Building a Draft System
As rewarding as bottling your freshly made homebrew can be, there is just something special when you pull the handle of your draft system and are rewarded with a delicious, perfectly carbonated beer. Some homebrewers are completely content with bottles and can go their entire lives without the need to even consider building a draft system. I on the other hand knew there had to be better way. So the logical next step was to build a draft system. As you will see, this is a very easy thing to do and has the added benefit of only having to clean and fill one big bottle instead of 50 little ones.
The first thing you need to decide, is what type of refrigeration system you would like to use. This can be as simple as a mini fridge, a stand-up fridge or even a chest freezer with a temperature controller. Sometimes the easiest way to determine what type of refrigerator to use, is to first decide how many kegs you would like to have on tap.
The beer kegs that you see available in most breweries (Sanke Kegs), are not very logical from a homebrewer perspective. They are large in size and designed not to be opened, but instead to be filled and cleaned using special equipment. For this reason homebrewers have found another solution, the Cornelius keg, or more informally known as the Corny keg. Corny kegs were originally made by the IMI Cornelius Company for the purpose of serving soda. There are 2 different types of kegs that were made: pin lock and ball lock. The biggest difference being that the liquid and gas posts take different fittings. Traditionally ball lock kegs were used by Pepsi and pin lock kegs were used by Coke. But when the soda industry moved away from these vessels and replaced them with boxes, they were adopted by the homebrew industry.
The reason Corny kegs were the perfect solution, was the fact that they held a capacity of 5 gallons which coincidentally is the typical size of a homebrew batch. In addition, they could be opened on the top so that they can be cleaned, sanitized and filled.
Now that you have your keg, you are going to need a CO2 tank to carbonate and dispense the beer. You may be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute, I drank plenty of beer in college and didn’t need a CO2 tank, I just used a hand pump.” The reason that a hand pump does not work well in a draft system, is that it just pushes in air. The air will oxidize the beer causing it to stale and develop a cardboard like flavor. So unless you are drinking the keg in one evening, it is a less than ideal way to dispense beer. This brings us back to CO2, which will not only dispense the beer but also carbonate it. Yup, that means no more boiling sugar on the stovetop and waiting for yeast to consume it to make CO2.
CO2 tanks come in a variety of sizes from 1 ½ lb. to 20 lb. tanks, with 5 lb. tanks being the most common. On each CO2 tank, you will find that there is a date stamped into it. This is the date in which it was last hydrostatically tested. All CO2 tanks must be tested and recertified for safety every 5 years. So if you have a tank with a date that is more than 5 years old. It will need to be recertified before it can be filled.
In addition to the tank, you will also need a regulator so that you can control the amount of pressure that is going into the keg. The most popular type of regular is a dual gauge. A dual gauge regulator monitors both the line pressure going into the keg, but also your tank pressure, to let you know when it is time to refill. It is important to note that if you are keeping your CO2 tank in the refrigerator; the tank pressure gauge will read incorrectly, looking as if you are low on gas when you are not. This is because CO2 compresses when cold.
The next item that you will need is a way to pour your beer. There are a number of different options available to you. Some of them make more sense than others depending upon how much you are willing to invest, as well as what type of refrigerator you have selected.
For a regular stand-up refrigerator, the best options may be either a hand faucet in which you will have to open the door to dispense, or a door shank that goes through the door and has a faucet on the outside.
If you are using a chest freezer, you may even consider building what is often referred to as a “keezer” in which you remove the lid, add a wood collar around the top and then replace the lid. This gives you the ability to add a door shank through the wooden collar without drilling through the side of the freezer. There are also many different types of faucet towers that may be more your liking.
Tubing and Fitting
Now this only leaves beer line, gas line and fittings so that you can tie all of these items together. The standard size for beer line is 3/16” ID tubing and gas line is usually 1/4” or 5/16” ID. Gas line is easy as you can use any length with no real effect to how the beer pours. Beer line length is where things can get tricky. The way your beer pours can be affected depending on what PSI you set your gas, temperature, type of beer, as well as altitude. For an average homebrew setup in Colorado (high altitude), we recommend using 6-8 feet of 3/16 tubing and setting your pressure at 10-12 PSI.
There are 2 fittings that are needed for each keg, a gas fitting and a liquid fitting. Your beer line and gas line will be clamped right to these fitting and then attached to the keg. The gas fittings will always be grey in color and will connect to the “In” post of the keg, the liquid side will always be black in color and will connect to the “out” post of the keg. So you don’t forget, you can always remember that Grey and Gas both start with the letter “G”, and Black and Beer both start with the letter “B”.
Now that your draft system is all setup, you will need to force carbonate your beer so it is ready to drink. There are three different options for carbonating.
- Option 1: Set and Forget
Set the tank pressure to 12psi, put into fridge, and leave it connected for a couple of weeks while the beer chills and carbonates.
- Option 2: Set and DON’T forget
Set the tank pressure to 35 PSI and leave it connected for 24 hours while the beer chills.
- Option 3: Aerobic Shaking
Remove the grey gas fitting from the keg and refrigerate the keg for 24 hours. Now you can remove the keg from the fridge and hook up the gas line fitting. Turn the adjusting screw in until you reach 18 psi. Shake the keg with the CO2 hooked up for 5 minutes or so or until you no longer hear the gas flowing into the keg. The CO2 is now dissolved into the beer.
The Brew Hut carries all of the equipment that you will need to build the draft system that you have always wanted. Our employees are very well versed in putting together draft systems, and are always available help you with any questions that you may have from gas distribution to optimum line lengths.