Once you’ve fermented your beer, you need something to store and serve it from. There are many options available to the home brewer each with its own set of pro’s and cons so lets go through them. In this post we’ll cover using kegs.
Kegs work the same way as a pressure barrel as they use co2 to serve the beer and therefore the beer doesn’t come in contact with air. Because of this, the beer stays fresher for longer and this type of system is very popular with home brewers. Many new craft breweries are also beginning to favour kegs as it ensure their beer is served fresh.
The Cornelius keg system (referred to as “cornie” kegs by home brewers) is the most popular amongst home brewers. It’s a stainless steel canister which was created for dispensing fizzy drinks in pubs. They usually hold 19 litres of beer (so not quite the 23 litres in a usual brew) but you can bottle the bit left over.
They are small enough to fit in a fridge making them very easy to chill. Although you can add priming sugar as with pressure barrels, most users force carbonate the beer. This is achieved by pressurising the kegs to around 15 PSI once the beer has been put in there and then holding at that pressure for a couple of weeks.
The kegs have a pressure relief valve on the top allowing the pressure to easily be reduced if needed. When it comes time to serve you drop the pressure, which allows the beer to be served without over foaming. If the carbonation is too low then more co2 can be added giving you total control over the carbonation levels.
Cornie kegs are capable of handling pressures in excess of 100 PSI so highly carbonated drinks can be stored and served from them.
The basic equipment required to use these kegs is:
Gas Bottle – pub gas style, can be difficult to locate in some areas but there are some online suppliers.
Regulator to control the pressure between the kegs and the bottle.
Gas in disconnect – to connect the regulator to the keg
Beer Out disconnect to connect the keg to the tap
Beer/gas line to connect up all the components.
You can use c02, Nitrogen or mixed gas (co2/nitrogen) to serve the beer. For most beer styles Co2 is the most appropriate but Nitrogen is popular for serving stouts as it will not dissolve in the liquid which means you can serve at high pressure without making a fizzy liquid. Ideal for achieving the famous, creamy white Guinness style head.
Most connections use 3/8 outside diameter (OD) tubing with john guest push fit fittings to connect the tubing to the various components.
The desired serve pressure (usually around 3 psi) can be set on the regulator and therefore this will be maintained right until the last pint is served. This will ensure that every pint is the served at the exact same pressure. Ideal for parties.
The cornie kegs can be connected up to a variety of taps which makes them very flexible.
The easiest tap to use the direct fit style tap. This tap screws directly onto the disconnect and then onto the keg. The tap can easily be switched from one keg to another if using multiple kegs. We also do a cheaper, party style version, which uses a spring loaded plastic tap to serve. Both work well but are not ideal for serving highly carbonated beers, like lagers, due to excess foaming.
The next option is to use a tap connected to a steel shank. This will allow to the tap to be mounted to any vertical surface. The most popular is to fit the taps through a fridge door. Then put the kegs inside allowing cool beer to be served from outside the fridge. This system is often referred to as a kegerator. It's fairly simple to make but just make sure there are no wiring in the door otherwise you may damage it when you drill through.
The last option is to use a pub style beer tower or a hand pull. Both of these are mounted on a bar or counter surface and can allow multiple kegs to be connected at once. If using a hand pull (real ale type pump) you need a check valve to sit between the pump and the keg which prevents beer being pushed through the tap when not in use.
New kegerators are also now available. These come with everything you need to get going, just add a co2 bottle and some full kegs and you're good to go.
Cornie kegs use a long pipe which reaches to the bottom of the keg to serve the beer. Most new kegs have this pipe reaching to the very bottom of the keg and it can be beneficial to cut a cm off the end otherwise if there is any sediment in the bottom of the keg the beer will be pulled through it for the entire keg giving cloudy or hazy beer.
As cornie kegs are made from stainless steel they will last forever but its important not to use chlorine based sterilisers on them otherwise it can cause pitting. Star san is the ideal product for sterilising them. When cleaning and preparing for beer its important to force cleaning solutions up the beer out pipe so you will need to fill then and pressurise them. Most people then connect up the tap, run steriliser through the complete system at the same time.
The beer and gas is connected up using in and out posts. These are spring loaded valves which open when the disconnect is connected to them. They will require cleaning from time to time but are easy to remove with a spanner. Most kegs come with these when you purchase them. They also contain small seals which may need replacing every 1 or 2 years.
There are different type of kegs available. The two main types are ball lock and pin lock. These work in the same way but require different types of disconnects as the post are different. Most kegs are ball lock these days but if you are purchasing second hand kegs from the internet its best to check which type they are so you can ensure you have to correct type of disconnects.
Make sure the keg is clean.
Fill ½ way up with non rinse steriliser.
Pressure up to low pressure then connect up tap and run steriliser through the keg.
Empty then run some co2 into the keg. Fill with beer. Ensure not to overfill, the beer should be below the gas in pipe inside the keg.
Pressure up to appropriate pressure for the beer style and vent to release any air. See our handy calculator which will allow you to dial in the exact carbonation you require.
Although cornie kegs may seem complicated they are really not and they are well worth the money and effort of getting up setup.