Sunday, August 4, 2019

Adventures in Homebrewing: DIY Kegerator / Keyser!

Last week we talked about making the switch to all-grain brewing...and the kegerator wasn't far behind.  

We held off on the kegerator for a long time, because we like to have a variety of beer around the house.  Bottling allows you to store several batches for a long time and have tons of variety in the fridge., sanitizing, and capping each bottle is also a huge pain in the butt, and we, like many brewers, have dealt with the annoyance of having some of your bottles not get clean enough and ending up with some random funky off-flavors in a normally drinkable beer.  
Dunkel--the last batch we bottled before making the switch. Unfortunately, our ratio on priming sugar was off and these ended up under-carbonated, so we had to uncap them all, add more priming sugar, and then wait another several more weeks until they were ready to drink, while praying they didn't explode.

With kegging, you're just getting one big vessel super-spankin' clean--and it's a heckuva lot easier to get to all the nooks & crannies.  Also, if you want to force carbonate your beer right after you're done with fermentation, you can, rather than bottling and then waiting 2-4 more weeks for them to carbonate. So...we finally pulled the trigger.
Step 1: Find a freezer & convert.  So, technically this is a "keyser" because we made it out of a freezer rather than a fridge, but either will work.  We had a small chest freezer out in our garage, so we upgraded to a larger upright freezer for storing food, and moved the chest freezer into a storage room in our basement with some extra space (room temps in our basement stay more consistently cool, so this was preferable to having it in the garage where temps fluctuate more and would require more energy from the system). 

It has enough room for two pencil kegs (each holds 5 gallons).  We see similar models pop up frequently on Craigslist & Facebook Marketplace--you can find one for $50-75.  You'll have to turn the internal temperature of the unit up to about 40F, so that it functions as a fridge rather than a freezer.  We  installed a digital temperature controller--attached the temperature probe to the outside of one of the kegs (covered with insulation, so it's measuring keg temp, not ambient temp inside the kegerator) to check beer temp, and then the freezer plug-in connects to the controller to tell the freezer when to kick on and off to maintain temp. (Note: if you start with a fridge rather than a freezer, this step isn't needed.)

Step 1a: Buy Kegs & CO2 tank - We found ours on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist--$100 for a 20 lb filled CO2 tank is a good price.  Our unit fits two pencil/soda kegs.  You can get pin-lock kegs for about $35, or ball-lock for about $40: ball-lock is preferred, as they're more interchangeable.  When you get these home, you'll want to clean them well, and then do a pressure test to make sure they don't have any pin-holes or leaks in them.  We'd also recommend replacing the seals (they're cheap) so you know when that was done last.  You'll also need a CO2 regulator for the tank (there are multi-valve models available if you want the option to vary the amount of CO2 pressure you mix for different types of beers.)

Step 2: Make a collar:  So you don't have to drill through the unit to install the taps--then if you want to convert it back into a regular freezer later, you can with no issues.  Disconnect the hinges to remove the lid, measure dimensions, then cut boards to fit and glue + screw together, with caulk on the inner corners for a good seal.  You can vary what size boards you choose based on your preference--we went with a 2x12 to give us a little more room for taller kegs (plus we already had them on-hand from replacing deck boards earlier this year).  We also stained the wood after assembly (you could do chalk paint instead if you want to be able to write what beer's on which tap).  And on the short edges, there's an additional board along the inside of each end that extends down into the cooler to stabilize the collar and keep it from falling in.

Step 3: Install taps & manifold -  Stainless steel faucets are recommended over chrome (if your faucets don't come with a spanner wrench, you'll need to buy one to install them properly).  Drill holes (using a step drill or hole saw) into the collar at a size that matches the shank of the faucet--our faucets came with a 2-inch shank which wasn't quite long enough, so we replaced it with an extension shank.   

Then drill one small hole in the collar (ours is on the back corner) for the CO2 line to run into the kegerator (we store the CO2 outside of the kegerator).  Mount the manifold on the inside of the collar.  This is what allows you to run CO2 from one tank to multiple kegs.  These can come with multiple numbers of check valves, depending on how many taps you plan on having.

Step 4: Hooking up TubingWe got quick disconnects--they're color coded and connect on the keg end.  We used Bev Seal Ultra Tubing.  It's heavy duty and will take some manipulation (heating with heat gun and/or hot water) to soften the tubing to slide onto the disconnects, but once it's on, you're set--they should never leak.  Then we have John Guest fittings which connect to the tap end: the tubing should just slide into the fitting and click when it's in place.
John Guest fittings on the back side of the taps.

For a 2 keg system, you'll have 5 connections:
  • CO2 tank regulator to Manifold (barbed fittings, no connectors)
  • (2) Manifold to Keg (barbed on manifold end, quick disconnects at Keg)
  • (2) Keg to Tap (quick disconnect at keg-end, John Guest fitting at tap) - check out this article about line balancing regarding the length of tubing you should use to keep foam down.

Step 5: Insulate the collar (optional) - more for energy-savings than anything.  We got some pink insulation board from Home Depot. We also used weather strip seal on the top and bottom edges of the collar (where it touches the freezer).

Step 6: Install drip tray - ours is a magnetic "tool tray" & sticks to the freezer.  Found it at Harbor Freight.  Others opt to screw it in to the collar.

Step 7: Leak Check - Once everything is connected, spray all the connections/fittings with sanitizer (including tops of kegs) and watch for bubbles.  If no issues and you don't see your CO2 gauge drop after 1 day, you're good to go!

Step 8: Add fan (optional) - this circulates the air within the unit to help keep a consistent temp (which helps keep foaming down). Any CPU fan will work, but you'll have to adapt the wiring.

Final Product:


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