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 true) 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 the types kegs that are typically available on the homebrew scale and what parts you will find in those kegs. The absolute most common keg for homebrewers is a used 5 gallon “Corny” or Cornelius keg that came from the soda industry. These were used to deliver soda syrup under pressure to be mixed with carbonated water in soda fountains and will very likely have quite a few years on it. Coca Cola used the pin lock kegs, while Pepsi and others used ball lock kegs. And that’s why you will typically find more used ball lock kegs available for your homebrew. Outside of that, you will be buying a new “corny” keg from an Italian or Chinese manufacturer, which will be stainless and could come with or without a rubber collar and base.

Ball Lock vs. Pin Lock

The main differences between ball lock and pin lock kegs is in their name, ball lock kegs have posts that use a ball lock disconnect that locks in place when the ball bearing in the disconnect fall in the groove of the post and the collar is pushed down to lock it in place. Pin lock kegs have either 2 (gas) or 3 (liquid) pins on each post for you to push the disconnect in place and twist it to lock it. These posts and disconnects are slightly taller and located near each other on the front of the keg, while ball lock posts are on the sides. Otherwise, ball lock kegs are approximately 3 inches taller than pin locks, while pin locks are about 1 inch wider than ball locks. This sizing with disconnects is often an important consideration when choosing a fridge or freezer for a kegerator.

Homebrew Keg Manufacturers

Cornelius is one of several manufacturers including Firestone, Spartanburg, and John Wood, each of which made different models. Kegs from these manufacturers use different post types, poppets, and pressure relief valves (PRV), but often have similar thread sizing for the posts. The following is a list of manufacturers, keg models, and the thread sizing of each:

Firestone V Challenger, Firestone VI Challenger, Firestone Super Challenger
Gas 9/16"-18
Liquid 5/8" -18

Cornelius Spartan & Super Champion
Gas 19/32" - 18
Liquid 19/32" - 18

Cornelius R (pin lock)
Gas 19/32" - 18 (2-pin)
Liquid 19/32" - 18 (3-pin)

John Wood 85, Firestone Challenger
Gas 11/16" - 18
Liquid 3/4" - 18

Firestone A, Firestone R, John Wood RA, John Wood RC (pin lock)
Gas 9/16" - 18 (2-pin)
Liquid 9/16" - 18 (3-pin

Note: Matching sizing between different manufacturers may equal interchangeability, but the only guarantee is to go with the same manufacturer’s products. Which helps when you want to convert a pin lock Cornelius keg to ball lock.

The Parts of a Keg

Both ball lock and pin lock kegs are made up of the same components:

—The body of the keg

—Rubber base and top ring/handle/collar (some kegs have metal loop handles)

—Lid assembly (lid, lid clamp and foot, PRV, O-ring)

—Gas post assembly (post, poppet, post O-ring)

—Gas dip tube and O-ring (not found in all kegs)

—Liquid post assembly 

—Liquid dip tube and O-ring

Gas and liquid posts vary in appearance. Pin lock posts have 2 pins for the gas and 3 pins for the liquid, while gas posts have scoring in the base or a hex shaped base for ball lock. Though ball lock may appear to be the same otherwise, you cannot use a liquid disconnect on a gas post or vice versa without risking damage to the disconnect (and having a hard time removing it). Looking for the scoring, hex shape, or marking for in/out on the collar or keg body will help you avoid this problem. 

For the visual differences between ball lock posts and the associated poppet inside the post based on manufacturer, see the following:

Spartanburg or Firestone Challenger V, VI, and Super Challenger keg post and poppet

Spartanburg or Firestone Challenger V, VI, and Super Challenger

Cornelius keg post and poppet

Cornelius
Older Firestone Challenger (not V or VI) and John Wood 85 keg post and poppet

Older Firestone Challenger (not V or VI) and John Wood 85

 

Conclusion

When all parts are combined, you can add 5 gallons of beer or wine and have it carbonated and pressure served in just a day or two (sometimes longer, depending on the style). Which means a pint of something tasty in a fraction of the time it takes for bottle conditioning. Plus, you avoid any bottle trub in each pour. And you cut out all the time it takes to package in individual bottles vs. a single large container. Basically, IT IS SO WORTH IT! 

For more information on maintaining your keg, see Just Keg It: Keg Cleaning, Maintenance, and Storage.

—Greg Etzel
Semi-Media Director/Special Event Coordinator TBI, Producer, Writer, Host, and Host Wrangler Come and Brew It Radio, Homebrew Consultant, Lover of Experiments