Kegging and Barrels

I think bottling your home brew beer has many merits and positives. However if you are brewing big batches of session beer there is nothing simpler than kegging it, it saves so much time and hard work that some people give up on bottles altogether. Today I want to talk about how to go about kegging your home brew, what you will need and what options are available.

Now here in the UK at least there are a couple of options when you decide you want to buy a keg. You have stainless steel Cornelius (Corny) kegs or a heavy duty plastic pressure barrel (I’m not sure if these are available in the US). Of course the Corny kegs are the more expensive option, but first of let us take a look at these pressure barrels.

Pressure Barrels

Pressure barrels almost always have around a 25 litre capacity and as the name suggests work by using pressure built up inside to dispense your beer (you can get kegs that have valves in the top, these use gravity to dispense but I won’t cover those here). They come in a few variations which all work from this principle.

This type of keg typically has a valve in the lid that allows you to inject Carbon Dioxide in the form of CO² bulbs or from a canister. When you are buying one you need to make this decision.

  • CO² bulbs use a pin valve and are a one hit thing, providing only a small charge of CO². They were used commonly in soda streams.
  • Cylinders or Canisters use an s30 valve and are screwed onto the valve and will release air until they are unscrewed. This gives the brewer some form of control over how much carbonation is happening. The canisters are larger and will allow many charges until they need refilling.

Either option basically produces a similar result and to be honest when I have used pressure barrels I have used bulbs but not very often because I prime the barrel with sugar like when bottling and the CO² builds up naturally. This is an easy option but by the time you get to the end of the barrel you will need another source of CO² (or if you have more than 2-3 pints in a row).

Another decision you need to make with these kegs is the position of the tap. You can have a tap at the bottom or the top of the keg. The top tap uses a float inside the barrel meaning it will only draw beer from the surface making the beer generally clearer. In my view it makes little difference as the sediment wil lsettle out by the time you serve the beer.

Using one is simple enough. Syphon in your home brew (onto your priming solution if you are naturally carbonating) and seal the lid. It’s a good idea to lubricate these with Vaseline and replace the O-rings every year or so. Then either wait for a few weeks for natural carbonation, or inject with CO² via the valve in the lid and wait a week or so. You are then ready to dispense.

Cornelius Kegs

This is where you step it up, I wouldn’t advise spending money on Cornelius kegs until you have brewed for a while. The investment and extra equipment needed just isn’t worth it unless you brew a lot and frequently. That being said, corny kegs are very versatile and so easy to use you can see why they are so popular. Typically they are around 5 US gallons or 19.48 litres but you may find smaller varieties also. The kegs will have a removable lid with two fittings, one for injecting Carbon Dioxide and the other for dispensing home brew.

Along with the keg itself you will need a tank of CO². CO² comes in  a few sizes, the  smaller ones are more portable but have to be filled more regularly so it’s up to you to decide which to go for.

If you are new to using these kegs then it’s a good idea to buy a complete system which will include a keg, a pressure regulator and two hoses, which are for the gas to go in and the other for beer to exit, and the taps. You may have to buy the gas separately.

As for using the keg you just treat it like a big bottle. This means everything is sterilised and you rack the beer into the keg then seal. You then connect the gas and set the pressure you want to carbonate at. It will usually take a week or so to get fully carbonated. Be careful when serving and turn the pressure down if necessary The great thing about these kegs is that they can be kept in a fridge and your serving temperature can be kept just right.