How to Keg Homebrew Beer

by Brad Smith on February 14, 2008 · 94 comments

Beer Taps

Would you like to learn how to start kegging your own beer? Kegging your homebrew saves time and money and offers a very convenient way to serve your beer. This article walks you through the basics of purchasing a kegging system, filling your kegs and serving your kegged beer at home.

Purchase a Beer Kegging System

If you don’t already have a beer kegging system, you can purchase one from your local homebrew store or a major online brewing supply store. A kegging system consists of a keg, a CO2 (carbon dioxide) gas tank, a pressure regulator and two hoses. One hose feeds CO2 gas into your keg inlet, and the other hose brings the beer from the keg to your tap. Keg sizes vary, but the most popular size is the 5 gallon Cornelius or “Corney” keg.

If you are just starting out with kegging your own beer, it is best to purchase a complete starter system from a single store. Complete systems typically run less than $200 for an initial setup including all of the supplies mentioned above. Several popular brewing supply stores that sell kegging equipment can be found on our links page. Once you have your kegging system you will need to fill the CO2 tank with CO2 from a local beverage supply or gas supply store.

Corney Keg Cornelius Keg CO2 Tank CO2 Tank

Filling a Keg

Give your keg a thorough cleaning before use, as many used Cornelius kegs have soda residue present. Pressurize the keg with gas once and check for leaks by applying a small amount of soapy water around the hose fittings and valves. Sterilize the keg with a stainless steel-safe agent such as iodophor before filling. Fill the keg by siphoning from your homebrew fermenter, being careful not to splash or aerate the beer.

Once the keg is full, put the top on it and pressurize the keg using your CO2 tank. Purge any remaining air in the keg and displace it with CO2. Do this by pressurizing the keg with CO2, then release air using the release valve on the top of the keg. Repeat this 4-6 times to make sure that all of the air is out and replaced by CO2. Once the keg has been pressurized with CO2, you can store it in this configuration for several months as long as the keg has no leaks.

Carbonating the Keg

Kegs must be stored under pressure and refrigeration to carbonate properly. I use an old refrigerator to keep 3 of the 5 gallon kegs on tap at all times, and I’ve drilled a hole in the side of the fridge so I can keep the CO2 tank on the outside. To calculate the carbonation pressure needed, put a thermometer in your refrigerator and leave it for a few hours. This will give you your carbonation temperature.

Next, using a Carbonation calculator such as BeerSmith (Carbonation item on the Tools menu), enter the volumes of CO2 desired to set the carbonation level (2.4 is a good starting number to use), enter the refrigerator temperature and volume of beer. BeerSmith will calculate the CO2 pressure needed to force carbonate the beer. If you don’t have access to a carbonation tool, start your system at 10 psi of pressure and adjust it later. Set your CO2 tank regulator to the desired pressure, hook it to your keg and place the keg in the refrigerator. Again, it is not a bad idea to check your lines and connectors for leaks if you have not used the system before. The keg will begin to carbonate in a day or two and reach full carbonation within a week.

Enjoy Kegged Homebrew

You are now ready to enjoy your kegged homebrew! Always pour your beer down the side of the glass and open the tap fully. If you find that the carbonation level is too high, simply dial your CO2 pressure down a bit. If the beer is too flat, adjust the keg pressure up a bit. Invite some friends over and enjoy fresh homebrew from the tap!

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{ 89 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad Smith July 30, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Hi,
I would carbonate it at serving temperature (normally in the fridge if possible) and pressure, then transport it, and then if possible cool the keg back down to serving temperature again on arrival. This should result in relatively even carbonation after the first few glasses.

Brad

Brad Smith July 30, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Hi,
Force carbonation does work quickly – generally you will have carbonation within a few days and certainly have full carbonation with nice little bubbles within a week. If the beer is not too young tasting, you can drink the beer as soon as it is carbonated (often within a day or two). I personally force carbonate just about everything.

Brad

Nick September 21, 2011 at 10:44 pm

I was reading that at around 10 PSI is what I need for my beer and the fridge temp. The carbonation is good but I have to dial it down to about 4 PSI to serve. After serving should I turn the dial back up to 10 PSI or will the beer “hold” the carbonation level?
Thanks, Nick

Brad Smith September 22, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Nick,
You should not have to turn the beer down to 4psi to serve it. Try balancing your keg lines instead which will allow you to serve it at the same 10psi you store it at. See the following article:
http://www.beersmith.com/blog/wp-admin/post.php?post=2275&action=edit

Brad

Nick September 22, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Brad, thanks for the tip…but the link was asking me for a username and password.
Thanks, Nick

Brad Simmons October 5, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Hey i just purchased a kegerator that came with a 2.5lb c02 tank. I went to the local store and had it filled but the max psi only reads 500. is this correct? 500 reads in the red so it doesnt seem right? Any know what if a 2.5lb c02 bottle is full what the psi should read?

Thanks Brad Simmons

Brad Smith October 7, 2011 at 9:39 am

I don’t know about your tank but my regulator will typically read in the green when full (mine is at 800 psi right now). The only problem is when it is near empty it drops off pretty quickly so you do need to keep an eye on it once the tank nears empty.

Brad

Nate October 29, 2011 at 3:39 am

I bought a couple soda kegs so I could make two batches simultaneously but change one variable and scientifically see how differences in the brewing are expressed in the final product. And I hope to be “experimenting” frequently, certainly more often than the time it takes me to work through 10 gallons of beer. Heeding the need to purge all the oxygen from the keg for carbonization, is there any reason why I shouldn’t be only filling a 5-gallon keg with 2-3 gallons of non-carbonated brew?

Brad Smith November 3, 2011 at 11:39 am

No – as long as you purge the keg of all air by pressurizing it and releasing the pressure a few times (to push the air out) there is no reason your keg can’t be half empty to start with.

Brad

Steve January 10, 2012 at 10:23 pm

When kegging do you need to carbinate before you store it? Can you just pour it in and age it first or does it have to be carbinated before hand?

Brad Smith January 10, 2012 at 10:39 pm

You can store it without carbonating it, but you do need to apply some CO2 pressure to purge the air out of the keg up front or the air at the top of the keg will spoil the beer.

Steve January 12, 2012 at 7:55 pm

can you store it at room temp……?

Brad Smith January 19, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Steve – I can be stored at room temperature – the problem is that it is difficult to serve at room temperature unless you have your keg lines adjusted as the serving pressure when the keg is at room temperature will be very high so there is a tendency to foam a lot with typical keg lines.

Brad April 29, 2012 at 2:47 am

Hi i just purchased a keg set up with 2 kegs and i wanna do beer through 1 tap and bourban and coke in the other, I’ve been asking around but no one has really done it and not many people have been able to offer much advice on setting it all up to run bourban and coke besides using flat coke

Gene May 19, 2012 at 12:28 am

You mentioned force carbonation. How is that done? One person told me you can force carbonate by rolling the keg around?
Thanks,

Brad Smith May 21, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Force carbonation is simply putting the keg under pressure for a few days (normal serving pressure will work if it is refrigerated) and it will carbonate the beer.

Taylor July 6, 2012 at 7:25 am

Hi there:

I want to carbonate mi beer priming only with table sugar (without injecting CO2 from the CO2 bottle) inside a Cornelius Keg. If I choose “Keg with Table Sugar” (to reach 2,4 vol) the Beersmith program say: put 57 gr. If I choose”Table Sugar” say: 114 gr.
May I only put 57 gr. in my beer to reach 2,4 CO2 vol? Is it enough?

Thanks!

Brad Smith July 13, 2012 at 1:59 pm

It does take less sugar to carbonate a keg than the equivalent bottle. About 40-50% less.

reggie July 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Hi, i have a coopers microbrew kit ready to go, but i would much rather keg than bottle, first timer and also no space in the fridge to keep a corney keg, does it have to be in the fridge to carbonate and does the CO2 line have to be constantly connected to the keg, thankyou

Brad Smith July 18, 2012 at 11:18 pm

I recommend you keep the keg in the fridge if possible. You can certainly carbonate beer at room temperature, but to serve beer kept at room temperature you will need a much longer serving line because the pressure of the keg is much higher and you will get a cup of foam if you try to serve at that pressure with regular lines. If you want to serve at high pressure, you need a longer/thinner line – do a search for keg line balancing here on the blog and you will find an article where I explain how to calculate the proper line size and length for serving at a given pressure.

chad November 12, 2012 at 4:06 am

hi brad,

first of all thanks for the post it was very helpful!

how long can the beer be kept in the keg before it goes bad? in the fidg of course.. in commercial beers once you open the tap you got somthing like a week or two.. is it the same for this kind?

wayne November 29, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Hi Brad

I have just purchased a homebrew keg system and i have just put down a batch of beer in two plastic
fermentors and one has been bubbling and the other one has hardly bubbled at all.

Can you please tell me what could be causing them not to bubble.

thanks Wayne

paul January 1, 2013 at 9:18 am

when i carbonate the keg can i remove it from the fridge? i have got 3 fermenters and 4 18lts kegs ,my fridge will only fit 2 kegs so i will need to store the rest outside the fridge. can this be done.

paul January 18, 2013 at 7:15 am

ive put 2 brews on ,both at the same time ,on the can it says 5-7 days for fermentation. On day 7 bubbling has stopped but the hydrometer reading isnt 1005 and 1008 yet ,still sitting around 1012. What do i do ,or can i do ?

Jonathan February 7, 2013 at 7:41 pm

For anyone interested you can crash carbonate your beer by jacking it up to 30 psi and shaking the keg for 3 minutes then put it back in the fridge for at least 2 hours purge, and start drinking.. Please note with this method you cannot control your carbonation level but its somewhere in the 2.6 to 2.8 range

Paul,

treat your keg like a large bottle. once the carbonation is complete you can store it in your closet until your ready to drink it. as for your hydrometer that reading is very close make sure you are reading through the meniscus (at eye level) and not down onto it.. other than that use a temperature calculator to convert your reading to an accurate one.

matt March 13, 2013 at 11:13 pm

hi
i just kegged my first brew, but it is foamy really foamy.. what could cause this???

Brad Smith March 17, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Several things could cause too much foam. If you don’t have the keg stored in the fridge it will tend to foam. If your keg lines are too short it will tend to foam, and if you have the pressure set too high it will foam.

Noah April 9, 2013 at 9:48 pm

My beer has been fermenting 2&1/2 weeks, has enough time elapsed to transfer to a keg and carbonize? Will the beer continue to ferment/mature in the same way as it would if I just bottled it instead? I just got this keg and am completely ignorant in how to use it.

Gregg June 4, 2013 at 8:32 am

You mention: “Purge any remaining air in the keg and displace it with CO2. Do this by pressurizing the keg with CO2, then release air using the release valve on the top of the keg”. I know this is easy with ball lock, what about pin lock kegs?

Brad Smith June 6, 2013 at 1:21 pm

I’ve not used pin lock myself, but I believe most of the soda style kegs have a separate release valve. All of mine have a valve in the cover with a ring loop you pull up to release pressure.

Allen Cole June 8, 2013 at 8:49 pm

I’m about to keg my first homebrew. I have an empty kegerator and all the equipment i need. Do i need to use primingsugar like i would before i bottle or is the pressure from the co2 enough to carbonate the beer?

Brad Smith June 9, 2013 at 12:33 am

If you can store your keg in a refrigerator for a few days at 10-12psi or so, it will carbonate itself. You don’t need sugar.

Steve June 21, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Hi Brad. I’ve been struggling to get my psi correct when carbing. I think I’ve finally got the right idea and your post seems to confirm. Would the best way to set psi be to adjust regulator to desired pressure BEFORE hooking up kegs? For 10 psi I do that and when I open it up to the keg it drops to 6-7. I’m assuming that after a week or so the keg will equalize to 10psi. Hopefully I’ve finally got it. Tired of over/under carbed beer.
Thanks, Steve

Brad Smith July 5, 2013 at 11:44 am

You need to have the kegs in the fridge at about 10-12 psi for most setups. If you have it out of the fridge it won’t work nearly as well.

Tara September 29, 2013 at 10:43 am

Hello,

I’m currently researching how to home brew as a Christmas gift for my husband. I am thinking about purchasing the Nostalgia Electrics KRS2100 Kegorator (http://www.amazon.com/Nostalgia-Electrics-KRS2100-Kegorator-Fridge/dp/B000HJVYDQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1380463680&sr=8-1&keywords=kegerator). I want to purchase at least one 5 gallon keg that we can fill ourselves. The information about this kegerator states that it works with a 5 gallon D system keg, but when I search to purchase this type of keg there are notes that state they are not for home brewing because of sanitizing issues without the proper equipment. Is there any way to sanitize this type of keg at home or is there a way around using the D system kegs? Maybe I’d be better off with a different kegerator? I would really appreciate any advice.

Thanks!

Scott December 28, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Hello Tara!
I have the same kegerator. The D system is a sankey tap used for commercial kegs (btw, youve probably figured this all out by now, sorry I just saw this thread).
You can get a ball lock to sankey kit, or just get some homebrew disconnects and switch them out.
The KRS2100 has been working great for me for over 2 years now. Since I bought it, i’ve built it into a bar, added a second tap (with the sankey disconnect kit so I can still use commercial kegs) switched to a 5 lbs CO2 tank, and then put a double gas distributor on it.
The kegerator is awesome and since we’ve built it into bar, my wife is HAPPY to have beer taps in the dining room!

Vinícius Silva May 19, 2014 at 11:31 pm

Hello Brad,

I meet you on Florianopolis. My nick name is Robocop … maybe do you remember.
I have a doubt about carbonation on BS.

I have the option to use keg with table sugar. The quantity of sugar is less than bottling.
I think that this diference because the head space in keg is less than a lot of bottles.

But, I dont find which is the keg that the software consider (commercial kegs or cornelius keg)? Can I change the type of the keg to commercial keg or cornelius keg?

Because if I put 45 liters or 20 liters in a commercial keg the head space will be too different. The software use these information to match the quantity of sugar?

And to finish, your presentation in Florianopolis was very good.

I hope that you had a good travel to come back home.

Michael Worlund October 29, 2014 at 7:27 pm

I have followed these and other similar instructions precisely. Unfortunately, after 10 days my beer is all foam and very little carbonation. I have read too many forums, all giving conflicting information. I followed the instructions for carbonation level of 2.3 in BeerSmith. Not sure what is wrong. 10 days should be more than enough time. Even if the foam is from overcarbonation, shouldn’t the beer be effervescent? Please provide guidance. At this point it would have been easier to stay with the old prime and wait method.

Thanks,

Tim Burnette November 18, 2014 at 4:40 pm

What are the reasons for using Nitrogen as opposed to CO2?

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