A Kegerator How-To
When you first consider buying or making a kegerator, it may seem baffling with all the new terms like D couplers and shanks, jumpers and regulators. All you really want to do is enjoy your favorite brew, not learn advanced calculus. Luckily for you, kegerators couldn't be simpler, and we're here to show you how. All you need to pour cold draft beer is something to keep the beer in, something to keep the beer cold, and something to get the beer out into your glass (or whatever you're using; we're not here to judge).
Storing Your Beer – Keg Sizes, Dimensions and Types
As you may well know, draft beer is almost always stored in a "keg" What you may not know are the different keg sizes and types out there. There are six major types of kegs in use: Half Barrel, Quarter Barrel, Slim Quarter Barrel, Sixth Barrel, Cornelius Keg and a Mini Keg.
The three most common types of kegs are:
- Half Barrel Keg: The largest size, this is what most people think of when they think of a keg. They are typically 23"tall and about 16"in diameter. They weigh about 160 lbs full so you'll need two people to carry one. They hold about 15 ½ gallons or about 165 twelve ounce glasses of beer.
- Quarter Barrel Keg: More commonly known as a “Pony"keg. As those of you good at fractions have already guessed, these are about half the size of a Half Barrel: about 12" to 13" tall and still around 16-17"wide and weigh about 87 lbs full, so again you may need assistance. They hold about 7 ¾'s gallons or 82 twelve ounce glasses of beer.
- Mini Keg: You've probably noticed these showing up more and more in your grocery store's beer aisle. The most common you'll find is Heineken, but other brands are available. They're quite portable at almost 10"tall and 6 ¾"in diameter, weighing in at a mere 13 lbs. They hold about 1 1/3 gallons or 13 twelve ounce glasses of beer.
Like bottled or canned beer, beer in kegs gets foamy if you shake it. It's best to let the keg sit for an hour or so before you tap it. Unlike bottled or canned beer, most draft beer is not pasteurized. So even though you have your favorite beer in a keg, you now need to worry about…
Cooling Your Beer – Refrigerators
Draft beer needs to be stored at 44 degrees or below or it will go bad and taste sour just like with milk. So just like milk, all you need to do is keep it refrigerated.
If you are going to convert an old refrigerator, make sure to measure before you start. Few things are worse than spending all day drilling holes and feeding line only to find the keg you've been dreaming of drinking all day won't fit.
Compact fridges can be great because of their size, but be careful to avoid ones with a freezer compartment or crisper drawers as your keg most likely won't fit. Also, if you want to build it in to your bar, make sure to look for an “undercounter”or “built-in"model. Most compact refrigerators vent heat out the back which would get trapped if built in to cabinetry, causing problems.
If you buy a ready-to-go kegerator, it will have a fridge made to accept a keg. The only thing to be mindful of there is some larger Half Barrel and Quarter Barrel kegs might not fit in certain kegerators. Again, if you're building it in, find out if it is an “undercounter” model or not.
A refrigerated keg should last about 45-60 days. Now that you've got your keg nice and cold, it's time for the good part...
Pouring Your Beer – Keg Equipment
To get the beer out of the keg you need pressure. The simplest way to do so is with a hand pump, but, as you may or may not remember, it's more work than you'd really like and maddeningly inconsistent. Also it allows in air and bacteria, meaning the keg will not keep as long. A kegerator most commonly uses tanks of pressurized CO2 to push the beer out of the keg, through a tube and out of the faucet. To do so, it uses the following parts:
- CO2 Tank: This houses the pressurized CO2 used to push the beer out of the keg. Most kegerators come with a 5 lb tank, which will last for about 5-7 Half Kegs. Most gas dealers, welding supply companies and fire extinguisher companies can refill your tank with CO2, but we recommend you call ahead.
Please Note: Certain brands (like Guinness) require pressurized nitrogen as well. These require slightly different tanks. Contact your local gas dealer for availability.
- Single Gauge Regulator: This connects to the CO2 tanks and steps down the pressure to a level proper for serving beer. The Gauge will reflect the amount of pressure, measured in PSI or Pounds per Square Inch. You can manually regulate the pressure using this tool. Setting the pressure too high will eventually result in foamy beer and setting it too low will lead to flat beer. We recommend around 6-12 PSI on most brews, but it varies according to brand and personal preference.
- Dual Gauge Regulator: Works the same as a Single Gauge but also shows the amount of gas left in the tank(s) as well as the PSI.
- Air Line Jumper: Tubing that connects the regulator to the keg coupler, carrying the CO2 to the keg.
- Keg Coupler: The part that attaches and taps the keg allowing gas in one side and beer out the other. There are six major types of couplers which vary by brand. Most domestics take a D coupler. If you are unsure of the right coupler for your application, consult the company you purchased your keg from.
- Beer Line Jumper: Food-grade tubing that attaches to the coupler and runs to the shank or the faucet. Beer lines should be refrigerated for an optimal pour. Keeping your beer lines clean will help prevent bad tasting and foamy beer. We recommend you clean the beer line once after every Half Barrel.
- Shank: A long steel tube found in refrigerator conversion kits, connecting the beer line to the faucet. These are built into draft beer towers found in most kegerators.
- Faucet: Where the delicious beer comes out. We recommend cleaning the faucet when you clean the lines.
- Faucet Handle: Usually known as a tap handle, which you pull to make the magic happen. You can easily replace the handle with one of your choosing.
- Be aware while the overwhelming majority of handles take a standard thread, there are a handful that are metric.