There comes a time when a homebrewer decides that simply making beer isn't enough and your thoughts turn onto how you serve your wares. Building your own kegerator is a very personal thing. Here we will explore the kegerator I have built for myself but remember its your kegerator so built it how you want it to be.
I hope this will help with some of the questions you might be asking yourself. If you have any additional questions please do feel free to ask me on twitter @craigcsruk or in the comments section below.
You may notice that I have mentioned Keg Kingdom a lot during the article. We aren't affiliated with them its just that they have become the go to online shop for me when it comes to kegging equipment.
For my build I bought the following:
1x Under counter fridge from Gumtree for £20. The fridge I bough is actually quite old and is probably very inefficient. A positive of buying an older fridge with less insulation is that its actually a lot larger inside than most modern fridges giving me plenty of room for all the stuff.
3x Corny Kegs (Cornelius keg) from a site in Germany for £50 each. I bought my kegs from a German site as I was struggling to find kegs of decent quality and availability. Since then http://www.kegkingdom.co.uk/ has really stepped up their game and have a good deal of stock in at all times so would be my choice for any future kegerator needs. I bought 3 so I can have two in the kegerator and one spare just incase I need to mature some beer or have an issue with one of the kegs.
1x 4 Way Gas Distributor from Keg Kingdom for £30. I bought a 4 way splitter rather than a two way splitter so that in future if I want to upgrade to a larger fridge/freezer with more kegs I can.
1x 3kg CO2 Cylinder from a local bar supplier in Rochdale for £65. Sourcing a CO2 cylinder might be one of your challenges. You don't actually buy them rather you put a deposit down and rent them long term from a supplier. I don't recommend buying one off eBay or Keg Kingdom as you might find it hard to get a supplier to re-fill a cylinder which isn't on of theirs. Instead ask your local homebrew group and get recommendations for your closest supplier.
1x CO2 Regulator from Keg Kingdom for £38.50. There are a lot of different regulators but I bough a fairly basic one which only has one output. You can buy more complicated ones but it works for me.
1x John Guest 3/8 BSP X 3/8 from Keg Kingdom for £3.50. John guest push fit used to connect co2 regulator to 3/8 tubing.
3x Pair of Disconnects from Keg Kingdom for £6.75 each. I chose the barbed disconnects because its cheaper and my kegerator is a permanent setup. If I was to buy more disconnects I would probably buy disconnects with John Guest fittings for a little more money. The advantage of John Guest fittings is that you can disconnect gas and beer lines really quickly.
1x 2 Faucet Beer Stainless Steel Tower from BrewUK for £130. At the time BrewUK was the only place I could find a full stainless steel tower with stainless steel faucets. Now it looks like they can be picked up for around £110 and seem more readily available. You can buy cheaper chrome plated brass ones but I wanted something that would last me a life time so settled on spending a bit more for better quality.
2x Meters of Gas Line from Keg Kingdom for £0.80. Not much to say about this other than make sure you get the right size. 3/8 OD x 1/4 ID gas line fits its directly onto your quick disconnects and john guest fittings.
2x Meters of Beer Line from Keg Kingdom for £0.80. Again not much to say about this other than make sure you get the right size. 3/8 OD x 1/4 ID gas line fits its directly onto your quick disconnects and john guest fittings.
1x INKBIRD ITC 306 temperature controller from Amazon for £34 ish. This is a temperature controller that you simply plug your fridge into and place the temperature sensor inside. This version actually can do a lot more (can be used for fermentation control). Some people build these for themselves using an STC1000. I actually have two of the INKBIRD and have found them to be a great piece of kit.
Length of Chain from local DIY store for £2 ish. I used this to simply keep the CO2 cylinder firmly secured at the back of the fridge.
6x Screws from the bottom of your tool box.
2x Hooks from the bottom of your tool box.
1x Novely Beer Mat from the missus. No idea how much it cost but its a nice gift.
Total Build Price: £491.35
Tools You Will Need
- Screw drivers
- Drill bits
- Hole saw (I got a cheap set from from ebay)
- A beer (not advised when using power tools)
- Adjustable wrench
- Stanley knife
Controlling the temperature
With any kegerator you are going to want to control the temperature so you serve your beer appropriate to style. I use an INKBIRD temperature controller which is easy to use. Simply plug the fridge into it, set the desired temperature as per the instructions and place the senor inside. Some people feed the sensor through the fridge drainage whole but I haven't bothered. You may also want to override the fridges thermostat but it isn't necessary at typical beer serving temperatures.
Installing the Tap Tower
I was worried about this step because I thought I would be drilling through a metal top! In reality it only took 5 minutes to install as it turns out that the top of undercounter fridges is just a bit of foam and a bit of thin plastic.
Pretty simple really. Use the hole saw and drill through the top of your fridge. Brutal! If you have never used a hole saw before you might want to read http://www.familyhandyman.com/tools/saws/how-to-properly-use-a-hole-saw/ but its pretty simple. As you can see in the image the tap tower comes with all the screws and fittings required.
The beer lines come attached to the tower and have a beer nut on the end. You will need to cut the beer nut off with your stanley knife and fit a black (B for Beer) disconnect by simply pushing the barbe into the beer line. Its actually a bit difficult to push the barbe in so just use brute force as it certainly wont be coming off afterwards.
Connecting the CO2 regulator
Before you start you probably want to familarise yourself with the regulator you have bough and understand how it works. Obviously I am no expert but there are plenty of videos online which can help you understand your regulator. I found this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZD8ItqJi6Ts particularly useful as its clear and consise.
Its a fairly simple installation. Use a spanner or adjustable wrench and fit the CO2 regulator as per the photo. As mentioned in the video just make sure you have the washer and little filter in place (ie. not fallen off/out in your box or floor) before fitting. Next screw the John Guest 3/8 BSP X 3/8 fitting on the regulator output and you are done.
Installing the gas lines
To keep the CO2 cylinder in place I screwed two hooks into either side of the fridge and then use a small length of chain to retain the CO2 cylinder in place. The back of the fridge is constructed with a metal place so its easier and safer to the screw into the sides. Some people use larger CO2 cylinders and have them outside their kegerator but I wanted it to be all inside and compact as I don't want my son messing with it.
Next up cut a small length gas line and fit it to the regulator John Guest fitting. It simply pushes in. Next push the other end onto the 4 way splitter. Again because they are barbed fittings its difficult so a bit of brute force is required.
Use some self tapping screws and a screwdriver (no need to drill) to fix the 4 way splitter to the side of your fridge.
Cut two lengths of gas lines and fit them onto the 4 way slitter as show and then finally push on the Grey (G for Gas) disconnects to the other side.
Connecting the kegs
So by now you should have everything all connected up and ready to go. Before you do you might want to do a pressure check to ensure you have no leaks. First turn the knob on your regulator completely off (should be anti clockwise). Then open the CO2 cyclinder using the knob on the cylinder. Slowly turn the regulator knob so to pressurise the gas lines and make note where the PSI needle is. Now leave it for a little while and check the PSI hasn't changed.
After your pressure check simply place your beer filled kegs into the fridge. Connect a gas line with the grey disconnect on to the kegs IN connector and connect a beer line with the black connector on to the kegs OUT connector. Typically kegs will have IN marked on the rubber next to the connector so you know which one is which.
Now pressurise your kegs. Wait a number of days for the CO2 to be absorbed into your beer (more details below regarding carbonation). Finally pour yourself a beer!
Getting you beer carbonated just right is going to be one of your biggest challenges. I typically follow the chart above (sadly we have to convert °F to °C). Set the fridge temperature, set the PSI as desired and let the beer sit for 1 week. At first I would recommend you under pressure rather than over pressure as its always easy to top up the CO2. Its hard to get CO2 out but if you have over pressured just turn the CO2 off and keep serving until pressure has come down.
There's not much in the way of maintenance if you have sourced your kegs from a reputable place. After a few years I believe you might have to replace some seals but there are videos on youtube that can help you through this process. I have heard of some people buying older kegs which haven't been reconditions and as a result have had to replace seals etc.
As ever with homebrewing its all about the cleaning! I clean my kegs with Star San. Mix up the Star San with cold water in the Keg as per instructions (10 liters of cold water per 15-25ml of Star San). Close the lid and give it a good shake. You can then clean your beer lines by connecting up the CO2 and Beer Lines. Open the tap and leave it running for a minute of two and you are done.
Whoa! this sounds expensive?
Like I said a kegerator is a personal thing. You can decide to make it as expensive or as cheap as you like. But if you just wanted to get started with Corny kegs you might want to buy just a starter kit from Keg Kingdom for just £100 which includes everything but the CO2 cylinder to get you started.
Where can I get my CO2?
It very much depends on where you live. There is this forum post http://www.ukaps.org/forum/threads/where-to-get-co2-cannisters-and-refills.4612/ which seems to be kept up-to date but it isn't a comprehensive list. My best advise is for you to ask your local homebrew group. Let them know the area you live and they will probably know the best place you can source the CO2. You might be supprised at just how long the cylinder will last. I've had my CO2 cylinder for over a year now and have still haven't needed a refill. Typical refill costs will be around £10 it seems.
Pin Lock vs Ball Lock?
Ball lock connectors all day long. It seems that even if a keg is pin lock people just convert them to ball lock and sell them on. Ball locks is much more widely supported and parts are more readily available.
Pepsi kegs vs Coca Cola kegs?
Pepsi kegs I believe are taller and thinner than the coca cola kegs which are shorter and wider. I believe coca cola kegs are pin lock originally but most of them have been converted to ball lock. Mine are coca cola kegs which were sold with ball lock connectors.
What size and length of beer line should I use?
To be honest I don't have a clue regarding this! Some people do size down their beer lines to a narrower beer line and adjust the length of beers lines for an optimal pour/pressure. There is some math you can do in this area but I just wing it and serve on a length that seemed fine to me.