In my humble opinion, bottling beer sucks. Plain and simple. It’s annoying, it takes longer, it adds unwanted variables to your recipe, it’s awful. I’m a firm believer in getting rid of as many of the annoying aspects of brewing as possible, so bottles have to go. You want to brew more? You want to brew better? You want to brew faster? It’s time to keg.
I am an unabashed advocate for kegging. I’m a lazy man who likes nice things and kegging has this magical quality of making things easier and better at the same time. Why wouldn’t you do it? There aren’t many opportunities in this world for a person to improve their craft while working less, and I think you’re a fool if you don’t take advantage.
The first benefit is the obvious one; you don’t have to find, wash, and clean fifty or so bottles every time you make a batch. When you first started brewing, you either gathered up enough bottles to use or else you bought some. I have an intrinsic problem with wasting my money buying empty bottles, it feels like it’s some kind of reverse recycling scam. I don’t like it and you shouldn’t either.
But finding bottles has its own problems, because once you’ve gathered the right amount and washed out all the old stale beer, you still have to scrub the labels off of them before they’re usable. Some of those labels are stuck on so tight you feel like by the time you get them off you should be declared King Of All England, it’s terrible. (A quick aside here; even if you ignore me about the kegs, at least don’t serve your homebrew in bottles that still have their old labels on. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence to be handed a beer that someone couldn’t even be bothered to wash properly. Don’t do it.)
Kegging solves these problems quite neatly since you’ve only got one thing to wash and you don’t have to track down your old bottles after they’re empty. Plus, it’s a lot harder to break a keg by accidentally dropping one.
The second major advantage to kegging is that it takes weeks off your timeline. Natural carbonation takes time; a lot more time than it takes to carb a keg using a handy C02 tank. This has the distinct benefit of getting beer into your mouth faster. It’s actually possible to carb a keg in only a day or two if you really rush it. I don’t recommend it, it won’t be as good as if you do it right, but you still can if you’re in a hurry. The only thing you can do to speed up natural carbonation is to swear at the bottles and hope that sad, crying, morally defeated yeast works better. If yeast is anything like that third-grade wallet making class I taught at camp this summer, it won’t work.
All this talk of natural carbonation brings me to my third point; Relying on yeast to carbonate your beer by necessity adds an extra variable. It’s totally possible to get some bottles that are unevenly carbonated. Ever open a bottle of homebrew only to see a slow-motion eruption of foam that won’t seem to quit? That’s natural carbonation for you. Even worse, you could have yeast that refuses to work and end up with a batch of flat beer. Now you have to open the bottles, carefully pour them back into a bottling bucket, clean everything and start over with some more yeast and sugar. You have to be really careful for this to work because you’re risking both sanitation and oxygenation problems. Even if it does work, you’ve just added yet another two weeks before you can drink. Meanwhile Keggy Joe and his beer have already enjoyed almost month of quality time together.
I admit there are some downsides to kegging, but I consider them minor. Kegging really has only two problems; you have to buy the equipment, and it’s harder to take kegs over to your friend’s house instead of a six-pack. Now if you can’t afford to get kegs, fair enough. You’ll have more work to do, but you’ll still get beer and that’s the whole point. But honestly, the gear isn’t that expensive. You can get everything you need for $160-$180 from major homebrew shops. It’s up to you how much you value your time, but if you consider the hour or two of labor and two weeks off your schedule each time you brew, I think it’s worth it.
Now, what if you don’t want to bring your whole keg over to your buddy’s house (you selfish bastard)? It’s actually totally possible, and I think preferable, to bottle after you’ve kegged. Doing this ensures that your carb levels are exactly where you want them and it almost completely eliminates the yeast sludge that you’d find at the bottom of a naturally carbonated bottle. So when your buddy calls, fill up a few bottles and head on over. Problem solved.
So go out and give it a shot. I have talked to countless people who have switched to kegging and have found literally none who regret it. Do you think you’re better than them? Huh? That’s what I thought. Go keg. ')}