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As a homebrewer, you already know about the great bottling vs kegging homebrew debate. I’m sure that you agree that bottling is such a pain in the butt, and for most of us, the worst part of homebrewing.
Learning how to keg your homebrew is a simple process, and can be a much better packaging option than bottling. Bottling is time consuming with inconsistent results, and the reason they eventually quit brewing.
Kegs are easy to use and maintain, so you can focus on what matters most – brewing great beer!
There’s no need for priming sugar or cleaning and sanitizing 48 bottles before filling them with beer. And with a keg, there’s no light exposure or oxygen risk like there would be if you were storing bottled beers long term in your basement or garage.
If you’re sick and tired of bottling, learning how to keg your homebrew will make your brewing life a whole lot easier.
Table of Contents
First Things First: Where Will You Keep The Keg?
It won’t do you much good to keg your homebrew before you know how you are going to keep the beer cold.
So before you begin, decide on which method you will use to chill and serve the beer when it’s carbonated and ready to drink.
A kegerator is a small mini-fridge that has been modified to include a tower, tap and faucet, and ready to go without any extra work on your part.
A kegerator comes in various sizes that will hold different keg sizes. So when choosing a kegerator, you need to find one with enough room for your favorite keg.If you want to have more than one beer on tap, you can choose between one, two, three or four taps.
Even if you plan on only having one beer on tap, you might want to consider buying one multiple taps which will allow you to expand in the future.
If you are interested in purchasing a kegerator for home use, have a look at our review page on a few of the best kegerators on the market.
For a DIY project, a stand-alone freezer can also be converted into a keezer.
If you plan on having many different homebrews on tap, most freezers are big enough where they can fit 4 or more kegs of beer, along with the CO2 tank too.
If you want to tackle building a keezer as a project, there are ways to make a keezer that looks like a nice piece of furniture, and without modifying or drilling holes in the freezer.
The most simple option is to use a full-size refrigerator. Any upright refrigerator will work just fine, as long as there is enough space for the keg to stand up.
Equipment Needed For Kegging
Before you get started, you need to have the following pieces of kegging equipment.
- Filled CO2 tank
- Dual gauge regulator
- CO2 gas and beer lines with hose clamps
- Ball-lock/pin-lock connectors
We prefer to use a 5 gallon Cornelius keg with ball-lock posts.
The Cornelius (Corny) keg has been used in the beer and soda industry, and has been on the market since the 1970’s. Because of it’s size and stainless steel construction, it is still considered the go-to keg for packaging beer, and the one that most homebrewers prefer.
There are two different types of Corny kegs to choose from.
One style is sometimes referred to as the Pepsi keg. This keg ball-lock connectors for the CO2 gas and beer with a pressure release valve.
And the other style is called a Coca-Cola style keg. This keg has pin-lock connectors for the gas and beer lines. Like the name says, these pin-lock kegs have “pins” around the connections posts.
There are a few differences between the two kegs, but it really comes down to a personal preference. Whichever one you choose, just stick with only one style because they are not interchangeable with each other.
The CO2 tank size you choose is up to you, but a 10 lb to 20 lb tank is more practicable than a smaller 5 lb tank.
To give you a better idea, a 20 lb tank could take care of 30 to 40 five gallon corny kegs. A 2.5 lb or a 5 lb tank will work for a single beer on tap, but you’ll just spend more time running around town to get it refilled.
When you buy a new CO2 tank, it will arrive empty, which means you will have to get it filled. Most local homebrew shops will exchange your empty tank for a filled tank.
If you do buy a new tank, just be aware that you will probably be getting a used one back in return. The other option is to go to a welding shop and see if they can fill it for you, or exchange it for a filled one.
CO2 Pressure Regulator
You will also need a quality dual-gauge regulator with a pressure relief valve (PRV)
One gauge will let you adjust the pressure, and control the amount of CO2 going to the keg, while the 2nd gauge will let you see how much gas is left in the tank.
The pressure gauge should have a shut-off valve to quickly turn off the supply of gas, and should also have a high pressure relief valve to bleed off an excessive amount of pressure.
High pressure can build up in a CO2 tank without a regulator and pressure relief valve, and can be extremely dangerous.
NEVER USE ANY KEGGING SYSTEM WITHOUT A HIGH-QUALITY PRESSURE GAUGE ATTACHED TO THE CO2 TANK!
The last piece of tubing you need to have is for the beer line.
This clear food-grade vinyl hose is what you need for hooking up all your beer lines. These hose lengths are also available in 10 ft, 25 ft, and 100 ft.
The cost of this vinyl tubing makes it much more easy to replace the hose, rather than trying to clean them when it gets dirty.
Quick Disconnect Fittings
For each keg, you will need to get a pair of ball-lock fittings for your gas and beer lines.
These quick disconnect connectors are easy to use, and also come with the stainless steel barb fittings. The gas (grey) connector has a 5/16″ barb fitting, and the beer (black) connector has a 1/4″ barb fitting.
And finally, you will need a way to dispense the beer once it is carbonated and ready to drink.
You can get buy or build a kegerator or keezer, or a refrigerator, but the easiest and least expensive option if you don’t have a draft system or you’re not ready to put holes in your refrigerator is to use a picnic faucet.
How To Keg Homebrew
Now that you have all of your kegging equipment, and your beer has finished fermenting, it’s time to get that beer in the keg, after you clean and sanitize it.
Clean The Keg
Whether the keg is new or used, it must be thoroughly cleaned using hot water and PBW, OxiClean, or another brewing cleanser. It is highly recommended that you completely disassemble the keg and give the posts, fittings, and both dip tubes a good cleaning too.
Always make sure the keg has been depressurized of gas BEFORE taking the keg apart to clean.
Fill the empty tank with 3 or 4 gallons of the cleaning solution, put the long beer dip-tube in the keg and replace the lid.
Now let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how dirty it is. For the small parts, you can use a small container with cleaner, or just soak them in the keg at the same time.
Empty the keg and refill with more of the cleaning solution. Reinstall the gas/beer posts and seal the lid to the keg. Then turn the keg upside down to clean the “top” of the keg.
After another good soak and clean, dump out the keg and rinse completely with more hot water.
If you are going to store the keg after cleaning, make sure the inside of the tank and all the parts are completely dried before reassembling.
Sanitize The Keg
Just like when you brewed the beer, everything that comes in contact with the beer still must be sanitized, and that includes all the keg parts.
You can use a 5 gallon bucket filled with a good sanitizer like Star San, which is what we prefer. Use 1oz of Star San for every 5 gallons of water. Use an auto-siphon or pour the sanitizer mixture directly into the clean keg.
Reattach the lid, and give the keg a good shake for 1 or 2 minutes to make sure that everything surface is sanitized. Remove the lid and dump the sanitizer back into the bucket, which can be used again.
Do not rinse.
Reassemble the posts and seal the lid again.
Test For Leaks and Purge The Oxygen
Before racking the beer to the keg, you want to test for any leaks at the regulator and purge the keg from as much oxygen as possible.
Securely attach the regulator to the keg with a wrench.
Attach one end of the red CO2 hose to regulator, and secure it with a hose clamp. Attach the other end of the hose to the barb on the grey ball-lock connector, and use another hose clamp to secure the hose.
Connect the “grey” ball-lock fitting to the “gas” or “in” post on top of the keg. The gas post will have the short gas tube, where the “beer” or “out” post will have the long dip tube.
Turn on the main valve of the CO2 tank and open the valve on the regulator. Adjust the pressure to 12 psi and allow to gas to fill the keg for 15 or 20 seconds. Pull up on the pressure relief valve and purge the gas from the keg. Repeat this about 2 or 3 times.
Before purging the final time, get a spray bottle that is filled with a little Star San solution and spray the fittings around the regulator to check for leaks. If you see any bubbles, check the fittings and see if all your connections are tight.
If you don’t see any leaks, turn off the the gas, purge one last time, and open the lid.
Fill The Keg
The easiest way is to use an auto-siphon to rack the beer from the fermenter to the keg, just like you would rack to a secondary fermenter or bucket if you were going to bottle the beer.
You want to use a long enough hose that will reach the bottom of the keg, and and avoid any splashing that may introduce any oxygen in the beer.
Seat The Lid and Purge Head-Space
After filling the keg with beer, put the lid back on, connect the gray ball-lock fitting to the gas post, and turn the gas back on to about 30 psi to “seat” the lid.
Let the keg fill with CO2 again until it reaches 30 psi, then pull up on the pressure relief valve to purge any oxygen that may have gotten inside the keg when racking.
Purge the head-space at least 2 or 3 more times to remove as much oxygen as possible.
Then lower the CO2 pressure back down to 12 psi, and allow the keg to fill one final time. The keg will carbonate at a lower pressure for a longer period of time, and should take 10 to 14 days before it’s ready to drink.
Store The Keg
There are quite a few ways you can carbonate your beer in keg. If you plan on using a priming sugar solution to for natural carbonation, set the keg in cool place for the next 10 to 14 days.
If you want to drink the beer sooner and want to force carbonate it using CO2 instead, cold crash it in a refrigerator first before choosing your force carbonation method.
It’s pretty cool to be able to brew your own beer at home — but nothing is better than being able to enjoy that beer straight out of the tap when you keg, and once you start, it’s really hard to go back.
There are many benefits when you get to keg your homebrew, including not having to deal with the hassles on bottling day. Plus, you will be able to enjoy fresh draft-quality brew any time you want.
Yes it takes a certain amount of equipment to keg your homebrew, but if you invest in quality equipment, your beer dispensing system can last for many brews, and many years.
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