From Carboy to Cup :: My Kegging Method

I started kegging beer back in early 2011 because I hated bottling. I’ve never regretted this decision and still hate bottling. Since that point, I’ve gone through the process of kegging beer over 250 times. Here’s the method I’ve settled on that seems to work just fine.

Before I get into the actual kegging process, it might be prudent to first address keg cleaning. I don’t disassemble each keg between every single batch and I don’t run line cleaner or even water through the beer lines every time a keg kicks. If I’m reusing a keg that was recently emptied (and the beer in it wasn’t infected), I simply give it a hot rinse and sanitize it as usual prior to filling it with new beer. I do keep a keg of beer line cleaner next to my keezer, from full it usually lasts about a year since I only run the cleaner through my lines between every 3-4 kegs. There’s nothing wrong with being more anal about your cleaning routine, certainly better to be that than too lax, but my routine has been working fine for me. In the instances where I’m using a keg that has been sitting empty for a bit, I do typically disassemble the posts (pin lock requires a special socket) and at least hit everything with some hot water.

Cleaning the keg is the presumed first step– don’t put your beer in a dirty keg. On to the actual kegging method.

Step 1: Place full fermentor on a surface high enough for a siphon to work, wedging something like a towel or an old book under the front to allow more beer to be transferred to the keg.

03_prop_carboy

Step 2: Sanitize your racking equipment, I very much prefer the sterile siphon starter for this for how incredibly simple it is to use, and not to mention sterile.

01_sanitize_siphon

Step 3: Add some sanitizer solution to your keg, I usually use about a gallon, then shake it to ensure every bit of the innards have been touched before pouring it out. To sanitize the liquid-out diptube, I use a small CO2 injector with a pin lock disconnect to charge the keg a bit, then run some of the StarSan solution out using a cheap and simple picnic tap setup. If you don’t have (or want to buy) the CO2 injector, you can always hit the keg with some gas from your kegerator or keezer tank.

02_sanitize_keg

Step 4: Place sanitized racking cane into beer and tubing into your sanitized keg.

04_insert_siphon

Step 5: Start your siphon… I blow mine.

05_blow_siphon

Step 6: I like to place a paper towel drenched in StarSan solution over the opening of the keg to prevent flies and other bacteria carrying fuckers from getting in.

06_protection

Step 7: I usually have slightly more than 5 gallons of finished beer,  so I make sure to stop filling the keg before the beer touches the gas-in diptube in order to eliminate the chances of getting beer sucked in my regulator.

07_gas_tube

Step 8: Once the keg is full, I put the sanitized lid in place, move it near my keezer, hit it with a burst of CO2, then let it sit for a minute or 2 to let the gas settle below any O2 (I’ve heard this doesn’t really happen, but hey, it’s easy enough).

09_addCO2

Step 9: Depress the gas poppet, releasing three 1-2 second bursts to presumably purge the keg of most residual oxygen.

10_purge

Step 10: Move keg to keezer and attach a gas line set to 30 psi to the gas-in post– this is one of the main reasons I prefer secondary regulators to standard manifolds, the ability to have multiple kegs set to different pressures at the same time. You can also connect your beer line now, but I usually don’t because they’re often attached to other kegs.

08_30psi

11_keezer_CO2

Step 11: Come back 24-36 hours later, remove gas disconnect, purge keg, reduce pressure to 12-14 psi (or whatever’s appropriate for your setup and beer style), and replace the disconnect. If you use ball lock kegs, you won’t have to remove the disconnect at all, just reduce the pressure and pull the relief valve.

12_dropCO2

Step 12: While the beer will have noticeable carbonation after the last step, I’ve found that leaving it another 2-4 days not only ensures carbonation throughout the keg, but it gives the beer more time to clear up.

13_carbd

That’s it, pretty straightforward and simple. When a keg kicks, I remove it from the keezer, rinse it with hot water, disconnecting and spraying down the diptubes and posts, put it back together, then give it a 24+ hour soak in OxiClean solution if I don’t plan to re-use it immediately.

Perhaps you’re wondering…
Why don’t you purge your keg with CO2  before filling it with beer?
Truth is, when I started kegging I never considered this option, since my routine has worked fine for me for so long, I see no reason to do anything differently, especially if it adds a step. I’ve made some beer people don’t like, but I’ve never received a comment about oxidized flavors, even in beers that remained in the keg for 10+ weeks.

How do you store your kegs when they’re not in use?
I have a spot next to my keezer where I keep my kegs, stored upright with their lids sort of dangling in the hole.

Why did you choose pin lock over ball lock kegs?
Back when I was buying all of my kegging equipment, I read a few stories of people who fucked up their primary regulators due to accidentally connecting their gas disconnect to the beer-out post, which is impossible with pin lock kegs. Since I figured I’d be doing most of my kegging while sipping homemade beer, I figured better to be safe than sorry. Also, I was able to score pin lock kegs for about $30 apiece, while ball locks were going for closer to $50 per. I’ve never regretted this decision, though if you’re in the market, it may be important to keep in mind pin lock kegs are shorter and have a slightly larger diameter than ball lock kegs.

What’s your take on the carbonic bite argument?
I do seem to experience something different in a beer right after turning the CO2 from 30 psi to 12 psi compared to beer that’s been sitting at serving pressure for a few days, though I’m not certain it’s necessarily carbonic bite. I’m not really sure where I stand on this issue, but I can say with confidence that I prefer the beer that’s been sitting at serving pressure for a few days… which could just be due to the fact it’s had more time to clear-up and condition.

What do you think about the shaking method for forced carbonation?
I used this method when I first started kegging and it seemed to work fine, though the beer, while carbonated, was much hazier than I prefer. I get better results using my current method, which seems also to run a lower risk of oxidizing the beer or throwing out my back.

Cheers and thanks for reading! If you have any questions at all or want to share things you do differently, please don’t hesitate to comment or email me.

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8 comments

  1. Pretty much a foolproof method, and it’s never failed for me. The only difference is that I do a CO2 purge before I fill my keg, not in order to get the O2 out, but I leak check every keg before I deem it worthy to hold my beer. The result is a nice CO2 blanket when I’m filling, but I don’t think it makes any difference in quality at all. Bottles suck.

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  2. I’ve always wondered- how do keggers handle beers like barleywines or sours that they want to age for a while? I guess I just haven’t gotten so tired of bottles yet, and I frequently make beers that should age for a while. Bottling isn’t so bad with a nice bench capper.
    - Dennis, Life Fermented Blog

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    1. I don’t make barleywine or really any other huge beers, but I know people who do and they typically bottle condition them. For the sours I’ve made, I let them sit in primary for however long (16 months or so) then keg them up as usual.

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  3. I leave my empties full of sanitized water, but disconnected inside the keezer. Helps maintain the ambient temp and is a pretty safe way to store the empty keg if I have the space and don’t need it for beer.

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  4. After a keg kicks, I usually just leave it in the kegerator until I fill it again. Sometimes I clean it. My process is to open up the keg, clean it with hot water. Scrub it if necessary. Then I put sanitizer in it and reapply keg lube. I shake the sanitizer around making sure the thing is water tight. Then I reattach the gas line and tap line. I turn on the gas, and open the tap to run the sanitizer through the lines to clean out everything. I run it until all the sanitize is out of the system. At this point all I have in the keg is C02. If I fill the keg right away the keg has C02 that I can put the beer from the carboy on top of.

    Since I use a plastic bucket for fermenting, I can attach a plastic tube and fill into the keg. Close it up and reattach the gas line. Purge the O2 from the keg itself. Then I let the keg sit in the kegerator to get to a lower temp. Next day I attach the gas at 30 PSI rock it back and forth to get forced carb. Let that sit overnight. purge and start to pour. Usually its over carbonated. At this point I turn down the PSI to 12-15 PSI depending on style. after a few days it gets better.

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    1. I just kegged for the first time. An Oatmeal Stout. It’s sitting in the cold box now at 37 degrees with 30 psi. I hope to be drinking nice frosty carbonated beverage in 2 or 3 days. Thanks for the clear instructions.

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