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So you want to start kegging? Tired of endlessly scrubbing the gunk from old bottles? Sick of the two hour priming, filling and capping exercise? Do you want to avoid priming altogether?
Have an extra refrigerator laying around that you could mount a tap on? Want to be the envy of ALL of your friends? There are many reasons for kegging, but the most often cited is simplicity. Kegging is easier, faster and simpler than bottling your beer. It offers the convenience of being able to draw any amount of your own draft beer anytime you want by just squeezing the handle on your tap.
There are a few downsides, however. A keg is not as portable as a bottle of beer. Its hard to take a six pack sampler of different kegs over to your friends house for dinner. Most competitions require bottled beer for registered entries. Still, it is possible to bottle from the keg using a special device called a counter pressure filler, and you can also draw a growler (glass container with a cork in it for temporary transport) if you want to take some over to a friend for dinner. Most brewers find the gain is larger than the pain of kegging.
The initial investment is somewhat high - perhaps $150-180 US for an initial setup. In addition, the kegging system works best if you have a suitable refrigerator, usually a second one to store the keg in.
Almost all home brewers use the Cornelius kegging system, which uses 2.5 to 5 gallon Cornelius kegs to store the beer in. Cornelius kegs are the same kegs used for many years for dispensing soda, so they are also frequently called soda kegs. Since most soda distributors have converted to a bag-in-box system there are literally millions of used Cornelius kegs available on the market at very reasonable prices of around $20-30 per keg. The most popular size is the
===Home Kegging System Components===
* '''CO2 Tank''' - CO2 is used to dispense beer rather than air because CO2 will not interact with and spoil your beer. CO2 is stored at very high pressure in a tank that looks something like an oxygen or scuba tank. Liquid CO2 is measured by weight. Tanks are sold in 5 lb, 10lb and 20lb sizes and can be refilled at many locations. It costs about the same amount to fill the tank regardless of size, so a larger tank can be better if you have the space since it will last much longer.
* '''Regulator''' - CO2 is stored at 800-1000 psi, but you want to dispense your beer at 8-15 psi. The regulator does the conversion for you. A small screw on the regulator lets you adjust the output pressure, and many have a valve to cut off the flow of gas as well. Most brewers prefer a dual gauge system.
On gauge shows the pressure of the tank, and the second shows the output pressure.
* '''Cornelius Keg''' - As described above these "soda kegs" are made of stainless steel, very easy to clean, maintain pressure well and are suitable for storing beer for a year or much longer if maintained properly. The most popular size is the 5 gallon keg, which is a tall cylinder that looks very much like a scuba tank with a flat top. Smaller 2.5 and 3 gallon kegs are nice if you have limited refrigerator space or want some beer on the go. Kegs come with two fittings - either ball lock or pin lock. Of the two, the ball lock are more prevelent.
* '''Gas Hose''' - A clear plastic hose that runs from the regulator on your CO2 tank to the "gas" input on your Cornelius keg. It supplies the pressure to dispense your beer. The best gas hose is thick walled to minimize leakage.
The first step when your new kegging system arrives is to take the CO2 tank over to your local beverage supply, fire extinguisher supply, gas supply or other store and get the tank filled with CO2. You might want to weigh your CO2 tank both empty and full since this is the only way you will know how much CO2 you have left as you use it.
When you first fill the tank it will be cold. Allow the tank to sit overnight to settle down to room temperature before attaching the regulator. Next make sure the valves are all off and then carefully attach the regulator to your tank and gently tighten the fitting with a wrench. Hook up the hoses to your empty Cornelius keg and give it a test run by releasing the valves and gently turning the pressure up to 10 psi.
Next it is important to check for leaks -- use some soapy water to check all of the fittings for leaks. Leaky fittings will bubble when soapy water is applied.
If all has gone well you should be able to turn the gas off and release the pressure in the keg using the pressure relief valve on the keg (usually a small key ring on the top of the keg that you pull to release pressure. You can also let the built up pressure out your tap.
===Cleaning the Equipment===
Your keg must first be cleaned, and then sanitized. Normal detergent can be used for normal cleaning, but you cannot use bleach and some other cleaning solutions on them because they are made of stainless steel (which reacts with bleach). I personally prefer Iodophor - which is an iodine based no-rinse sanitizing fluid - Fill the keg up with water and add the recommended amount of Iodophor. Let it sit for a while, then secure the top and flip it over to sanitize the top.
===Kegging with Natural Carbonation===
You can naturally carbonate the beer using corn sugar if you like. The recommended amount to use for priming is about 1/2 what you would normally use when bottling -- approximately 1/3 cup for a 5 gallon batch. The only disadvantage of natural carbonation is that it takes some time to reach full carbonation and it can leave additional sediment in the bottom of the keg.
A slightly cleaner and faster approach is to force carbonate your beer using the pressure provided by the CO2 tank. The pressure needed varies with the temperature of the beer and desired style. CO2 dissolves much more easily in cold beer than warm beer. It also dissolves more completely, which is why many of us use a separate refrigerator to carbonate and store the beer. You can use a tool like BeerSmith to calculate the carbonation pressure needed for a given desired CO2 level and temperature.
Kegging is in many ways much simpler than bottling, and after you get over the initial sticker shock you will quickly wonder how you ever got along without a keg. There is something beautiful about coming home and drawing a pint of your favorite homebrew off your own kegging system.