Saturday, March 23, 2013

Kegging - The Not-So Awesome Side of Packaging

Browse the homebrew forums in their "Bottling/Kegging" section and you will notice a lot of reoccurring questions pop up.  Many of those questions revolve around a fairly new homebrewer asking questions about bottle carbonation.  A few people will respond with well constructed and helpful advise...then, there is always one wise guy who posts "Just keg and you don't have to worry about it!"  While that may be true, there are quite a few frustrations that can accompany the pleasantries of kegging.

We know the benefits of kegging our homebrew:

  • Clean, Sanitize and fill just one container
  • Fine tune your carbonation level
  • Force carbonate your beer quickly (<24 hours if necessary)
  • Draft homebrew is awesome and it allows you to sample less than 12 ounces at a time
  • You cold condition and carbonate at the same time, producing a larger quantity of clear beer sooner.

Now let me explain some of my problems I have had while kegging:

(Velcro Picnic Tap)
  • CO2 Leak:  I avoided this for over a year!  I decided to upgrade my dual body regulator with 2 wye splitters (allowing myself the ability to carbonate and serve 4 beers rather than 2) and I guess I didn't find the leaks...killed 2 tanks worth of CO2.  Not a huge deal, but thats about $40 down the drain right there.  Solution: My problem was I didn't check for leaks at 30psi, I did it at 10psi.  Make sure to check for leaks at a higher pressure so they will be more visible. Use soapy water or star san for visibility.
  • Unsecured Lines:  I started out with the plastic "Picnic Taps" to save some scratch until I could upgrade to perlick forward-seal faucets.  I learned the hard way that picnic lines lose flexibility the colder they become.  This led to my picnic tap falling and opening itself, making a huge mess! Solution: Secure your lines.  I purchased some velcrow tape and fastened it around my tap and secured it to the side of the fridge.
(Foamy Beer!)
  • Overcarbed Beer:  Remember the benefit of quickly carbing beer from above?  Well what if you do to much too quickly?  While it is fixable, an overcarbed keg is a nuisance.  I recently had this happen while trying to force carb some beer for bottling for NHC 2013.  Solution:  Vent keg daily.  You can pull the keg out of your keggerator and leave it a room temp (higher temp = less CO2 in solution which means you venting is more effective). 
  • Equipment Maintenance:  You are always needing to replace O-rings, or other items.  I just recently had a HUGE SNAFU because I bent a poppet valve on one of my kegs.  After a trying a bunch of things, including purchasing a universal poppet which didn't seal fully (I need a long-legged poppet), I find out there are 3 different types of poppets for pin lock kegs (6 types overall?)!  Solution: First off, be very carefully tightening down your keg posts - I didn't notice the poppet pin was being obstructed by the post itself and ended up bending it AND the flange on my dip tube.  Second, make sure you know which type of kegs you have and have a backup plan - either spare kegs, poppets, o-rings or All three!  (just purchased bulk o-rings from Orings and More - highly recommend!)
(Different poppet types)

  • Bottling:  Wait! I thought we are talking kegging, right?  Well yes, but even though you keg your beer  you will eventually have to bottle some of it for competitions or to give to your friends and family that can't make it to your tap.  Solution:  You can create a cheap bottle filler (execution here) or buy a Blichmann Beer gun.  Either way, you are now doing twice as much work as you originally were just bottling!
So beware!  Kegging comes with its own set of problems.  Spending hours trying to find leaks, or cleaning up gallons of beer from the garage floor may make that hour of bottling and 3 weeks waiting for carbonation to be achieved seem just a little better.  But at the end of the day, nothing beats pulling a pint from one of the 3 taps below!

(Shegogue Brew's 3 Perlick Taps)

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