Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mini Kegging Systems

For a home brewer it doesn't take long before dreams of a kegging system start dancing through your head.  If you're anything like me that was when you were cleaning four cases of bottles for your first batch of homebrew beer.  I've been fortunate enough to try several different systems, and they all have there advantages.  If you entertain a large number of guests on a regular occasion then a soda keg or even a sanke keg system with a CO2 tank might be a viable option.  At the other extreme, if you enjoy giving away your beer to family and friends then bottling may be the best way to package your brew. 

The system that seems to fit perfectly between these two is the Tap a Draft.  A similar system is the Party Star.

The PTFE bottles are easy to use.  Washing them is simple with soap and warm water.  After cleaning the kegs I store mine with a couple of cups of Star San inside to keep them free from bacteria. Each bottle is 6 liters (1.5 gallons) which fits very nicely in more refrigerators.  For storage and filling the kegs fit neatly in the box used for typical 12 packs of bottles.  The tap also fits on a 3 liter soda bottle which works great for smaller experimental beers.

Kegging does cost more than bottling, which is just about free, but not much more.  The up front cost of the equipment is about $100.  Each keg will take a couple of CO2 cartridges to dispense the beer costing about a dollar each.  (You may see it advertise that only one cartridge is required if the beer is naturally carbonated, but I've always needed two cartridges regardless)  A batch of beer fills 3 bottles which will take about 6 cartridges to dispense.  At 50 bottles in a batch that's $0.12 a bottle in CO2 compared to $0.03 per bottle cap.  The tap is mostly plastic, but does seem to be built pretty well.  If care is taken when using it I could see it lasting for 100 batches of beer.  Using this estimate the equipment cost per draft is much less than a penny.  (Just taking a wild guess here based of observation of the mechanics.  I've only done about half a dozen batches with this system.) 

Packaging time is significantly reduced when kegging beer instead of bottling.  The first time using the system took about 45 minutes from cleaning the first keg to mopping the last drop of spilled beer off the floor.  Don't worry, it's much easier the second time around.  I would be surprised if your second time takes more than half an hour.  Compared to bottling, any form of kegging is lightning quick and easy, especially if you consider all the time you would have spent cleaning bottles. 

Overall a kegging system can be a great value.  Personally, I can't believe I didn't start using one sooner.  Another advantage to a keg is that Serving sizes aren't limited to increments of  12 ounces.  You can pour as much, or as little, as you would like.