Let’s Brew: kegging your homebrew

kegging

It’s time for the final installment of the Greenethumb Rye series. In part one, we brewed a batch of all grain rye beer, then in part two we racked it to the secondary fermentor for a nice clarification stage. Along the way, we have laughed, we have cried, but more importantly have generously dry-hopped our beer for bright and citrusy american hop aroma. And now here we stand- at the final stage. Let’s tackle the few remaining tasks so we can soon enjoy the frutis of work well done – along with a healthy dose of alcohol :)

Let’s get down to business, shall we?

Equipment
Here’s the needed equipment:

1. A keg

a soda keg, aka cornelius keg, aka corny keg

A 5-gallon cornelius is standard issue for homebrewers. You can get a decent used one at your local homebrew shop for about $35.

2. Cleaning/Sanitation gear

a brush and some idophor

A brush, some sanitizer solution, anything else you normally use…

3. Siphoning Equipment

auto-siphon and hose

Racking cane (or auto-siphon if you want to get fancy) with siphoning hose.

4. Co2 tank & regulator (optional)

tank and regulator

By far your biggest expense. We will use a co2 set-up here in this demo. You can avoid the co2 by using priming sugar to carbonate the beer (think of the keg as one giant bottle) and can get some pretty inventive and cheap pressurizers for dispensing purposes. But, a co2 set-up is the way to go. It gives you more control of the carbonation level, it’s quicker at reaching full carbonation, and (perhaps most importantly) the continual filling of the headspace in the keg with co2 will keep any oxygen from getting into your beer and spoiling it.

5. Air/Liquid lines

gas is grey, liquid is black

Once the beer goes in, you are gonna want some means of getting it out. My keg uses ball-lock fittings, so I have a set of ball locks (one gas, one liquid) and some lines. The gas line is 1/2″ diameter and the beverage line is 3/16″. I will go into a little more detail later on.

Preparation (Sanitation)

It’s always a good idea to give your keg a good scrubbing before you get started. Take a sponge and wipe down the outside, scrub the inside of the keg with your brush and rinse it out. Then fill the keg up about 2/3 of the way with sanitizer.

the keg filled with sanitizer

I am using Iodophor, so I poured about an ounce of it into the bottom of the keg and added about 3 gallons of cold water. Iodophor only needs about one minute of contact time to complete sanitization.

While the bottom half of the keg is being sanitized, I like to remove the hardware from the keg, give it a light scrubbing and soak it in some sanitizer. It’s also not a bad idea to stick your siphoning gear in the solution at this point.

Removing the ball locks:
removing the liquid ball lock from the keg

the air ball lock

A heads up about the ball locks… the air and the liquid ball locks look very similar- but they are different and are shaped for the individual types of connectors. It’s not the end of the world if you mix the up when putting them back on, but you will notice it and will have to swap the locks (or risk jamming your liquid connector onto the keg or having a slight co2 leak in your system). Here are the two types of locks ups close:

left is liquid, right is gas Notice the ridges near the middle of each lock… the larger ridge signifies the liquid line, the smaller ridge is the gas line. Store this in your memory for future use and to avoid annoying lock swapping with full kegs.

Ok, back to it…

Removing the liquid dip tube:
pulling the dip tube out of the keg

this is what the dip tube looks like

After removing the dip tub, stick it upside down into the keg to sanitize the bottom half of it.

And the lid, which we had to take off to get the sanitizer in the keg in the first place :)

removing the keg's lid

Once the hardware is off the keg, soak the lid and locks in some sanitizer.

soaking the keg hardware

After a few minutes, reassemble the keg while keeping the sanitizer in the keg.

the keg is not back together

… and flip it over to sanitize the top half of the keg.

flipped out and cleaning...

Go take a break for a few…

…now pop the lid off the keg and place it on a sanitized surface. Stick you siphoning gear in the keg and start a siphon. Siphoning out the sanitizer solution is a great way to kill two birds with one stone… you drain your keg and thoroughly sanitize the inside surfaces of your gear.

siphoning the sanitizer solution from the keg

Before siphoning, you might want to run some of the solution through your liquid serving line. You would need to pressurize the keg and run the liquid through your lines as if it were beer. Not necessary to the kegging process, but why not give your serving setup a rinse every once in a while?

Once the your have either finished siphoning out the keg or have run sanitizer through your gear for the recommend time (based on your sanitizer of choice) you should turn the keg over to drain out, and hang your siphoning gear to drip dry for a while.

Preparing the beer

While your keg is drying out is the perfect time to get the carboy full of beer ready to be siphoned. Really, the only requirement is that the bottom of the carboy be elevated above the top of keg.

Since our keg is about 2/5 feet tall, I’m going to use a 3.5 foot stool we have laying around the house
the keg is now super high...

I like to let the beer rest in siphoning position for at least 20-30 mins to let as much of the spent yeast and sediment make its way back to bottom of the carboy. We want to leave as much of that stuff behind when racking to the keg.

Priming

After the keg is sufficiently dry (no longer dripping, but doesn’t have to be bone dry), it’s time of purge (or prime) the keg. The point of this is to expel all of the oxygen from the keg. If you remember just before fermentation we wanted to saturation the wort with oxygen to help the yeast do their job… Now oxygen is our beer’s enemy. Over time, exposure to oxygen with ruin our beer and give it a wet cardboard aroma and taste (aptly called oxidation)… yuck! So let’s get that oxygen out of there!

This step is only applicable if you have a co2 tank setup. If you don’t have a co2 setup then ignore my deathly warnings above. In all honesty I don’t think an unprimed keg will ruin your beer, but oxygen is not good for the beer, so remove all that you can and continue on. The natural carbonation produced with the priming sugar will help push out the spare oxygen over time if your release the pressure in the keg every once in a while.

Crank up the regulator on your co2 tank to ~35 PSI.

get the co2 tank up to 35psi

Attach the gas line.

commence pressurization

You’ll have a pretty good idea of when the keg has been pressurized to 35 PSI. When the whooshing sound stops, go ahead and remove the air line from the keg and release the pressure using the release valve on the lid of the keg.

plug one of your ears and pull the tab!

Keep the tab pulled for a while, close it, wait a few seconds a pull it again. Repeat this process a couple times, or until you can pull the tab without any more co2 coming out. The c02 rushing out has forced all of the oxygen out with it.

That’s about it for priming the keg. Leave the lid on for now while we get our siphoning gear in place, ’cause it’s finally time to move the beer into the keg!

Siphoning

For this demo, we are using an auto siphon. I highly recommend using an one, for the sear connivence and cleanliness of it. No worries if you don’t have one though, your mouth will work just fine.

Let’s move the keg under our carboy, place the siphoning tube as far into the keg as possible (to reduce/eliminate splashing), stick in the auto siphon in the carboy, and give it a few pumps.

getting the siphon started...the keg is under there, i swear!

Once the siphon is running, we can just let it ride:

the siphoning has begun

oooooooohhh

aaaaaahhhhhhh

After the siphoning is about halfway (or more) complete, grab your testing flask and hydrometer and take a reading.

the final gravity reading

This will be the famous final gravity reading. We can use this to measure the final alcohol content of our brew.

The reading on my hydrometer is: 1.011… perfect, right in range. If you remember from the day we brewed this batch our original gravity reading was 1.054. This means our brew is 5.6% alcohol by volume. That will get the job done :)

Now, there is fancy simple formula that will figure out the exact ABV for you if you supply the right OG (original gravity) and FG (final gravity). The formula is SG-FG*13.1. So: (1.054 – 1.011)*13.1 = 5.633

By the time you have calculated your ABV, you should be hearing the gurgling sound of siphon due to a lack of beer. Lift the siphon tube from the bed of the carboy, and carefully remove the hose from the keg (so you don’t drip beer on your carpet… landlords do not like beer stains!)

And because we are addicted to the smell of the Pacific Northwest brand of Humulus lupulus let’s add a final dose of Amarillo hops to the keg for an added level of dryhopping.

Grab an ounce of hops.

1 ounce amarillo hops (We are using hop pellets here, because it’s all I have right now, but I highly recommend using whole leaf hops for dry-hopping. It will eliminate the extra layer of sediment that can cloud your brew when the keg gets shaken up)

Put the hops in a muslin bag, or a fancy metal screen thingy if you have one

bag the hops

And deploy…

place the hops in the keg

the eagle has landed

That’s the siphoning phase, with a little dry-hopping bonus. Now, its time to get with the pressure.

For more detailed information about siphoning your beer you can check the previous link.

Pressurizing

It’s finally time to give the final dose of carbon dioxide to our beer. This is my favorite part of the kegging process – hooking up the beer to the co2 tank. It’s best to think of co2 as an ingredient like any other in the brewing process. It’s a part of the finished beer and it can be over/under done. The amount of c02 you want in any given beer depends on the style, and/or personal taste. If the beer is under-carbonated, it can leave it feeling lifeless and dull. On the other hand over-carbonated beer can be a mess and can result in an acidic taste is quite undesirable. Luckily, when using the forced carbonation method, its easy to add more carbonation or release extra carbonation as needed. The amount of co2 (aka ‘line pressure’) is determined by deciding on the Volumes CO2 (depending on the style of the brew) and the temperature that the beer with be carbonating at. The colder the beer is stored during carbonation, the more dense the co2 will be (gases expand with heat, remember?! ) so the less raw pressure from the co2 tank you need.

The suggested Volumes CO2 for this style (American Wheat/Rye) of beer is 3.75, which seems to high to me. I think of this beer as more of an American IPA anyway, so let’s shoot for about 2.5. Our carbonation temperature is hovering around 50-60F. Consulting a fancy beer carbonation table shows us that our desired line pressure at 50F is 16PSI, and at 50F is over 24PSI.

I have been on a bad streak of over-carbonating my beers lately, mainly due to temperature fluctuations that I don’t have the means to adequately control (or at least that is what I have been telling myself :) ) So, I am going to stick to the low end of the recommendations: 16PSI.

Let’s crank up the pressure on the co2 tank, and hook it up to the keg.

putting on the pressure

That’s just about it. If you are in a hurry, you can rock the keg back and forth to help the co2 dissolve into the beer more quickly. I like to just let it alone for about 7-10 days though if I have the time. I seem to get more stable and consistent results this way.

If you decided not to force carbonate, in favor of priming the beer for natural carbonation, more power to you! You’ll want to add 1.25 ounce of priming sugar per gallon, or about 6.25 ounces. You should give it at least a few weeks to carbonate

Storing

This is easiest and the hardest part of the process. We are so close to having some great beer to drink, but we need to let the carbonation settle in, and let the beer age a little bit. If you are lucky enough to have a part of the house where you can keep the beer at a stable temperature in the 50s or 60s, great! If not, no worries, just store it for as long as you can handle and then get to drinking. The longer you age the beer, the smoother the flavor will be. The warmth of the alcohol will settle down, but the hop flavor will also mellow ( good thing we went crazy with the hops on this one ).

I have to get creative with storage space for my kegs, and have found that I can just barely fit a few kegs on their side under my couch. It looks classy, I know :)

beer under the couch!

Dispensing

It’s been a couple weeks since we started the carbonation process, and it’s time to start drinking the beer – almost. Since I am using a co2 system, I’m going to disconnect keg from the pressurization tank, and cool it to serving temperature in my fridge/kegerator. Once at cooler temperature, the effective pressure level in the tank should be down to around 5 to 10 psi . Now, I will adjust the pressure of the serving co2 tank to around 10psi for dispensing the brew.

10psi in the kegerator

The ideal serving pressure will be effected by a few variables, mainly: the serving temp, the serving line length, and the serving line diameter. But, rest assured, a normal homebrew kegging setup should work great within the 5 to 10psi range.

Now let’s hook up the gas and liquid lines.

lines are hooked!

Gas is grey, liquid is black. Your keg will liking have an IN or an OUT label near each of the fittings, so grey -> IN and black -> out.

Now the fun part… draw off a small 4-5 oz sample. It will likely be full of sediment. Pitch that down the drain and repeat until the beer is running clear through the lines. Now, yourself a well deserved brew, and enjoy!

yum!

Conclusion

This has been a fun series of articles, and I really hope you guys all have a batch in the works. Feel free to send me any beer for tasting :) I realize I can go overboard with the photos and commentary, and that is big part of why this article took so long to write. Anyway it is done, and I am ready for homebrew!

5 Responses to 'Let’s Brew: kegging your homebrew'

  1. Lance says:

    Nice write up.

  2. Mongo says:

    Great job on this article. It was exactly what I needed.

  3. Micah says:

    Great photos

  4. TR says:

    Nice! Great pics. Clear and concise. Bookmarked this blog. Keep it up!

  5. Andy Torres says:

    I realy enjoyed your info and will be putting it to use. My first kegged beer will be ready in a few days and I’m excited to see how it comes out on draft. Irish Red Ale.

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