Make: Kegerator!

Completed Kegerator

I have always wanted to brew beer and have a number of friends that do. The results are almost always delicious and always interesting.

Having helped with the bottling process, I decided long ago that if I were to ever brew beer, I would not use bottles. Instead, I would rack into a keg and dispense from there.

Obviously, I needed a kegerator!

To force the issue, I brewed my first batch of beer a few months ago knowing that i would have to figure out a means of serving said beer from a corny keg before I could enjoy the fruits of my brewing labors. A 5 gallon “corny keg” is the standard vessel used in soda fountains and it has two “ball locks” on the top, one for the gas line and one for the liquid out line.

I actually looked into simply purchasing a kegerator outright, but they were expensive, generally inefficient, and often designed very poorly.

Thus, I decided to build my own.
In particular, I started with a 5 cubic foot GE chest freezer
($170 at Home Depot). Chest freezers are super efficient and a 5 cubic foot freezer can handle two kegs at once with room left over for more than a case of bottles and cans.


Kegerator: C02 Tank and Thermostat

Obviously, a freezer is designed for freezing things and the thermostat can’t be set for the ideal keg temperature of 38 degrees. Thus, I added an external temperature controller.

Kegerator: Thermostat Probe

The freezer plugs into the controller and the controller plugs into the wall. The controller has a probe at the end of a thin tube that goes inside the freezer. As seen at the left, I attached the probe to the freezer’s wall with a bit of gorilla tape. It is spaced off of the wall by styrofoam so that the probe is measuring the internal air temperature.

The tank is a 5 pound CO2 tank with a dual gauge pressure regulator and — very important — a shut-off valve with backflow prevention device. The backflow prevention device prevents liquid from entering, and ruining, the regulator.

An angle bracket supports the weight of the tank while the tiny bungie cords anchor the tank to the kegerator. It is critical that the tank remain upright or else you’ll end up with liquid CO2 in your regulator and gas lines, thus ruining the regulator and quite likely the gas lines, too!

A new tank runs around $60 and the regulator is typically less than $50. The CO2 tank will cost around $12-$20 to refill and it will last approximately forever before it needs refilling. I might need to refill it once a year. Maybe.

Ben Holt suggested a neat hack; stick a scale on the tank holder such that you know, by weight, when that 5# of CO2 is about gone. The high pressure gauge is close to useless in that it’ll read about 750-850PSI until almost all of the liquid CO2 is gone, then the pressure drops rather rapidly.

In the picture, you can see that there is a clear hose connected to the tank and then a red hose connected to that. The output port on the tank had a fairly small barbed connector so I needed a step-up adaptor to go from the 3/16″ interior diameter clear hose to the 5/16″ ID red gas hose.



Kegerator Inside

The plumbing inside is pretty straightforward. The gas line comes in, is split and goes to the two kegs. The output of each keg is attached to one of the taps. As I go, I’ll be adding quick disconnects to the various lines such that I can swap different kinds of kegs with different couplers without having to re-plumb anything.

The wooden surround around the top serves a couple of purposes.

First, I can drill holes in it and mount stuff to it. While I could drill holes in the freezer door or walls, there is the risk of damaging the cooling mechanism and, in any case, drilling through the freezer would be a big pain to do cleanly. As well, by doing it this way, I can easily take off the wood and revert the freezer to a plain old chest freezer.

Kegerator: Construction Detail & Hinge Mount

Secondly, the stacked two-by-fours add a considerable amount of height to the freezer. This makes it easier to plumb inside and allows me to use a wider range of kegs and couplers (the adaptor that goes between the keg and the rest of the system), including higher profile mechanisms.

The wooden surround is grossly overbuilt, as is typical of any project I take on. Not only are those solid 2x4s, but they are glued together and have dowels tying them together and have metal plates screwed to them.

Between fridge and surround is about an inch of insulation tape that is normally used to insulate the interface between a camper shell and pickup truck.

To attach the wooden surround to the top of the kegerator, I cut aluminum angle strips down to size and bolted them to the back of the freezer where the hinges originally attached. Since those bolts originally held the lid and were designed to withstand the leveraged forces of opening the lid, they are really strong and, again, I avoid drilling holes in the freezer itself.

The lid’s hinges are then screwed to the surround.

The weight of the lid, surround, and tank hanger is enough to press down the surround on the insulation material and provides a very good, airtight, seal.

Oh, and did I mention that the surround is way overbuit? Yeah. The bolts at the corner are actually about 4″ long.

Kegerator: Coupler & Gas Line Quick Disconnect

I initially used the screw style hose clamps. They suck. I have since moved to nylon clamps, as seen on either side of the quick disconnect on the gas line.

The coupler in the picture is a Sankey, the most common keg coupler used. Note that Anchorsteam’s full sized kegs actually use a different coupler. It seems that most brewers use the more common Sankey — D system coupler, as it is otherwise known — for their 5 gallon kegs specifically because said kegs are often used in home kegerators of which most come with that particular coupler!

The 5 gallon kegs run around $50-$100, depending on the beer within. That is about 40 16 ounce pours or slightly more than 2 cases of beer. Thus, really, buying the 5 gallon kegs isn’t really much cheaper than buying a a couple of cases of bottles. However, the quality is much better and, obviously, returning an empty keg is a hell of a lot more environmentally friendly than recycling 2 cases of empty bottles!

Kegerator: Taps

At the moment, my taps have undecorated plain black levers. I’ll have to get some stylish handles at some point but this will do for now!

When tuned properly, the kegerator delivers beautiful pours of ice cold beer. Nothing like having fresh beer on tap in your garage! And, yes, beer on tap really does taste better than anything from a bottle!

The system isn’t quite perfect yet; like any good hack, it’ll be refined over time.

• I need to insulate the inside of the wood surround. While the wood doesn’t conduct that much heat, there is a noticeable temperature gradient within the unit and I both want to maximize efficiency and I might actually add a small fan to stir the air to ensure a universally even temperature. As well, the first pour tends to be foamy because the beer in the tube is actually warmed a bit!

• Need a bottle cap catcher.

• Need something better than towels on the floor to catch drips off the taps.

All in all, though, the kegerator works quite well and a number of my friend’s spouses are mad at me because they know such a hack will soon be taking up space in their house!

Not bad for about $400!

I picked up all the beer-specific parts from Micro Matic. They have a wonderful catalog. If I didn’t already have the tank from my forced carbonation adventures, I would have started with a two-tap kegerator conversion kit, though that does come with 2 D system (Sankey) couplers which may be overkill if you plan on keeping a keg of homebrew on tap most of the time.

Update: As per a suggestion in the comments, I moved from the 8″ or so beer line on the coupler to a 5′ 3/16″ ID line. Vast and huge foam reduction. Big improvement. Thank you!! I’m still running a short line on the homebrew keg as foamage on that particular keg is not a problem. In the end, I might end up with several different length tubes with quick disconnects in the middle to enable fine tuning without ripping everything apart.



17 Responses to “Make: Kegerator!”

  1. BWJones says:

    Sweet! Tasty choice of fillins’ as well.

  2. Jim says:

    Looks nice! One comment – your beer lines look pretty short. I use about 10 ft of 3/16″ ID tubing for each beer line. The narrow bore and extra length provides resistance so that your brew leaves the faucet more slowly and doesn’t foam up. This can be important if you want to keep your kegerator on the warmer (i.e. tastier) side (mine is in the upper 40s) and have adequate carbonation. Desired temperature and level of carbonation will dictate your CO2 pressure which then can be balanced by adequate resistance from the beer tubing.

  3. bbum says:

    Jim– thank you. Your comment is exactly why I write a weblog!

    I was under the impression from somewhere that a shorter beer line was better. Oops. I’ll move to longer lines and see what happens!

  4. l.m.orchard says:

    Nice work! Having just started my 3rd batch of homebrew myself—and having bottled the first two—I’m very much eyeing up the parts for a project just like this for my basement. (A basement mancave being one of the main upsides to moving from CA to MI.)

    What’d you brew? :)

  5. bbum says:

    So far, I have brewed a Coffee Nut Brown Ale and an Oatmeal Stout (currently on tap). Next up will be a triple Coffee Nut Brown (the first was so good, I have to go for it again)! A friend has racked a Porter into my other corny keg, thus it may go into service after the stout.

  6. Steve says:

    I should take pic of my beer fridge. It is a full size fridge with an 1×1 ft Freezer for making ice, from a garage sale. I put the kegs and co2 inside. I did not know about the beer tube length, 6″ is apparently very short. I plan on adding an external tap.

    Thanks Bill you have inspired me to install the tap that I bought several years ago.

    Currently have “Baby Beer”, dark and hoppy just a hint of sweetness. Planning to make a pil similar to Stiegle this summer, dry and moderately bitter.

  7. Jer says:

    I also posted this on the Make:blog, but here’s my own kegerator conversion: http://gallery.me.com/jerfa#100118

    If I had to do it all over again, I would have used 2x6s instead of 2x4s, as the fridge’s hinge mechanism is too tall to attach to the wood frame. So the fridge top just sits atop the wooden collar. I’d also have gotten a set of low-pressure regulators instead of a simple manifold, as then I could always have one gas line at 20psi to quickly carbonate a keg of cold water.

  8. JimB says:

    For the bottle cap catcher, just attach a rare earth magnet under the bottle opener. I use a disk drive magnet. You can attach it with a screw, VHB tape, or glue. When you open the bottle, just let the cap fall. The magnet will grab it with a satisfying snap. Then you can pull it off and toss it in the recycling bin.

    Another option is to get a plastic sponge holder. They usually come with suction cups to stick to the tile backsplash. Attach magnets to it so it will stick to the fridge under the opener. Then it will accumulate a lot of caps and you can empty it at will.

    Magnets available here:
    http://www.mcmaster.com/#rare-earth-magnets/=6a123o

    Hope this helps.

    -Jim

  9. Mediabob says:

    I just finished your tequila posts and now this! From your pulled pork/Big Green Egg posts I’ve become a CBJ with the Kansas City Barbecue Society. I can’t keep up with your lifestyle any longer. But, I’m very impressed with your results. Congratulations.

  10. NickS says:

    I’m curious what the energy consumption on your homemade Kegerator is; do you happen to have a Kill-A-Watt or similar meter? You’d probably want to average over at some period of time to accurately measure the compressor periodically kicking in, etc.

    I found the energy label for the freezer here. Curious to see what efficiency loss your mods may have caused. With this style of chest freezer, I would imagine relatively little?

  11. Andy says:

    Just my 2 cents:

    Most home brewers (that I know anyway) use $30 kornelius kegs for their bev. They are old soda kegs, but they work awesome for beer. I have 4 in my kegerator. They don’t use a sankey connection, but are generally really cheap.

  12. annbb says:

    You never cease to amaze me, little brother.

    And that overbuilding everything? Runs in the family. Just ask dad…or mom.

    Remember the railroad ties that surrounded Timberhill? That side yard was a
    work of art what with all the terraces and steps, not to mention the rock wall.

  13. Eric says:

    Great build! I’m looking forward to building one of those in the future. Do you force carb your beer or carb it in the keg? I would have to agree with the others on the beer line length; mine are about 10′ long. I brew quite a bit of beer myself and document it on my site (www.brewingexperiment.com). I’ve found that to be a big help in improving my techniques.

    Eric

  14. bbum's weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » Kegerator Upgrade: Keg Cap Tap Handles says:

    […] is the reason why I write this weblog. After writing up the entry on the Kegerator project and tweeting it, I received a “nice job!” from the creator of a product called the […]

  15. kegerator | On Tap - The Beer Blog says:

    […] bbum's weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » Make: Kegerator! […]

  16. Homebrew Keg — Advantages and Disadvantages of The Homebrew Keg | Homebrew Keg says:

    […] bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » Make: Kegerator! – I have always wanted to brew beer and have a number of friends that do. The results are almost always delicious and always interesting. Having helped with the bottling process, I decided long ago that if I were to ever brew … […]

  17. Jason says:

    This is a great DIY project and I think my readers will benefit from it. Home brewing and do-it-yourself projects go hand in hand. Thanks for the resource!

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