My New Kegging Setup
The ‘kit’ I got came complete with a keg, the pressure gauges, CO2 tank, and hoses for beer and gas. Everything you need to go from secondary to kegerator.
The biggest piece in the kit is, of course, the keg. Most homebrewers use a Cornelius keg. The “Corny keg” is a type of keg originally manufactured by the Cornelius company for use in the soda industry. Now replaced by soda-in-a-box, they are easy to find and are popular with home brewers. Two different hose disconnect types are used. Either ball-lock and pin-lock. I think each major soda company had a connection style of their own so people couldn’t use one for the other’s product.
I went with the ball lock option, which seems to be the most common by quite a bit. Ball-lock just refers to the way the fittings on the hoses attach to the keg. They tend to be the easiest way to attach and detach.
Next up is the CO2 Tank. These come in a few sizes, and are a pretty important part of the process. Without CO2, you’re not going to have any carbonation.
The CO2 regulator is the mediator between the CO2 Tank and the keg. You have to set your CO2 pressure to specific levels to keep the right levels of carbonation, so the gauges are pretty important. You can use single gauges, but the best is a High-pressure gauge and a low pressure gauge
Gas & Beer lines finish everything off. My kit used a red gas line so there’s no confusion which is which, and the beer hoses came with a picnic tap attached. I may eventually add a tap to my beer fridge, but this works just fine for now.
Cleaning and Prepping Corny Kegs
I purchased a nice refurb keg, but if you buy one online, or a little more recently used, you may want to do some deep cleaning. I didn’t disassemble mine, as I was happy with the condition, but you can take everything apart and replace o-rings if necessary.
Just to be safe, I filled my keg with Oxy-Clean and water and gave it a good shake. Then, I lightly pressurized the keg with my CO2 and pushed the Oxy-Clean water out of the keg through the tap. That way I knew all of my lines were good to go. After the Oxy-Clean I went one step further and ran some sanitizer through everything, too.
I soaked the lid, hoses, and the connections in sanitizer, too, so everything should be ready.
Kegging the Witbier
Okay, so there’s a little bit more than that. Turns out I had NO idea how to carbonate beer inside a keg. Who knew it wasn’t as easy as turning on the CO2 and pouring a glass? Sounds dumb, but I had no idea what needed to be done.
Carbonating Beer in a Keg
After plenty of research and a couple of podcasts, I have a pretty good idea what needs to be done now. Here’s some of what I found out.
After adding the beer to the keg, your first step is to seal and lightly pressurize the keg. You want to make sure and release a little CO2 from the valve in order to push out any oxygen that is still hanging out at the top of the keg.
Next up, refrigerate the keg overnight. Carbon dioxide solubility increases as the beer temperature decreases, so it’s best to begin the process with cold beer. You can carbonate without cooling, but it takes longer and isn’t as efficient. Consulting a gas solubility charge will tell you how much pressure to add based on volume and temperature. That’s way too technical for me, though… I’m all about trial and error.
Adding the carbonation with carbon dioxide can be done several ways. Two main ways are to Set and Wait, the other is the Crank and Shake method. I tend to be less patient, and like the C&S method.
Crank and Shake method – Chill beer, hook up CO2, pressure to 20 – 25lbs. Rock keg back and forth, beer will hiss as more co2 goes into solution. Stop. Shake more, listen for the hiss, stop…etc. 10min or so. Disconnect keg leave overnight. This process increases the surface area of the beer that comes in to contact with the CO2, thereby causing it to carbonate faster.
Set and wait method. This is the longer process for CO2 carbonation. If you’ve got the patience, it’s said to give you better carbonation. I don’t posses this ‘patience’ I’ve read about, so I haven’t tried this. This process takes 4-5 days to a week. Beer is hooked up to the CO2 and placed at the desired level of pressure. This will depend some on the temperature and the type of beer, but I think someplace around 13 psi is close.
If you want to save money on CO2, you can also Prime the Keg with a form of sugar. This would be similar to how you would bottle condition your beer, but in the keg. The downside to this is that this process will leave sediment in the bottom of the keg. You could filter this, or just deal with the first few beers being pretty cloudy. I’ve read that this process uses less priming sugar than regular bottle conditioning. Haven’t tried this yet.
For more info on quick carbonation, check out this BYO article.