So you’ve decided to try kegging your own beer. It seems more efficient than bottling since there’s only the one container to worry about.
You think you have all the equipment you need, but you aren’t quite sure how to put it all together and set it up properly.
If that’s the place you’re at right now, then this Ultimate Kegging Guide is for you.
We’ll look at all the pieces involved, so you understand what each one does, how it works, and how it connects to everything else. We’ll examine the processes for balancing, cleaning, and sanitizing your system. We’ll run through some troubleshooting scenarios, and we’ll even look at a few alternative solutions for dispensing your beer.
As a bonus, we’ll also look at what you need to consider if, instead of kegging your own brew, you’re working with a beer that someone else is selling, whether one of the big boys or a smaller craft outfit.
If there is one particular point you’re interested in learning about right now, you can click (tap, no pun intended) a link in the box below to jump directly to it. Then, when you have more time you can scroll (swipe) through the whole article from top to bottom.
- 1 What Equipment Should I Have to Keg My Beer?
- 2 How To Assemble a Homebrew Keg System
- 3 Balancing the Pressure Your Keg System
- 4 How To Clean Your Keg
- 5 How To Sanitize Your Keg
- 6 How To Handle Problems with Your Beer
- 7 Alternative Systems: The Jockey Box
What Equipment Should I Have to Keg My Beer?
If you don’t already have these several pieces, you’ll need to get a keg, a CO2 regulator, CO2 tank, gas and beer lines (tubing), couplers, and a tower and tap. We’ll look at each of these items in turn.
I suppose it goes without saying that you need a keg to actually keg some beer. Then again, maybe that’s not as obvious or as complete an answer as it first seems, because there are several different sizes and types of kegs available.
Sizes of kegs range from the mini, that holds about 1.3 gallons (between 10 and 11 pints), to the common Cornelius “Corny”, that holds 5 gallons (40 pints), to the large half barrel, that stores 15.5 gallons (124 pints).
That Corny is so often the place that homebrewers start that it also has the nickname “Homebrew Keg”. Think of that size as you go through the rest of this information. If you’ve already made a purchase, it’s probably the keg that you have. (You will also see this keg called a “soda keg”, since that’s where this type of keg originated.)
Whether you plan to use a Corny or other size keg, the following keg specifications will help you determine what size refrigerator you will need for a home kegerator. These specs may vary slightly due to differences between keg manufacturers.
|Keg Size||Corny||Pony (Quarter)||Full|
|12 oz. beers||53||82||165|
|Weight when full (lbs.)||49||87||161|
The quarter keg (pony keg) has two variations that are the same capacity. One has a slightly larger (17 inch) diameter. These are the rubber sided version and the bulged non-straight wall version which is currently used by the MillerCoors Brewing Company.
Once you know the height of your kegs, you generally need to add 5 to 6 inches of clearance for the coupler and the beer hose. You can use a special elbow fitting to reduce that distance to about 4 inches. If for some reason you are really short on space, you can get a low profile coupler that needs just 1 inch above the keg. (See the KegWorks video below for an example.)
Your keg has more parts to it than you might realize at first. There are two posts with poppets inside, the lid, and several O-rings that you need to know about.
Keg Posts: Ball vs Pin
There are two different styles of keg posts. Fortunately, they each work the same way and serve the same purpose. It’s just that they look different from each other and you may need different tools for opening and closing them.
One type is called the ball lock post/lid/keg. The other is known as pin lock. I mentioned above that these kegs came from the soda industry. Pepsi uses the ball lock, and Coke uses the pin lock. Since both companies are currently huge and doing very well, neither style is likely to go away any time soon. You may come across both of them while working with your homebrew.
The purposes of these posts is to let CO2 into the keg via the “in” post and your beer out of the keg via the “out” post. Each post has a poppet inside which is a spring-loaded valve that is forced open when your system is fully connected.
Though Corny kegs with either type of post all hold 5 gallons of brew, a keg with ball locks is a few inches taller and a little narrower than a pin lock keg. Their lids are generally interchangeable.
For a ball lock lid, you can identify the “in” post by the notches around the base. (The “out” post doesn’t have any notches.) With a pin lock setup, the post with 2 pins is the “in”, while the 3 pin post is the “out”.
You can open ball lock posts with standard wrenches – normally 11/16 or 7/8 inch. You’ll need a special notched socket to open and close pin posts.
Another difference between the posts is evident when you have removed them from the lid. The “in” post has a shorter “dip” tube attached to it. The “out” post has a longer dip tube that extends the full length of the keg and may be bent (on purpose) near the bottom.
As your CO2 enters the “in” post, poppet valve, and dip tube, it exerts pressure on the top of the brew. This forces it out of and up the long dip tube (with the opening at the bottom of the liquid), through the “out” poppet and post.
On the lid itself you will also see a pressure relief valve (PRV). Ball lock lids have a manual PRV that you can use as needed by pulling the attached ring. To manage the valve on pin lock lids, you may need to get a small (inexpensive) piece called a depressor.
There are O-rings in several places in this lid assembly that you normally don’t have to worry about, but you should know where they are so you can check them for signs of wear and replace them as needed.
Each of these O-rings serves as a seal to prevent gas or liquid from seeping out where you don’t want it to go. The two smallest rings are on the dip tubes. Another two are at the top of the posts. The largest goes around the whole lid itself.
After some amount of use, you may have to replace one or more of these rings. Most of them are not very expensive, but you might have to buy them 100 at a time, unless you have a homebrew buddy who will share with you.
If you are buying them new, you’ll have some options. The dip tube O-rings come in “normal” style and the better “quad sealing” style. The latter are a little more expensive, but you should be able to get them for $5.00 or less per hundred.
For all the other rings, you may have a choice between silicone and Buna-N (nitrile rubber, also known as Perbunan, acrylonitrile butadiene rubber, and NBR) types, with silicone normally being more expensive.
Silicone should seal better, so many use that type for the CO2 posts. You can probably get away with the Buna-N style on the beer posts and the lid. If you do decide to use different types like this, you might see a color coding effect. Buna-N rings are usually black, and silicone are often red.
Some brewers have found that, if you try to use a standard ball lock post O-ring on a pin lock post, it might be a little small, thickness-wise. If so, try using the next thicker type, which is probably 0.139 inches.
If you don’t have your keg yet and have a choice of ball or pin style, the one you select will probably depend on the overall size of the keg and its cost.
If you can only afford the cheaper one, the choice is easy.
The size – height and width – of the keg might determine your choice, depending on where you need to put your keg in the overall setup and how many kegs you intend to put into that space. Some spaces work better with shorter kegs. Others need narrower kegs.
Another selling point might be the pressure release valve. While you can work both of them, the ball lock seems easier to use and may tip your preference in that direction.
As mentioned briefly above, the “in” post on the lid of your keg will have CO2 coming into it. That CO2 gas will be under pressure and will exert pressure on and force carbonation into your brew inside.
You need a way to control how much pressure enters your keg. That is what the regulator regulates.
The most obvious feature of the regulator is the gauge. Your regulator may have either one or two gauges. You really only need a regulator with one gauge, but many homebrewers find it handy to have a second gauge to alert you to a near empty CO2 tank.
These gauges measure the pressure in the keg and in the CO2 cylinder in pounds per square inch (PSI). The gauge at the top of the regulator tells you the dispensing pressure inside the keg. The other gauge, if present, gives the pressure inside the CO2 tank.
You probably won’t need to be concerned with the CO2 gauge much. Because most of the CO2 is in liquid form, this pressure inside that canister will change very little until most of the CO2 is gone.
It is the dispensing pressure measured by the first gauge that you can and will want to change so that your beer has the carbonation you desire. There is an adjustment screw (set screw) that you can turn clockwise to increase the internal pressure inside the regulator and thus the dispensing pressure to the keg. It’s a fact of physics that, if the pressure inside the keg is greater than the dispensing pressure, no CO2 will enter the keg until these levels even out.
Turning this same set screw counterclockwise will decrease only the pressure inside the regulator.
The regulator has several valves that control the gas flow. One of these, called the shutoff valve has a level located on the lower part of the regulator near the hose connection. This lever you can and will need to operate during initial setup. (More on that later.) It lets you turn the CO2 on and off quickly without having to twist the main valve atop the CO2 tank.
Your regulator probably also will have a check valve that prevents beer from accidentally flowing up into the regulator, thus damaging it, if the pressure in the keg should become too high. If it doesn’t, you should add one to this side of the system.
Another pressure relief valve protects the regulator by automatically opening if the pressure within the regulator gets too high. When this valve has released enough pressure, it will close again. (Note that this is different from the relief valve on the coupler discussed below.)
To this point, we’ve been looking at systems that use CO2 as the incoming gas. There are systems that use nitrogen instead, but these seem less common among homebrewers. If you do want to use nitrogen, you will need a gauge specifically designed for the greater pressure associated with that type of tank. You cannot interchange CO2 and nitrogen gauges.
If you want to employ more than one keg in the same system and said kegs each need to have their pressure regulated independently, you will need a secondary gauge for the additional keg(s). A secondary gauge is attached “behind” the primary, not directly to the keg. Depending on how many kegs (up to four) you want to add, you will want to get a secondary gauge that will have a corresponding number of set screws and hose connections.
If you have multiple kegs but the pressure from the gas tank can be the same for all of them, then you can add an air line distributor (instead of a secondary gauge) to the system. The amount of pressure you set on the primary (and only, in this case) gauge will be used for all your kegs. This gives you less control over individual kegs but also less to worry about and fiddle with.
We’ve actually discussed couplers a little above. They are what connects your keg to the CO2 intake and the beer outflow. Usually this will be two separate pieces – one per post – on a corny keg, if you are making your own brew. However, a coupler will just as often be only one piece (with a locking handle attached) when you have a different size of keg and are storing a commercial brew inside it.
There are half a dozen or more “standard” couplers used throughout the brewing industry. Here is a short description of each.
The System “D” Standard American Sankey coupler is the most common in the Americas. It comes in lever handle or wing handle styles.
The System “S” European keg coupler has a longer probe than the “D”.
The System “G” or Grundy coupler is used on Bass, Watneys, and some Irish brews.
The System “U” or U/E.C. is a coupler for Guinness and Harps single valve kegs.
The System “A” or Flat Top German (aka The Slider) coupler is also used for very specific kegs such as Spaten and Paulaner.
The twin-probe “HS” Hoff-Stevens (2-probe or dual probe) is used by some small breweries, microbreweries, brew pubs, and winemakers.
The Golden Gate is used mostly for antique kegs that are used by some homebrewers and very small breweries who have not yet converted to single valve kegs.
The video from KegWorks that follows gives you a good overview and picture of the major types of couplers in the market today.
Below is a lengthy table that shows the style of coupler used for each of the commercially available beers shown. This is not an exhaustive list, but (at the time of the publication of this article) it comes pretty close.
The information in this list came from two main sources which didn’t always agree with each other. That’s why you will see a question mark by a few of the entries.
|Anchor Liberty Ale||G|
|Anderson Valley Brewing||D|
|Bad Frog – BAD Light||D|
|Bass Pale Ale||D|
|Becks||S or D?|
|Bemish||S or D?|
|Blanche de Chambly||D|
|Boddingtons Pub Ale||G|
|Bruin Pale Ale||D|
|California Cider Ace Pear||G|
|Cantillon Rose (Belgium)||S|
|Carlton and United Breweries (CUB)||D|
|Cuvee Meilleurs Voeux||A|
|De Koninck Ale (Belgium)||S|
|Des Rocs Grand Cru||D|
|Deschutes Black Butte||D|
|Duchesse de Bourgogne||D|
|Eel River Brewing||D|
|Erdinger Hefetrub Weisse||S|
|Foret Org Sais Ale||D|
|George Killian’s Irish Red||D|
|Green Line Pale Ale||D|
|Green Mountain Cidery||D|
|Hard Core Cider||D|
|Holy Cow Red||D|
|Houblon Chouffe IPA Tripel||A|
|Innis and Gunn||G|
|Iron Shore Bock||D|
|JW Dundee Honey Brown||HS|
|JW Lee’s Chouffe||A|
|Kasteel Biere du Chat Brown||S|
|Killian’s Irish Red||D|
|Land Shark Lager||D|
|Lands Ends Amber (Kannah Creek Brewing Co.)||D|
|Lost Coast Brewery||D|
|Mad River Brewing||D|
|Maredsous Abbey Ale (Belgium)||S|
|Miami Trail Brewing||D|
|Miller Genuine Draft||D|
|Monk’s Sour Ale||S|
|Moretti Italian Pilsner||S|
|Murphy’s Irish Red||S|
|Murphy’s Irish Stout||S|
|New Zeland Steinlager||D|
|Old Speckeled Hen||G|
|Pabst Blue Ribbon||D|
|Porter & Summerfest||D|
|Portland Brewing Co.||D|
|Saint Feuillein Cuvee de Noel||S|
|Saint Pauli Girl||S|
|Sais Dup Farmhouse Ale||D|
|Samuel Adams D||D|
|Scottish & Newcastle||S|
|Shmaltz Brewing Hebrew Lenny’s R.I.P.||A|
|Shmaltz Brewing Hebrew Messiah Bold||D|
|Sir Perry William’s||G|
|Spanish Peaks Black Dog||D|
|Standing Wave Pale Ale (Kannah Creek Brewing Co.)||D|
|Starr Hill Brewery||D|
|Stella Artois – 50 liter / Half Barrel||S|
|Stella Artois – 20 liter / Sixth Barrel||D|
|Tommyknocker Ornery Amber||D|
|Val Dieu Grand Cru||D|
|Wexford Irish Cream Ale||G|
|Young’s||S or G?|
Beer Line and CO2 Line
To get the CO2 into the keg and the beer out, you need two lengths of tubing, or line.
When purchasing your beer line, be sure that you only use tubing designed to move liquids for human consumption. Such tubes are made of material (usually PVC) that the FDA has approved. This tubing has smoother, thicker walls than many hardware variety types.
You might be able to use other tubing for the CO2 line, but it’s probably safer to use the same type as you install for your beer line.
Beer Tower and Tap
The final pieces of your setup include a beer tower and beer tap. It’s through these that you will literally tap into your keg to get the beer out.
There are a multitude of options for adding a tower and tap to your system. You could go with a commercial kegerator that includes a housing for your keg and CO2 canister. Or you might opt to create a similar unit yourself – DIY style.
Other options include multiple taps all leading to the same keg. This makes the most sense if you expect many people to be dispensing brew from your system frequently.
The style and look of your tower is another variable you’ll want to settle on. You don’t have to go with the standard gray metal look. You could get a European style Gothic, Milano, Mongoose, or Monaco tower. Ceramic towers have a nice table lamp sort of shape. You can even have your tap projecting from a false beer barrel mounted on the wall.
How To Assemble a Homebrew Keg System
The process of connecting everything described above into one large system generally follows the steps listed below. Depending on the exact pieces you own, you may find that a detail here or there differs from what you read below. The principles are the same though.
In general, you’ll attach the coupler (one or two pieces) to your keg, add the liquid (beer) and gas (CO2) lines to it, hook up your CO2 tank (including the regulator), and – if all is well – top it off with the tower and tap.
Now let’s look at the process in a little more detail.
It almost goes without saying, but pour some beer into your keg first. Then add the lid, but don’t lock it yet. You don’t want pressure of any sort to build up inside the keg at this point. If there is any chance that there is pressure inside the keg, don’t attach the CO2 because such pressure could force the beer up into this line or even all the way into your regulator.
Attach your coupler and to that connect the gas and liquid lines.
Check out the video below from the Beverage Factory shows how to install a regulator. The steps are basically the same as the description that follows below the video.
Attach your regulator to the CO2 cylinder. If you have a washer that fits between the cylinder and the regulator, be sure to insert it in the proper direction. This should be obvious based on the ridges on the washer.
Tighten the nut on the regulator firmly with an appropriate wrench.
If your regulator comes in pieces, you may need to attach the shutoff valve with a wrench too. The shutoff valve itself should be closed (perpendicular to the flow). The pressure adjustment screw (or dial) should be fully open.
Attach the gas line (that goes out to your keg) to the bottom of the regulator. Add a clamp (your choice of style) to hold the line in place.
Give the relief valve on the keg a short pull to release any pressure that may have already built up inside.
The next couple of steps vary depending on whom you talk to.
Open the main valve atop your CO2 canister. (Some suggest opening it just a half turn or so, while others would have you open it all the way.) You should notice that the needle in the high pressure gauge moves.
Open the shutoff valve by turning it parallel to the flow and now lock down the lid on the keg. This will allow carbon dioxide to flow all the way from the canister to the coupler.
Use a screwdriver to turn the adjusting screw. You should see the low pressure gauge begin to register some pressure. Some recommend turning the screw (dial) until the gauge reads about 5 psi, while others suggest going to 10 psi.
Give the keg relief valve another tug to help gas flow through the regulator so you can get a more accurate reading on your low pressure gauge.
Check your system for leaks using a little soapy water. Check every place that CO2 could possibly seep out. If the soapy water shows evidence of a leak, shut everything down and fix the problem by tightening and sealing connections so your CO2 tank doesn’t die before its time.
Carbonation of your brew can take a few days, unless you try speeding up the process as follows.
You can shake (roll) the keg back and forth to increase the surface area of the beer that comes into contact with the CO2. If you do this properly, you should hear more gas inserting itself into the system. You’ll know when you’re done when the hiss from the CO2 dies down or stops.
Finally, attach your favorite style of tower and tap to the top of the keg and get ready for your first pour.
Balancing the Pressure Your Keg System
You should try to balance two pressure values within your keg system. One value is the pressure inside the keg. The other is the resistance to pressure on the dispensing side.
When these are in balance, your beer will flow smoothly and will keep the desired amount of carbonation.
There is a formula for calculating how you will achieve this balance. You may see it termed like this:
P = (L * R) + (H ÷ 2)
- P = Pressure in the keg in PSI
- L = Line Run in feet
- R = Resistance of the line per foot
- H = Height from the middle of the keg to the tap/faucet in feet
The problem with phrasing it that way is that it looks like you’re trying to solve an equation where you don’t know how much pressure is in the keg (P).
What you’re actually trying to determine here is how long your line needs to be. So the equation really should look like this:
L = (P – (H ÷ 2)) ÷ R
If you don’t remember your algebra, just trust me. The two equations above show exactly the same thing. The second one may look a little more complicated, but it’s not. In any case, I’ll walk you through it in a bit.
Before we can plug any figures into the equation, we need two other pieces of information. One is the temperature at which you’re going to serve your beer. Some say that Americans tend to drink their beer too cold compared to traditional practices.
Ales are commonly served at about 55 degrees and lagers around 48. A rule of thumb is that the darker the beer, the warmer the serving temperature.
The choice of temperature is ultimately up to you. Serve it as it tastes best to you.
The other bit of info is the CO2 volumes that your type of beer should get, based on the table (borrowed from kegerators.com) below.
The numbers (which may be a little small, and for that I apologize) down the left side are temperatures. If you find the numbers are too small to read here, use the link just above to see the original chart.
The numbers in the colored areas show ranges of CO2 volumes. The blue at the lower left and the red at the upper right should be considered “out of bounds” as they indicate under-carbonated and over-carbonated volumes, respectively.
The gray, green, and yellow swatches across the middle are, in general, areas to look at for the following types of beers.
- Gray = Stouts and porters
- Green = Most beers, including lagers, ales, and ambers
- Yellow = Highly carbonated ales, lambics, and wheat beers
You use this chart to find the PSI that will go into our equation. The numbers across the top are PSI.
First, find the temperature you chose earlier for your type of beer. Move to the right across that row until you get to the color (gray, green, yellow) that matches your beer type. Then move up to the top within that color band to find a range of PSI that would be suitable for your system.
You will always have a range of choice in the end. The PSI you finally decide on is based on your personal preference.
For the purposes of completing our equation, let’s say that you picked a PSI of 8. That’s the number to substitute for the P, like this:
L = (8 – (H ÷ 2)) ÷ R
That’s the pressure inside your keg which you will want to balance with some resistance.
The H is the height of your system measured from the midpoint of the keg to the end of the tap. This gives us the resistance afforded by gravity. Let’s use 2 feet for our example.
L = (8 – (2 ÷ 2)) ÷ R
The final piece is the resistance of the line itself that goes from the keg to the tap. This amount depends on the material and the internal diameter (often shown as ID) which varies from one manufacturer to the next.
If you are unable to get the exact ID, a rule of thumb is that 3/16 inch ID line, which is the most common size, has a resistance of about 2 pounds per foot. Even if this is not exact, it will be close enough for our calculations here. Since R stands for resistance per foot, the equation now looks like this:
L = (8 – (2 ÷ 2)) ÷ 2
To solve this and figure out what L is, first do the division inside the innermost parentheses (and drop the parentheses).
L = (8 – 1) ÷ 2
Then do the subtraction because that is still in parentheses.
L = 7 ÷ 2
Finally, do the last division.
L = 3.5
So we need 3.5 feet of 3/16″ ID beer line to balance this sample system.
But what if your setup has your keg top more than 3.5 feet away from your tap connection?
The solution is to use a line with a larger ID. For 1/4 inch ID lines, you can estimate 0.6 pounds per foot. For 5/16 inch lines, use 0.2 pounds per foot.
How To Clean Your Keg
Cleaning your keg is not difficult, but it does take some time and effort, plus a few tools and cleaning supplies.
If you have a corny keg, you’ll need a wrench for removing the in and out posts. You will want some scrub brushes that can fit into and down the length of your keg.
A common commercial cleaning powder is Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW) that helps get all the gunk out of your keg. Other brands are available; all should work just fine. Just stay away from any that contain chlorine or that are not for use on stainless steel.
Now is the time when you might also need to change O-rings. If you don’t already have replacements, you’ll want to get a supply before you put your system back together.
Here are the steps to follow to clean your keg.
1. Pull the pressure relief valve to let out any remaining CO2. (You probably won’t be able to open the lid without doing so. It could be dangerous to try.)
2. Take everything apart – the lid, pressure relief valve, posts, dip tubes, and O-rings.
3. As shown in the video below, you may want to rinse the keg with plain water before using any cleaning solution, depending on how much loose residue you see inside.
4. Add the appropriate amount of powder and water to your keg. If you fill the keg, let it soak as long as needed. You may optionally partially fill and scrub with brushes (as shown below).
5. Put the smaller parts into a pail and add some cleaning solution for soaking.
6. For both the inside of the keg and the small pieces, drain the cleaning solution and rinse with regular water.
7. Reassemble the keg, replacing O-rings as needed. It is recommended that you connect the gas to the keg and turn it on at low pressure before sealing the lid. This ensures that it seals completely.
This homebrew cleaning video by Larry of Beer-n-BBQ shows the same basic steps.
How To Sanitize Your Keg
The procedure for sanitizing your keg prior to filling it with your brew is basically the same as cleaning it. The main difference is that you will add sanitizer, instead of powdered cleaner, to the solution.
1. Open your keg properly and mix water and sanitizer according to the sanitizer’s (for example, Star San or One Step) instructions.
2. Seal the keg and shake it to distribute the sanitizer throughout.
3. Sanitize the small parts by soaking them in a small container using some of the same solution.
4. Let each part soak for 5 to 10 minutes before draining the solution. Some prefer to invert the keg or to lay it on its side and rotate it half way through.
If you are working with more than one keg, you could reuse the sanitizer in your next one.
Watch this keg sanitizing video from Writer’s Block Brewing to see a similar process.
How To Handle Problems with Your Beer
If you think you’ve done everything correctly but your beer just isn’t as good as you’d like, consider some of the following possible solutions for making it better.
For cloudy beer…
You may be storing your beer at too low of a temperature. Remember, Americans do tend to do this. The obvious answer is to raise the temperature a little.
When pouring a beer, open the tap quickly and fully. If your tap doesn’t let you do this, disassemble it and check for worn parts, especially the seals. Replacing parts or simply cleaning them may solve the problem. If not, it’s time to get a new tap.
Check the coupler valves for dirt or bacteria. Clean them (see above) as needed. Replace them if cleaning isn’t enough.
Check for obstructions (yeast or other material) in the tap and tower. Scour as needed.
For flat beer…
A sign of flat beer (before tasting) is a foamy head that disappears quickly.
A common cause here is not related to the beer itself or your keg system. It could be that you have a greasy glass that you’re pouring into. Try a glass that hasn’t been washed with other items that contained milk or similar products and that hasn’t had lipstick on it. Clean your beer glasses with special detergent (such as Kegman BLC) rather than regular soap. Rinse them with water and let them air dry.
As with cloudy beer, you need to open the tap quickly and fully. See above for solutions.
There might not be enough pressure in your system. (See the line formula above.) If you can’t pour 10 ounces in just over 4 seconds, you may have a pressure problem. Check for obstructions in the beer line. Also make sure that your regulator is giving you correct readings.
You may have turned the pressure off and forgot to turn it on. Simply turn it on again.
It is also possible that the head on your beer is disappearing due to a drafty environment. In this case, there is no real problem with the beer itself, just with how it looks after your draw it. If you consider this a problem, get rid of the drafts or move your keg system to a new location.
For foul or sour beer…
You may need to clean any or all of the following pieces: Coils, faucets/taps, keg connectors, beer and CO2 lines, rods, fittings, seals, and check valves. If your system is in regular use, you really should clean these parts once a week with BLC or another approved cleaner.
If your beer line is not brewery approved, replace it with stainless steel or an approved vinyl line. If your CO2 line is made of rubber, ditch it and replace it with vinyl.
For foaming (wild) beer…
First, go over the balancing procedures (above) to make sure your system is setup properly. Make sure the regulator is giving you accurate readings.
If your keg of beer was jostled around recently (similar to shaking a bottle of pop), let it settle for a day. Then try another pour to see if the excess foam is gone.
Make sure the nut that holds the tap is tight so beer won’t drain back into the keg.
When drawing from the tap, don’t hold the glass too far away or you’ll get almost all foam.
Open the tap quickly and fully to avoid too much foam.
Your tap might need cleaning to remove built up yeast. Scour everything with BLC or similar cleaner.
If you have kinks, dents, or twists in the beer line, straighten them out or replace the line.
Especially if you have a longer beer line, arrange it in a spiral so there are no “traps” or other sagging sections where beer could sit.
Keep your beer line and tap away from sources of heat. Those parts should be as cold (or nearly so) as your keg.
For over-carbonated beer…
If your beer becomes over-carbonated, warm it and pull the pressure relief valve on the keg. The CO2 will come out of solution much like shaking a pop can. Repeat the process until you have removed as much carbonation as you want.
Hopefully you’ll never have to do this because you balanced your system at the start. Bleeding off excess CO2 like this is really a waste of your time and money.
Alternative Systems: The Jockey Box
If you’re okay with not having such a formal or fancy kegging system as described above, you might be interested in a jockey box, also known as a coil box or a cold plate box.
The term “jockey” is used here to refer to the ease with which you will be able to move, or “jockey around”, your system from place to place.
A jockey box necessarily has all the same pieces as a regular keg system, but some of them take on different forms.
One of the main differences is the mechanism for keeping your brew at the desired temperature. Here you’ll use either a coil submerged in ice water or a cold plate surrounded by ice.
The keg itself can be at room temperature. The beer is chilled as it passes through the coil or plate located in a cooler box.
One advantage of this system is that you don’t need electricity to maintain a specific temperature. This makes a jockey box the perfect setup for parties in wide open spaces where electricity is hard to come by.
While the keg may not be at the temperature you want the beer to eventually attain, you don’t want it to get too warm either. Wrapping the keg in a specialized jacket and keeping it out of direct sunlight on a hot day are both highly recommended.
Coil vs Cold Plate: Which Should I Use?
The answer to the question of which style of jockey box to use comes down to this: How cold can you keep your keg?
Cold plate coolers are only recommended when the internal keg temperature can be kept under 55 degrees. Coil coolers are recommended over cold plate coolers when it is impossible to stay under 55.
Here’s why. A cold plate has a limited surface area that can come into contact with the beer. A coil can be up to 120 feet long (depending on the type of cooler you have) which far exceeds anything a cold plate can muster.
Working with Cold Plate Systems
A cold plate is a sheet of aluminum that normally has stainless steel tubing coursing through it. A 10-inch by 15-inch plate will have about 18 feet of beer line inside.
To setup this system, you place ice all around the plate inside a cooler. No liquid water is used. In fact, you need to continually drain off any water from melted ice so that the ice maintains close contact with the plate.
Working with a Coil Jockey Box
The size of your jockey box cooler will determine how much coil you can use. A line running from 50 to 120 feet is common.
Here you use a mixture of water and ice. It’s mainly the cold water that comes into contact with the stainless steel tubing. There is obviously no need to drain the water in this case.
Jockey Box Maintenance
For both cold plate and coil coolers, 30 to 35 lbs. of pressure is recommended for dispensing beer that has an internal keg temperature of 50 to 55 degrees. If you can keep your keg colder than that, you’ll need less pressure.
Just like all draft beer systems, jockey box systems require regular cleaning. All beer contact points should be cleaned after each use.
Special thanks to Brandon Means and Jared Greanya for their assistance in the production of this kegging guide.
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