Carbonating Your Beer in a Keg
Though bottles do have their pluses it’s nice not to have to spend a couple hours bottling your beer every other weekend. It’s also nice to have a beer ready to go on tap in your own home. When I decided to go the way of the keg I went all the way and built myself a double Kegerator with room to expand to four taps if I want to.
Now you don’t need to have an expensive fridge or cooler dedicated to be a Kegerator with nice beer taps and drains. You can get by with a simple system involving one keg, five feet of hose, some Co2, a tub with ice and some connectors. If you don’t plan on draining the keg in a couple days you can just set the keg in a fridge with a tap on it. Either way when you finally get to put the beer in the keg how do you carbonate it? If you’re like me I was a little lost on the subject and I had to call a bunch of people, ask all their opinions and compare their techniques. I ended up picking the most popular and rolling with it.
If you ever had a fountain soda 10 years ago you have drank out of a Cornelius keg. These are the kegs that soda companies used to put the soda syrup in for soft drinks. They run from $40-50 used (recommended) and $100-120 new. Now they use another technique, leaving a surplus of these perfect little 5 gallon, cheap, easy to use kegs for us home brewers. You can find them in brew shops or on craigslist and they don’t require special equipment. A couple of connectors, A Co2 tank with gauges and a $3 little plastic hose tap and you have beer on tap. The big purchase in kegging is your Co2 tank and regulator which can cost you $130 plus.
To get your beer in the keg it is a simple as racking it in with a racking cane just like any other time you would rack your beer. Some people like to get expensive food grade mesh filters to get out any major particles, but most of that will settle out I the bottom of the keg and be tossed anyway.
Depending on how crunched for time you are you could carbonate fast or slow. It is possible to get a beer carbonated in a couple of days. To do this you will need to crank the pressure up to 30-40 psi. Come back every few hours and shake the keg a little. Then two days later if you’re lucky you have a carbonated beer. This is only if you have to get this beer to a wedding or birthday party and you can’t wait. It is possible to put too much pressure in the keg and ruin your day. My rule of thumb is to never go over 40psi.
Now if you can wait a week for your beer to be carbonated I suggest putting the pressure at a nice 20 psi. This will probably take five days to carbonate your beer to where you want it. The easy way to know is when you get near when the beer should be ready, bleed off the pressure to a calm 4-8 psi and do a test poor. Adjust the pressure to make a nice calm pour if the beer is to your liking start cleaning the house so you can invite your friends over for a BBQ. If it seems a bit flat, first break out a case of home brew bottles and invite your friends anyway, crank it back up to 20 psi and give the keg a light shake. Wait a few hours and try another test pour. Shaking the beer gives the beer more surface area and allows more Co2 to enter the beer.
In kegging just like bottling you will get a small cake of sediment on the bottom of the keg from being in the cold fridge. I suggest that when your beer has sat in the keg for a couple days in the fridge to drain off the first two to three pints or until the beer clears up a little. If it stays the same color though four pints then you have cleaned it as best you can. Make sure not to agitate the keg for at least a day before getting rid of the sediment to make sure it is completely settled at the bottom where the keg draws from.
Make sure you bleed off the high carbonating pressure before you test it otherwise the beer will come out very angrily and will be about 99.7 percent head. I keep my beer at 6-7 psi and it works for me. Some people like it higher or lower but it’s really a personal preference. If your beer is over carbonated bleed out some pressure. If you beer is under carbonated crank up the pressure. So if you don’t have a kegging system get one, it’s worth it. If you have, one happy drinking.