it free of the opening. Pour out any liquid.
  3. If you are replacing the lid gasket, it should be done now. The post gaskets can also be removed at this point using a standard screwdriver to pry them loose.
  4. Use either a 12-point 11/16th” deep socket or a 12-point 7/8th” deep socket to unscrew the gas and liquid posts. All keg posts are one of these two sizes, and a single keg may have one of each size. For a pin lock keg, the socket will need special slots cut into it to allow the socket past the pins.
  5. Hold each post upright in the palm of your hand and gently press on the poppets to remove them. There are a few small parts here so be careful not to lose any. The poppet valve seals are not usually included in gasket replacement kits and they can be cleaned, so don’t throw these away!
  6. Place all these parts along with the lid and fresh gaskets into a small bowl filled with enough PBW solution to cover them.
  7. Pull up on the dip tube and gas tube that are now exposed. They may be sticky so a standard screwdriver may be used to gently pry upward under the gaskets. Just be careful not to bend or deform the tubes.
  8. The gaskets on both tubes can be replaced at this point.
  9. Place the shorter gas tube into the bowl with the posts and the dip tube inside the keg.
  10. Fill the keg with PBW solution until it overflows.
  11. If the outside of your new keg is dirty, this is a good time to scrub it and remove some of the dirt.
  12. Let the keg and parts soak for at least 4 hours. Soaking them overnight won’t hurt them.
  13. Once they have soaked, pour out the cleaner and rinse everything in hot water at least three times. It is very important to remove all cleaner residue because this can affect the head retention of the finished beer.
  14. If the keg still smells like soda or whatever beverage was previously in it, repeat this cleaning with a fresh batch of PBW solution.
  15. Once the keg, posts, poppets and gas tube are clean and rinsed, soak the small parts in sanitizing solution for 5 minutes and reassemble the keg.
  16. Pour the rest of the sanitizing solution into the keg and put the lid back on.
  17. Pick up the keg and shake it so that every surface on the inside is coated with sanitizer.

That’s it! Now let’s move on to the rest of the kegging system. The sanitizer in the keg will be used to clean your serving lines and faucet shortly.

The Gas Tank

CO2 tanks come in many shapes and sizes, any of the tanks below will work for homebrewing.

T-3

The most commonly used for homebrewing is the five pound tank. It is enough CO2 to carbonate and serve about ten kegs worth of beer. When you go to fill your tank, most places actually have a tank exchange system where they will take your tank and replace it with a full one. Try to purchase your gas from someplace that labels their CO2 as “food grade” as contaminants in CO2 tanks can cause off flavors in beer.

The Regulator

dual_regulatorThere are several different types of regulators. Most homebrewers use a dual body regulator that allows them to read both the tank pressure and the keg pressure. If you plan on having multiple kegs and need them at different pressures, secondary regulators will allow this. If you want all your kegs at the same pressure, a manifold is an easy alternative.

It’s important to note that if your tank is refrigerated with your kegs, the tank pressure will drop significantly, so don’t panic when the tank suddenly seems to be empty after leaving in the kegerator overnight. You also do not need to use Teflon tape on the regulator connection to the gas tank, but it is a good idea on every other fitting. Go ahead and hook up your regulator and make sure that it works correctly. It’s important to check that the pressure regulating valve is completely closed before you open the gas tank valve, otherwise your eardrums are in for a surprise.

Cooling the keg

Featured Product

Refurbished ball lock kegs

Refurbished Kegs

Fully cleaned and pressure tested these Refurbished Ball Lock Kegs are ready to save you a little cash and make it so you never have to bottle 5 gallons of beer again.

$57.95
Order Now

Chilling kegs can be accomplished by storing them in a refrigerator (kegerator) or a freezer (keezer) with a temperature controller. A jockey box is a cooling device that chills the beer in the lines during serving instead of chilling the entire keg. These are usually mobile and are nice for serving beer away from home. All of these can be purchased or built at home, but that is a project of its own and will not be included in this article. All of them work well, and deciding which of them works for you and is within your budget is a personal choice.

Connecting the lines

The quick disconnect fittings for the gas post and the liquid post are different both for ball lock and pin lock so don’t mix them up! Pin locks have different numbers of pins, so those are harder to mix up, but ball locks look very similar so they are usually marked or color coded to help you.

Push the gas and serving lines onto the hose barbs of the correct quick disconnects and secure them with hose clamps. Connect the gas line to the outlet of the regulator and secure it with another hose clamp. Finally, connect the serving faucet of your choice to the end of the serving line. Plastic party taps do not need hose clamps, but metal taps do.

The length of the serving line is important to stop the beer from foaming when it is poured. A general rule of thumb to follow is that you want one foot of line for every PSI of CO2 pressure you’ll be serving with. Ten feet is a good starting point, and works for most people even when serving at up to 14 PSI. Plastic cable ties work well to keep all of the extra line organized.

Putting it all together

2013-03-10_06.30.06It should look something like this:

The first step to getting this system working is to test the seals of the keg. Connect the gas line to the gas post of the keg and charge the keg with 5-10 PSI of CO2. Disconnect the gas line and check for gas leaks by dripping or spraying Star-San solution on all the seals and looking for bubbles. If the seals look good, it’s time to sanitize the serving line and tap.

Connect the gas and the serving lines to the keg and set the regulator at 5-10 PSI again. Now simply open the tap and allow the Star-San to empty out of the keg into a bucket until gas blows out of the serving line. Disconnect both lines and depressurize the keg. Now it’s ready for beer!

corny_kegs

It’s generally a good idea to cold crash the beer for about 48 hours before kegging it. This will help ensure that most of the yeast has already flocculated and won’t end up in the bottom of your keg. Many people recommend purging the keg with CO2 before filling it with beer to help minimize the potential for oxidation in your finished beer. Whether you choose to perform this step or not, siphon the beer into the keg taking care to minimize splashing. Be careful not to overfill the keg. The beer level should be just under the gas tube. If there’s a little beer left over, bottling is always an option!

One the keg is full, put the lid back on and now it’s ready to carbonate. There are several methods for carbonating a keg. The easiest and most foolproof method is to set the gas at the desired serving pressure, put it in the kegerator and let it sit for a week or two. The serving pressure can be determined by choosing a serving temperature (38-44 degrees F are common) and consulting a carbonation table which is only a quick internet search away. Another method for a slightly quicker turnaround is to set the gas pressure at 35 PSI for 24 hours, disconnect the gas line and depressurize the keg, set it at the serving pressure and leave it for 3 days or so.

That’s it! The beer is ready to drink. Any yeast that was still in suspension will likely drop out during the carbonation, so it’s a good idea to dump out the first pint or so when you start serving. If it still tastes “green” or like it needs to age, don’t worry. It will continue to age in the keg so just give it some time.

Most homebrewers who begin kegging their beer agree that they’ll never go back to bottling thanks to the labor savings and faster time from grain to glass. Hopefully this article has been helpful in easing your transition into this new evolution in your favorite hobby. As always, cheers!

written by Matthew King

Have you enjoyed reading this article? Don't miss new articles and exclusive offers by signing up to our newsletter. If you have any questions or thoughts on "Kegging 101: From Cleaning to Pint", let us know in the comments below!

2 comments on “Kegging 101: From Cleaning to Pint”

Leave a Comment

Deal of the Day

Sorry, but today's deal has already sold out. Please check back tomorrow.