5 Corny Kegerator Build

Kegerator

It didn't take long to realize filling bottles was infinitely less enjoyable than emptying bottles. There are a lot of intermediate options available to the homebrewer but by far the most practical is using defunct soda kegs. There are plenty of them out there which makes it relatively cheap to get into kegging. There are a few equipment requirements and most of it can be bought online.

 

  1. Cooling - A fridge that can hold one or more kegs.

  2. Gas - CO2 tank with regulator.

  3. Container - Kegs (about twice as many as you plan to serve at a time)

  4. Connections - Gas-in and Beverage-out quick disconnects (one set per serving keg) and PVC tubing.

  5. Dispensing - Faucet Set (either mounted or picnic style).

Here's what I ultimately bought and built:

Cooling

Whirlpool 8.9 cubic foot chest freezer from Lowes $268. I actually bought a slightly dented unit on clearance for $200 even. I chose this exact unit because it fits 5 kegs like a glove with no wasted space. You can see the tight packing in the picture. It's important to note that using a freezer of any type will require an external temperature controller that will override the stock thermostat. You want to set it to about 40 degrees F which a typical freezer will not do on its own. The controller is an added cost (I got mine on Ebay for about $40 shipped. In addition, when using a chest freezer you will probably want to build a collar between the chest body and the lid to give you a place to mount the faucets. It might be more complicated than you feel comfortable with but I like it.

Gas

It's perfectly fine to start with a smaller tank (something like a 5 pound) but I found a deal on a 20 pound tank. Expect to pay about $80-100 for the tank if you buy new. Deals can be found on Ebay and Craigslist but keep in mind these tanks need to be tested and certified every 5 years. Ask the seller what the most current date stamp is before deciding to buy. Recertification costs about $15 at any welding or fire extinguisher shop.

In addition to the tank itself, you'll need a regulator to turn the 800psi into a usable 10-20psi. Regulators that are suitable for beer dispensing need to have at least a single pressure gauge in the range of 0-30. Gauges that go up to 60 or 120psi do not provide the fine adjustment we need. A single regulator body is capable of only one output pressure. If you don't mind multiple kegs having the same carbonation level, you may split the output of the regulator using hose barb TEEs or through a manifold body to distribute to multiple kegs. You can buy multi-body or daisy chained regulators to obtain distinct pressures but of course it's an additional cost. Expect to pay about $50-60 for a new single body regulator and maybe half that in the used market.

Container (Kegs)

There are basically two styles of homebrew kegs; ball lock and pin lock. Ball locks use connectors that grip the keg disconnect posts with a series of ball bearings in a recessed ring. They are released by pulling up on a collar that relaxes the grip. The pin lock has pins sticking out of the post that a collar on the connector will engage after turning it (basically a turn and pull release). There are pros and cons to each system but they are both completely usable for our purposes. Ball lock kegs are by a large margin more readily available so I would only recommend pin lock if you find an inexpensive source and you are willing to buy more than you think you currently need. It is a royal pain to support both connection types because the connectors are obviously different.

95% of the kegs you'll find in either style will be 5 gallons which measure about 8.5-9 inches in diameter and about 23" tall. Pin locks (see pic on right) are slightly shorter and fatter than ball lock. You will find some 1, 2.5, 3, 10, and 15 gallon versions but again, they all share about 5% of the kegs out there. If you want these sizes, expect to pay about 300-500% more than the typical 5 gallon variety. A 3 gallon is not all that much more portable than 5 is it?

Connections (and tubing)

Regardless of the keg type you get, there are distinct connectors for the CO2 in and the beverage out connections. The Gas usually has a Grey color or at least a grey top. The Beverage or Beer out is coded Black. In addition to the in/out distinction, there are also two varieties of tubing connection. The connectors shown on the right are for pin lock kegs, but also note the integrated hose barbs. These are not removable and the tubing must be cut off once it's attached. The other variety available (no pic) is flare connection. The connector will have a male flare and you attach a separate hose barb/compression nut onto each. This allows for continued removal from the tubing but it also adds additional cost and potential leak points.

The tubing you use for gas connections is quite insignificant. Any food safe tubing like clear PVC is fine. The inside diameter and length also does not matter. 1/4" ID is the most common and will fit onto a 1/4", 5/16" or even a 3/8" hose barb if you warm the tubing up first.

HOWEVER, the inside diameter of the beverage tubing DOES matter quite a bit. In MOST installations, you'll want to use 3/16" ID thick wall beverage tubing (clear PVC). The thin diameter core provides enough resistance so that the beer does not gush out of the faucet creating tons of foam. There are all kinds of calculators available to help determine the ideal length of tubing to create a nice pour, but I've found the safest bet is to start with 9-10 FEET of tubing between the keg and faucet. You can always cut back later if the pour is too slow, but you can't ADD without replacing the whole piece. If you need more anecdotal support, I had to replace five lengths of 5' tubing with 10' sections so I obviously wasted 25'. If you have a situation that requires a 12-15' tubing run to the faucet, you might want to move up to 1/4" but this is highly unlikely. 3/16" tubing will fit on 3/16" and 1/4" hose barbs.

Dispensing

It's perfectly fine to use the $2 black plastic picnic faucets that you find attached to kegs at , well um keggers. They're cheap, convenient, portable, and CHEAP! (I know I said it twice but you'll understand why when you look at the "better" option). Given the length of tubing we're talking about, you can imagine making a spaghetti mess with a bunch of picnic faucets.

When you become frustrated with those faucets, you might decide to step up to metal faucets similar to what you see in pubs. The highest end products are Ventamatic (Shirron) and Perlick stainless steel forward sealing faucets like the one in the pic. They will last forever and don't get stuck after a few days between pouring. They are steep at $35ish each and that doesn't even include the shank or handle. If you think you'll be kegging for a few years to come, don't waste your money on the cheaper faucets because you WILL buy these eventually.

Total Cost

A lot of folks have admired my kegerator and asked exactly what it cost me, including everything. As I've mentioned, it's hard to know what it would cost you since I bought a few things used but I'll put together a list assuming everything is purchased new and you only want to start with 4 kegs (all tapped at the same time).

 

Purpose Part Price New
Cooling Whirlpool 8.9cuft chest freezer (Lowes) $268
Wood for collar and paint $ 10
Gas 20cuft aluminum tank $100
Regulator $ 55
Kegs 4 kegs (I have 12) $100
Connections One pair disconnects per keg @ $12/pair. $ 48
60 feet of tubing, 40 for bev, 20 for gas + clamps $ 55
Three hose barb Tees to split gas $ 10
Dispensing Picnic faucet option x 4 $ 10
4 Perlick forward seal, nipple shanks and handles. $200
Cheap total: $656
Expensive total: $846

You can see that putting the fancy faucets on adds like 30% on to the project cost. Also, don't forget that you'll want a few extra kegs for those beers you want waiting ready to go. That's how I ended up with 12.