When we talk about packaging your homebrew or wine after fermentation, you can bottle condition and wait a few more weeks for it to be ready (and have bottle trub) or you can do what we think the best option is—Just Keg It!
In this installment of Just Keg It, we want to discuss how to set up your own kegerator or keezer for serving your homebrew or wine by draft from corny kegs (or possibly including a commercial keg or two). Setting up your own draft system is actually much easier than most people think and really only requires the space and a draft serving tools. How far you want to go with those tools then makes the difference in how much you spend or how much work you put into the system. First, we’ll talk about the most important elements—the refrigerator or freezer used to keep your kegs cold.
Old (or new) refrigerators are by far the easiest option for a first time draft setup. You just have to have a place to put them, whether it’s inside your house/apartment or in your garage. They tend to take up about as much floor space as the smallest chest freezers and serving could be as simple as opening the door to pour a beer or running your taps through the door so you can pour from a faucet. They are already temperature controlled, so you don’t need to worry about buying a controller to add to the cost. Though, you will be limited on your space for kegs should you want to have more than 3-4 tap lines.
Old refrigerators are often cheap (or free) and easy to find online (Craig’s List, etc.)
Do not require an external temperature controller
Serving with picnic taps or draft taps with faucets in the door is simple and easy work
Can fit 3-4 homebrew Cornelius kegs or possibly slim commercial kegs
With appropriate shelving, could possibly store packaged beer
You have an extra freezer space for food or brewing ingredient storage
The door does not have any refrigerant lines and is therefore easier and safer to drill through for tap lines
Easy to load kegs into without as much stress on your back
Old refrigerators tend to break down (especially if kept in garages or treated roughly when moved)
Refrigerators are heavy
Limited on space for more than 3-4 kegs, especially with your CO2 tank and regulator inside
Typically require some sort of platform to be built to create a flat bottom surface for your kegs
Opening the door for picnic tap serving lets out cool air
The extra freezer space can often ice up if left empty
All kegs may have to come out to remove an empty keg in the back of kegerator
Also easy to set up for serving, the keezer is a chest freezer that uses a temperature controller to remain above the usual “deep freeze” range. Typically, you can go with a less expensive analog controller and keep the freezer between 28-34F, depending on your preference for serving temperature. However, opening and closing the lid can quickly change the internal temperature and cause humidity based ice buildup. But that problem can be solved with a built collar for faucet tap serving. These take up more space than a standing refrigerator, but they also can hold more kegs. A 5 cu. ft. freezer can typically hold two kegs and a CO2 setup, where a 18 cu. ft. freezer can hold up to 10 kegs with your CO2 setup and usually a little storage space on the compressor shelf.
More keg serving space, depending on size
Easy temp control with an exterior controller
Can be easy to find older versions online
Often on sale in larger Box Stores
Allows for creativity when adding tap lines with a collar or tower, including creating a shell (or coffin) that can make it a beautiful piece of home furniture
Did i mention more serving kegs?
If a beer spills inside, it collects in the bottom of the cooler vs leaking out of a refrigerator
Takes up more room than an refrigerator
Requires a temperature controller (extra cost)
Cannot drill through the walls of the unit without very likely encountering refrigerant lines
Requires a collar or tap tower for serving from a faucet tap
Opening the lid can cause humidity issues that lead to ice build up and possibly rust
Have to lift full kegs up and over the wall (and possibly collar) of freezer
The list of pros and cons of each type of serving system is fairly equal and will mainly depend on your available space for the unit and your needs for serving. I personally prefer the keezer setup because it allows for more serving options at once. I moved from my initial 5 cu. ft. freezer and used the same beginning gear to start the set up of my final 18 cu. ft. freezer. The same single tank of CO2 and a regulator can run both sizes, you just need to have a gas splitter with more lines. Plus, with the purchase of a digital temperature controller, I made my initial 5 cu. ft. serving freezer into a perfect fermentation/cold crashing chamber. Those smaller 5 and 7 cu. ft. freezers are almost always a great price.
Set Up a Kegerator or Keezer
So, to set up your first kegerator or keezer you need the following items:
Refrigerator or a chest freezer with a temperature controller
Filled CO2 tank and regulator
Gas line and connections (preferably with Oetiker clamped swivel nuts with nylon flare washers)
Gas line distributor to match all or most of your kegs (ex. I use a 6-way to run 10 kegs)
Gas disconnects for each keg line (preferably MFL)
Liquid disconnects (preferably MFL)
Liquid beverage line (preferably 5-6 ft. with Oetiker clamped swivel nut connections)
Secondary CO2 regulators for precision pressure control for each keg
Collar making materials or serving tower materials for adding faucet taps to a keezer
Drip tray (to keep your floor cleaner)
A Sanke coupler connection for commercial kegs
Once you have all the equipment, you simply make your connections, fill your kegs with beer, and get your fridge or freezer to the right serving temps. Going with simple picnic taps to start is a great way to get beer flowing sooner, but having actual faucet taps will save you from temperature and humidity changes inside your cooler. Most likely leading to a longer life for the equipment. For refrigerators, the easy option is drilling through the door, adding your taps and attaching a drip tray. Some brewers like to apply chalkboard paint to the door so they can write the beer details by the tap handles. I’ve seen this on the lids of chest freezers with collars as well. For those, you will need too apply a little more wood working skill to be sure that your collar is straight and seated well. You’ll also want to seal it around the base against the cooler and be sure to insulate the inside for good measure. A 1x6 sized board is often a popular choice for building a collar and I’ve seen the holes for the shanks drilled both before the boards are connected and afterward. Once built, remove the lid of the cooler and re-attach it to the new collar so that it is properly seated and sealed. Be cautious with the springs! Next, add your shanks and faucets and connect your liquid lines. Then, pour your first draft beer!
Building a serving chamber from a refrigerator or freezer is much easier than it might seem. It is an investment, but one that typically pays off for serious homebrewers and beer connoisseurs. The easiest way is finding an old fridge for a cheap price, using it until it dies, then replacing it with another. Once you’ve drilled through the door for taps once, you’ll be able to do it again. The better option for serving more beer at once and having more creative options for the appearance and method of tap serving is to use a chest freezer with exterior tap faucets. Because if you like having a variety on hand, then you want more space. Most of us keep our large units in the garage, but can also have a smaller more decorative unit indoors.
Semi-Media Director/Special Event Coordinator TBI, Producer, Writer, Host, and Host Wrangler Come and Brew It Radio, Homebrew Consultant, Lover of Experiments