This week we take a look a beer taps (faucets) and the key roll they play in a good keg system for your home brewed beer. Selecting the right faucet is a critical decision when designing a kegging system. You might want to refer to my earlier articles on kegging home brewed beer and determining the proper keg line length to learn more about kegging in general.
Beer Tap Types
There are several different types of beer taps available, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s explore some of the different possibilities:
- Cask Beer Taps – Old beer barrels were served with no external pressure or gas supply. They used cask taps which are nothing more than on/off valves that let the beer flow from the barrel. They are really not used anymore except with by some historical brewers who serve directly from the cask.
- Pressure Dispense Bar Taps – This is the style of most modern beer taps, though there are many variations – including those that are mounted on a bar and those mounted on the wall or to your refrigerator. We will cover the makeup and variations of this style in more detail shortly.
- Portable Picnic Taps – Small, inexpensive plastic taps that attach to the end of a keg line for use with a hand pump or CO2 source. These are most often associated with portable serving setups, but some brewers do use these inexpensive taps inside their refrigerator as an alternative to more expensive through the door or external tap systems.
- Beer Engine – A hand operated pump traditionally associated with English cask ales. It was developed in 1797 by engineer Joseph Bramah, and uses a hand operated pump to dispense beer from a cask, often located in the basement or cellar of the pub. Modern variants are sometimes electrically powered.
I won’t spend much time on Beer Engines or Cask Beer taps as most home brewers do not serve from a cask.
Portable picnic taps are widely used by home brewers since they are available for less than $6 each if you search online. Most homebrewers attach them to 4 feet (or so) of keg line and use them to serve directly from the keg output line. They seal well and serve well. The only downside is that they do tend to collect mold if not periodically cleaned, so you need to either clean them occasionally. Once the mold sets in the valve must usually be replaced since it ruins the soft plastic in the valve.
Bar Tap Parts
Most serious beer brewers eventually transition to stainless steel bar taps. These can be mounted either on the side of your refrigerator, on a wall or on your bar. Bar mounted taps are usually mounted to a “beer tower” which holds one more more taps. Lets take a look at the major parts of a beer faucet:
- Beer Faucet – is the valve that actually controls the beer flow and serves the beer. This is what most people think of when we talk about a beer tap. However, usually the faucet is sold without the shank or handle (see below) so those must be purchased separately. Also faucets come in many variations such as stout taps, creaming, flow control, chrome, stainless, and brass.
- Tap Handle – Often sold separately from the faucet, the handle screws into the top of the faucet. These vary from a simple 2.5″ round plastic handle to large handles that feature the brand of beer, labels or even chalk boards.
- Shank – Also usually sold separately. The shank is a threaded metal tube that screws into the back of the faucet, and goes through the mounting board, refrigerator or beer tower and connects to the beer line. Shanks are sold in varying lengths depending on what kind of surface you are mounting the faucet on. For example a refrigerator might use a 4″ shank, but going through a wall or bar tower might require a longer or shorter one.
Since these parts are sold separately (in most cases) you can mix and match – selecting the proper shank for your installation, your favorite type of faucet and then finding a pretty handle to match your bar setup.
Choosing a Beer Faucet – Variations
Of the three parts of a beer tap, the faucet is most important as it provides the seal as well as controlling the flow when serving beer. Here are some considerations when choosing a faucet:
- Stainless, Brass or Chrome – The type of metal does play a role in the life of the faucet. Stainless is widely accepted as the longest lasting, and generally most expensive. For those who prefer the golden brass look, you can purchase stainless faucets with a brass coating – which give you long life with a brass look. Most chrome faucets are chrome plated brass which will eventually wear through. Brass is softer than stainless and will eventually wear out. If you want durability – spend a few extra dollars and go stainless.
- Rear Closing vs Front Closing Faucets – Most faucets are rear closing meaning that the handle closes a valve near the back of the faucet, minimizing the amount of beer left in the faucet when it is closed. The downside of a rear closing faucet is that some droplets remain in the faucet when not in use leading to bacterial/yeast growth. Front closing (forward seal) faucets such as those made by Perlick provide a seal near the end of the handle, which minimizes bacterial/yeast activity in the faucet. The downside is that a small amount of beer is trapped in the faucet itself. Front closing are more expensive and harder to find, but should require less frequent cleaning.
- Flow Control Faucets – Some faucets come with a flow control valve that lets the server adjust the beer flow right from the tap. This can be a big plus if you are serving a variety of beer styles from a single pressure source, since you can compensate to some degree for too much or too little pressure for a given beer style. For example you might want to serve a porter at lower pressure than a lager, but have both driven by the same CO2 tank.
- Creamer Faucets?– A creamer faucet is a special rear closing faucet that operates in both the forward and backward directions. In the forward position it pours just like a standard faucet. In the backward direction, however, it allows additional air to be sucked into the beer creating to create a foamy head. This is typically done at the end of the pour to add a creamy head to the beer.
- Stout Faucets – A stout faucet is a special variation of a creamer faucet that is oriented vertically and has a restriction plate and agitator that releases dissolved gas in a controlled way to give a creamy texture to the finished head. It generally provides more agitation than a standard creamer faucet, and is usually used with stouts. Again, moving the faucet forward initiates a normal pour, and the backward motion is used to add the creamy head.
Maintenance and Cleaning
No matter what beer tap style you choose, all taps and keg lines do need to be periodically cleaned. Over time, mold, bacteria, yeast and other contaminents will tend to build up in the line and taps resulting in a stale beer taste. How often you need to clean depends on how often you use your taps and lines. Frequently used systems are less prone to contamination, but most sources recommend cleaning every 2-6 weeks, so a monthly cleaning schedule is not unreasonable. Some sources recommend flushing the lines and tap with water once a week to prevent buildup as well.
To clean the faucet, its best to completely disassemble it and wash it in a cleaning/sanitizing solution. Use a brush to remove any grime/buildup. Beer lines can be cleaned by flushing them with a good cleaning solution and then rinsing by running water through them.
Hopefully today’s article will aid you in designing the perfect kegging system. If you are just getting started with kegging take a look at my earlier article on the basics of kegging home brewed beer, and also my article on beer line length which is critical for getting the proper pour from your keg system.
You might also enjoy these articles:
- Keg Line Length Balancing – The Science of Draft Beer
- How to Keg Homebrew Beer
- Kegging your Home Brewed Beer with Chris Graham- BeerSmith Podcast #79
- Conical Fermenter Advantages for Home Brewing
- The Beer Gun and Counter Pressure Fillers: Bottling Beer
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