How To Keg Homebrew Beer (Easy Step-by-Step)
Bottled beers are great, but there’s nothing like pouring brew straight from the keg. It’s convenient and faster; plus, you don’t have to clean a hundred bottles, so you package your next batch.
You can keg your homebrew beer using a basic kegging system comprising of a keg, gas regulator, CO2 tank, and hoses. All equipment should be sanitized before racking the beer. Let the beer carbonate or condition for a few hours to weeks before serving or storing.
Kegging beer may seem intimidating because of all the required equipment, but you’ll get the hang of it over time. The rest of this article will help you start the home-kegging process and provide tips on making the best homebrew beer possible.
1. Prepare and Sanitize Equipment
Getting a kegging system is highly recommended if you plan to homebrew beer for the long term. Sure, you can stick to cleaning and filling bottles, but why would you when there’s an easier alternative?
With kegging, there are fewer things to clean. Plus, you can pour out only as much beer as needed, and there is no sediment in every glass.
Those are only a few benefits of kegging your homebrew. But to enjoy those, you’d need a solid kegging system.
A kegging system may consist of the following equipment:
A keg is a small barrel or vessel for storing beer. Traditionally, it’s made of wood, but modern kegs are built from stainless steel.
There are two types of kegs, and they can either be a ball lock or pin lock type. The difference is in how the lines or connections are secured.
Whichever type you choose, be consistent with it. That way, you won’t get confused over the connectors and fittings.
If your keg is new, it’s also best to let it acclimatize or adjust to the new environment for 24 to 48 hours. In doing so, you avoid temperature and pressure fluctuations from transporting the vessel.
A regulator has a gauge where you can monitor pressure (or PSI) and CO2 levels. Specifically, you can see how much CO2 is in the tank and how much pressure goes into the keg.
CO2 tanks contain more gas than you’ll need to carbonate your beer. If you let those flow all at once, that will be a disaster.
Thus, a regulator is needed to monitor and moderate the CO2 levels, so they’re optimal. Moreover, you can quickly check when the gas levels are depleting so you can refill or replace your CO2 tank.
The CO2 tank stores and supplies carbon dioxide for your beer. This gas makes carbonation possible, so you’d have a flat beer without it.
In bottling, the carbonation or carbon dioxide is supplied by yeast converting sugar to alcohol and gas. Sugar is often a minor element in kegging, so you rely on your CO2 tank to get the proper froth.
CO2 also helps dispense beer. If the CO2 levels aren’t correct, it’d be hard to pour beer, or there would be an explosion from the pressure.
In a kegging system, liquids and gas need to flow from one vessel to another. Hoses serve as the highway through which these substances flow.
You’d need the following hoses or tubings:
- Connect CO2 to the keg (to incorporate CO2 into beer)
- Connect the keg to the faucet (to dispense beer out of the vessel)
Make sure your hoses or lines are of optimal length. Too short or long lines can affect the pressure, therefore, affecting the beer foams.
Learn about different types of hoses through this helpful YouTube video:
A kegerator (or mini-fridge for your kegging system) isn’t required. But once you’re in for the long run, you’d want to get one so you can enjoy a cold beer anytime.
As the name implies, a kegerator is a mini-fridge and kegging system in one. Thus, you can take any mini-fridge and convert it according to your kegging needs.
You can read this article, Best Mini Fridge for Kegerator (2022) – Top 5 Compared, for more information on kegerators and my personal recommendations. I also advise on how to best choose your kegerator.
These are other equipment or materials you’ll need for your kegging system:
- Proper keg post liquid
- Gas line fittings
Once you have all of the equipment you need, it’s essential to clean and sanitize them before use. Dirty equipment would not just impact the beer’s quality – it may even spoil it.
Cleaning and Sanitizing Kegs
When cleaning kegs, you may have to disassemble them. Before proceeding to disassembly, ensure you depressurize the vessel first.
Once your keg is disassembled, remove sediments using warm water and your preferred cleaning solution. Then you’ll need to sanitize it with a no-rinse sanitizer that disinfects, and some CO2 to push the sanitizer out of the barrel is recommended.
Avoid using bleach to sanitize the keg. It can corrode stainless steel, the usual material of modern kegs.
Cleaning and Sanitizing Keg Lines
An essential aspect of sanitization is cleaning the keg lines (hoses and fittings). These are the materials you’ll need for cleaning them:
- Pump device
- Cleaning solution
Meanwhile, these are the steps to cleaning the lines:
- Turn off the kegging system (including the CO2 tank and regulator).
- Remove the faucet if needed and clean using a brush, water, and cleaning solution. Some cleaning kits can clean the faucet without removing it from the system, so check before doing this step.
- Pump the cleaning solution through the lines and let the residual liquid pour into a bucket.
- Pump clean water until all cleaning solutions and residue are rinsed out.
- Put everything back together.
2. Check if Your Homebrew Beer Is Ready for Kegging
Once your system is prepared and sanitized, you can rack the beer into the keg. But before doing so, you need to check if the homebrew beer is even ready for this step.
Kegging and bottling are done only after fermentation is completed. Between the start of fermentation and packaging, the beer-making sequence involves a lot of waiting and measuring of specific gravity.
To know if your homebrew is ready to be racked into a keg, refer to my article: 4 Signs Your Homebrew Is Ready To Bottle. It discusses using visual signs and hydrometer readings to ascertain if fermentation is done.
Fermentation is complete after 7 to 28 days, so you may want to take your hydrometer readings and check for visual indicators during that period.
3. Rack Your Homebrew Beer Into the Keg
Once your beer is fermented and tasty, it’s time for the big step. You’ll rack or transfer your homebrew from its fermentation container into the keg without introducing oxygen.
These are the steps to racking beer:
- Drop the internal pressure to the atmospheric level. To do so, you may pull the pressure relief valve.
- Attach the free end of the racking hose to a liquid fitting. Connect the fitting (with hose) to the liquid post of the keg.
- Attach a gas hose to a gas fitting, then connect it to the gas post of the keg. Place the free end of the gas hose into a bucket of sanitizer.
- Let the beer flow from the fermentation vessel through the racking hose and into the keg.
- As beer pours into the keg, it displaces the CO2. The displaced CO2 will pass through the gas hose you attached and into the sanitizer bucket.
- Once full, shut off the system and CO2 tank.
Here are other tips for racking beer:
- You can use an auto-siphon racking cane to transfer the fermented beer into the keg. It’s much easier, but make sure it’s sanitized first.
- Avoid splashes during racking. Splashing can incorporate oxygen, making it harder to carbonate the beer.
You can see how a racking cane looks and what other brewing equipment you’ll need in this YouTube video:
4. Carbonate Your Homebrew Beer
Your job isn’t done once the beer is in the keg. You still need to set proper temperature, PSI, and CO2 levels.
To start carbonation, here are the steps:
- Attach the gas regulator to the CO2 tank.
- Set the proper PSI level.
- Turn on the CO2 tank.
The exact PSI level and temperature vary from one beer to another, especially if you’re after a particular quality or taste profile.
But for starters, it’s a good idea to maintain a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius) for your kegging system. It’s also recommended to maintain a 10 to 12 PSI level.
5. Wait for Your Homebrew Beer To Condition
There are three ways of letting your beer condition or carbonate in the keg. These are:
- Natural or Slow Conditioning
- Burst Method
- Shake Method
Two of those methods let you carbonate beer quickly. This is a significant advantage of kegging over bottling. I’ll go over these three ways, as well as how to know if your homebrew is ready, in the following sections.
Slow or Natural Conditioning
Slow or natural conditioning is when you let your homebrew beer naturally carbonate in the keg. This method takes the longest, but it’s the easiest, especially for beginners.
It can take two weeks (or 14 days) before the carbonated brew is ready. Depending on the conditions, it may be earlier or longer.
This method takes a long time because it involves adding sugar. Thus, you must wait for the yeast to convert sugar into carbon dioxide (plus alcohol).
You might prefer the burst method if you need a beer by tomorrow. This process takes only 12 to 24 hours for the brew to carbonate.
However, you should only undertake this when you have more experience. It involves a lot of experimentation and tweaking of PSI values.
You’ll set the kegging system’s PSI level at high values (30 to 50 PSI). Then, you’ll lower it to 20 PSI after a certain amount of time.
The exact number of hours for conditioning using the burst method depends on two things:
- PSI level
- Type of carbonation
The higher you set your PSI level, the quicker it takes. However, if you need high carbonation, conditioning takes longer.
If you need a fresh, carbonated beer immediately, you may resort to the shake method.
As the name implies, the shake method involves agitating or shaking the beer keg to increase the CO2 level. It takes 2 to 3 hours only to carbonate the beer.
However, it’s physically exhausting, as you’ll be rolling around a whole beer keg. But what a great way to exercise, right?
For the shake method, the CO2 tank will still be supplying gas. Thus, you’ll set the PSI level to 30 before rolling the keg.
As you shake the beer, you’ll hear a hissing sound. When that sound stops, you’ll know the drink is ready for cooling in the fridge.
How To Know if Homebrew Beer Is Ready
You can monitor your homebrew’s carbonation process by taking readings of its carbonation levels. Then, you can compare them to this chart:
|Reading (Volumes CO2)||Carbonation Level||Type of Beer|
|0 – 1.49||Under Carbonated||Not yet ready|
|1.50 – 2.19||Moderately Carbonated||Stouts, porters|
|2.20 – 2.59||Well Carbonated||Lagers, ales, ambers|
|2.60 – 4.0||Highly Carbonated||Highly carbonated ales, wheat beers|
|4.01+||Over Carbonated||Specialty ales|
6. Serve or Store Your Homebrew Beer
Once your beer is carbonated, you can enjoy it with your folks! But before that, I have a tip for serving beer.
To avoid too much foam in your beer, it’s recommended to tip the glass while pouring until it’s halfway complete. Once it reaches the halfway mark, you can straighten the glass.
Storing Homebrew Beer in Keg
If you don’t want to drink your beer immediately, that’s alright. You can store it until the perfect occasion to taste your hard work and effort.
But how long can you keep your beer in storage? Good news; you have 2 to 4 months to keep your beer in the keg.
The number varies depending on several conditions, including temperature and beer type. For instance, if you keep your beer in a too-warm place, you’d risk oxidation and bacteria.
Thus, it’s best to keep your keg in a cool and dark place, like a kegerator. However, ensure the pressure level is correct before you store your beer in the kegerator.
At first, there’s a learning curve to kegging your homebrew beer. You’ll need to invest in equipment and research, and there will be a lot of trial and error.
However, once you have all of the equipment and knowledge (such as temperature, PSI, and CO2 levels) you need to keg homebrew beer, you’ll have delicious homebrew beer in no time.
And the benefits of kegging beer will show how essential it is to a committed homebrewer like you.