The Kegerator Project
Since right around the time this crazy brewery idea started materializing out of the wort, I wanted to build a kegerator. My buddies and I talked about it a lot. They ended up buying single tap systems, but I knew I wanted something custom – something I could put together and really make mine.
Then I started homebrewing, and seriously, how cool would it be to have your own beer on tap? I could have a system that I built with my beer flowing from it. It’d be like having my own brewpub at home, and another step towards legitimizing the River Crew Brewing Company.
So follow me as I take you through one hop-head’s journey on taking another step towards his dream by building a kegerator.
Planning for Greatness
My first step in building a kegerator was to figure out my ideal configuration. Kegerator or keezer (freezer instead of fridge)? How many taps? Just homebrew or commercial as well?
After months of research, debates and sitting-on-pins excitement, I decided on a 3 tap kegerator, all 3 lines for homebrew, and one line where I could attach a commercial coupler.
There are a few reasons I wanted to go this route. I didn’t have the space for a chest freezer in my apartment, so I went with a fridge. Three lines would give me a variety of beer on tap. The 3 lines also encouraged me to get a lot of brewing experience under my belt. And the one commercial line gave me a place to put a beer I like on tap, and allowed me to put a crowd-pleaser on if we were having people over who weren’t beer fans (and gave me ways to convert them).
To build my mini-brewpub to-be, I need a few things. First off – a fridge. I scoured Craigslist to find the right fridge, and saw a few, but none of them were my ideal set up. As luck would have it, I found just what I was looking for at a yard sale around the corner. One awkward walk down the street with this thing on a handtruck later, I was halfway done with my equipment recon mission.
Next, I needed a conversion kit. I found that most places only really offered a 2 tap system at most, and it was expensive on top of it. I compared a few kits, and decided the 3 Tap Door Mount Homebrew system from LearnToBrew.com was the best fit for me.
It came with the faucets included, and the kit came pre-assembled. They also offered a Sankey D Coupler with threaded fittings already attached so I could move a line from homebrew to commercial with ease.
It was a happy day in my apartment when the kit arrived.
Finally, construction day came! Before I got started, I assembled a few necessary tools:
- 1″ Bi-Metal Hole Saw bit from Home Depot
- A drill bit set, most importantly a 1/4″ bit
- An adjustable wrench that can accommodate up to a 1″ hexagonal bit
- Masking tape
- A few smaller screws to hold the gas manifold in place
- The 3 Tap Kit
- Tape Measure
- An assistant
I cleaned the heck outta the fridge. It was in pretty good shape to begin with, but I wanted to be sure it was pristine.
With the fridge in place, I took the masking tape and made a straight line on the front of the fridge at the lever I wanted the taps to be. I really wanted to be sure everything was level and looked great. After measuring, I put a dot on the tape with a marker where I wanted the faucets to be, ensuring they were evenly spaces.
Drill baby drill! On the dots I drew, I started drilling with the smallest drill bit I have, making sure I made the first hole level. It took a little while and decent amount of re-centering to punch the initial hole in the steel. Once I had the initial hole, I used increasingly larger bits, usually jumping 2 sizes at a time, to increase the hole size until I got to the 1/4″ bit. Every now and then the bit would get stuck in the steel, so I backed it out and started the bit spinning before I put it back to the fridge to try and power through.
When it was time to use the 1/4″ bit, I attached it to the center of the 1″ hole saw bit. There’s a spot for it in the middle of the bit, with and adjustable tightener at the bottom. The 1/4″ bit stuck out about 1/4″ from the hole saw, leading the way for it, and creating an anchor for the hole saw to grab hold of the steel.
This is when the sparks fly…literally. Cutting through steel is tough, let alone a 1″ hole. It took awhile for the hole saw to cut into the door, and a pretty decent amount of time to get through it. I had to lean into the drill, and even then it got stuck and I had to back it out. It took about 15-20 minutes to get through the steel.
Once through, drilling was pretty easy. All that was left was about 2″ of insulation and the plastic on the other side. The hole saw bit filled with insulation once or twice, but other than that, it was smooth sailing. As I neared the plastic inside of the door, I slowed the drill to make sure I cut through carefully. Plastic can splinter when you drill it, so taking this part carefully is really important.
Once I had 1 down, the next 2 were pretty easy. The only road bump I hit was the center faucet. Behind where I marked on the door was where you’d normally keep butter and other smaller items. And, of course, I chose to drill directly through them. I used a small saw on my trusty pocket knife to cut out a section, and got some duct tape to help insulate the places I cut.
Now that the heavy lifting is out of the way, now comes the time when it starts looking like a kegerator! I unscrewed the tubing and the “door-tightening nut” from the back of the shank and faucet, loaded the rest of the equipment into the fridge, and put the shank through the newly-drilled hole in the door. I rescrewed the “door-tightening nut” and the tubing to the back of the shank. To make sure everything was tight and secure, I tightened the “door-tightening nut” (see why I called it that) till it was flush and beginning to press against the door. I then took a second to admire that my kegerator at least LOOKED like a kegerator.
Now everything on the door’s hooked up, and I have a whole equipment in the fridge that needs my attention: the CO2 regulator, the gas manifold, the CO2 tank, both ends of the taps, and all the tubing. To start, I attached the CO2 bottle to the regulator to get a sense of how much room it will take up, and how high the gas manifold would need to be mounted.
From there, I positioned the gas manifold on the back wall of the fridge where the CO2 regulator and tank would comfortably allow it. I held it there with one hand and put marks on the back wall through the screw mounts on the manifold where I wanted the screws to go. I put the manifold down and drilled out holes just smaller than the screws I had to anchor it to the fridge. At least I thought they were just smaller. Turns out the holes I drilled were a little larger than the screws, but they still held the manifold comfortably in place. Nothing a little superglue couldn’t fix.
Here, I took a step back and was very proud. It looked like a kegerator! Now to see if it works…
Testing The System
It took me a week or 2 to do this part. I stopped by Maltose, my local homebrew store, and got my 5lb CO2 cylinder filled. I hooked it up to the system and made sure all the valves to the lines were open.
Now, here’s the nerve-wracking moment of the night – opening up the CO2 tank and seeing if there were any leaks. I turned open the CO2, and set the regulator to about 20 PSI – enough that if there were a leak, I’d hear it. I listened closely to all the connections, and luckily I heard no leaks!
Being as neurotic as I am, I put some dish soap into a spray bottle, and filled it up with water to give me some nice soapy water. I got into full sniper mode (minus the ghillie suit), sprayed water on all the connections, and looked for any bubbling that would indicate a leak. I saw no bubbles. Not being convinced, I continued to soak the connections, just to be sure. After using about half the bottle, I could finally put to rest any concerns about leaks in my system. Woohoo! I turned off the CO2 and released the pressure from the lines.
Cleaning/Sanitizing The System
I waited till my Flying Dog Doggie Style Pale Ale clone (which turned out to be Bad Dog) was ready to be kegged to do this. I figured – why not kill 2 birds with 1 stone and clean/sanitize the keg while cleaning/sanitizing the system.
When my fateful first kegging day finally rolled around, I first removed the lid and all the stems from the corny keg. I poured a full 1/2 cup’s worth of OxiClean Free into the keg, and filled it with hot water, while I soaked the parts I removed in a small bowl with some OxiClean Free. After hand-washing the small parts and rinsing, I put them back on the keg, which is still full of the OxiClean mixture, and made sure they were tight.
I carried the keg to the kegerator. And, I have to say, I definitely felt like a bar owner moving a keg around. I set my system to about 30 PSI to make sure I got a lot of cleaner moving through quick. I hooked up my keg to the first line, let it pressurize for about a minute, and gave the tap handle it’s first ever tug.
Holy Crap! This actually works! OxiClean-filled water came rushing through the line and out the tap. I did a little dance of joy as I filled up a 32 ounce mug of cleaner. Who would have thought I’d get so excited over OxiClean!
After 2 full mugs, I moved the keg to the next 2 lines and repeated the same procedure. And yes, my beer dance of joy was repeated 2 more times.
I followed pretty much the same procedure for sanitizing the lines as well – mixing up a 5 gallon batch of sanitizing solution inside the keg, then running it through the lines at 30 PSI. Sadly, the dance of joy was not repeated. Guess I like OxiClean better than sanitizer.
Kegging and Tapping The First Brew
I outlined the full kegging of my first beer in a previous post. To summarize: it’s glorious! It’s basically racking your beer into a bottling bucket (minus the carbonating sugars), and that’s it. No rinsing, cleaning and sanitizing 48 bottles. No bottling wands or stuck beer buttons. No capping like a madman. Kegging. Is. Awesome.
This being the first brew I kegged, I wasn’t exactly sure how to carbonate it. Do I force carbonate it – cranking the PSI to 30, forcing the CO2 in, and having my beer ready to drink in a day? Do I set-it-and-forget-it for about 2 weeks at 12 PSI? Do I use carbonating sugar? After consulting with homebrew guru Joe Postma, I decided on the second option – setting it at 12 PSI and letting it slowly carbonate over 2 weeks. To make sure I had the right serving temperature, I stuck a glass of water with my thermometer in it in the kegerator overnight, and adjusted the temperature till I got to 38 degrees – the optimum serving temperature.
I again did the wannabe-bar-owner waddle with the full keg to the kegerator. I load it in, attached the lines, opened the CO2 tank, and set the lines to about 12 PSI. I heard the CO2 rushing into the keg, and did my happy dance all over again.
Now, the moment of truth. I gave the tap handle its second-ever tug and…….YES! IT WORKS! IT WORKS! IT WORKS! Happy dance indeed!
My beer came slowly pouring out of the faucet. At first it was a mixture of sanitizer and beer, change quickly to just pure, pure beer. I filled 2 pint glasses and discarded them to be sure I didn’t drink any sanitizer.
Then, I couldn’t help myself. I tapped my first ever homebrew. Though it wasn’t carbonated, still filled with leftover yeast, and eventually turned out to be bad, it was the best beer I ever had.
And there it is – my little how-to on taking a step towards a dream and owning a brewpub. It took awhile for the plan to come together (and to write this post), but damn, is it worth it.
If you’re reading this, you have a standing open invitation to come out, view my baby, and sample anything I may have on tap at the time.