What’s the best part of homebrewing? Drinking your beer of course! But in order to get beer you have to boil your wort, cool it down, pitch the yeast and wait for fermentation to turn that wort into delicious beer. Then when you are done fermenting you need to package your beer somehow. You can drink flat beer right out of your fermenter if you want to, but . . . no thanks.
Bottling is a great way to package when you first start homebrewing, and priming your beer has it’s advantages. With the help of a little more sugar, the beer goes through a small secondary fermentation in the bottle. This helps condition your beer and make it taste a little smoother (among other things). All you really need to package your beer is bottles, corn sugar, caps and a capper.
While bottling can be easy, it doesn’t mean it’s not a bit of a chore. For five gallons you need 48 bottles (which need to be stored somewhere). You have to clean, sanitize, fill and cap them. And then you have to wait again! Two weeks at least, three weeks is better. If you are like me, you tend to open them way too early because you just want that beer! You should keep the bottles at a cool, yet not cold, temperature while they condition. You have some control over the amount of CO2 you get in your beer when you bottle condition, but sometimes things get weird and you have foamy beer, or worse, bottle bombs!
So how does the intrepid homebrewer speed up the time it takes to get from grain to glass? Kegging. It’s a great alternative to bottling that has some higher upfront costs, but saves you a ton of time and effort down the line. It’s just one vessel to fill (and clean and sanitize). It can be carbonated in a few days (or one hour if you use the new Quickcarb from Blichmann) instead of two or three weeks. It’s great having only one large vessel to clean and sanitize instead of 48 small ones. You only have to transfer your beer once. And you can dial in how much CO2 gets in your beer. The very best part is you have beer on tap. Drink as little or as much as you want!
The only real drawback to kegging is that you need somewhere to keep the keg cold both while carbonating and serving, like a chest freezer or a dedicated fridge. You have to buy extra stuff like a regulator, a small CO2 tank, a keg and some hardware. But once you get up and running, no more bottles! If you want to bring beer to a party you can always bottle up your beer using the Blichmann beer gun. The truth is, once you start kegging you’ll never go back to bottling.
Kegging is super easy. It’s just transferring your beer into the sanitized keg, getting the beer cold, putting it on CO2 and waiting a few days. Then you just dispense your beer either through a handheld “picnic” tap or a faucet like you see in a bar. If you want to get fancy you can add nitrogen instead of CO2 and pour your beer with a nitro tap to make those awesome creamy stouts. You can’t do that with bottle conditioning, but that is a blog for another time.
Kegging intimidated me a little at first, but after I kegged my first beer I couldn’t believe I waited so long to do it. I learned everything I needed to know from this booklet from the American Homebrewers Association. It teaches you everything about kegs, how to clean them, how to transfer beer and what pressure (PSI) to carbonate at. One disclaimer, the booklet is from the 90’s so please ignore the prices!
Bitter & Esters has everything you need to keg and we run free kegging demos every 6 weeks or so. And as always we are available to answer any questions you may have.