A few months ago I bought a kegerator. (I have now reclassified it as a boat, but more on that later.) A kegerator is an appliance that combines a mini-refrigerator with a kit for dispensing beer from a keg. In reality, it is more of a small refrigerator with a beer dispensing kit, but thats a minor detail. I bought it with the full belief that I could go from setting it up to dispensing beer quickly. The whole system appears fairly simple, CO2 pushes beer out of the keg and you get it at the tap. Occasionally you’ll have to clean it, but that’s not abnormal.
However, it is far from the case. To explain why, let me explain the components and how it works.
A kegerator is more of a plumbing problem than it is a group of interconnected items. With a kegerator, you have a cooling box [the refrigerator], a tank full of gas [CO2 or a Nitrogen mix], a faucet, a keg coupler, and all of the piping between. A CO2 regulator is directly connected to a CO2 tank. A keg coupler is responsible for locking on to a keg securely, and mixing the beer and CO2. It also is the central point for connecting the CO2 and beer line.
Any kind of bad connection between any of the components and you have a problem. If you have a bad regulator, you could be leaking CO2, sending in too little/too much gas, or even cutting off the CO2 in general. If you have bad piping or bad fittings at the ends of each of the pipes, you could be leaking CO2, negatively changing the taste of the beer, or even lose beer [due to a leak]. Another issue with this, without washers/O-rings, you will not be able to create a good connection with the pipes. CO2 tanks have to be checked and tested every 4-5 years for safety. Also to note, the coupler, regulator, and the tank itself have safeties built-in to avoid high pressures, however you don’t want to get to the point where you need these.
After you have those basic ideas down, you still have more work to do. You must ensure the beer lines are cleaned periodically. If a keg is chilled properly, a keg can last months, but if you don’t clean the lines, after a while beer can sit in the line and “go sour.” I haven’t found anywhere else that mentions this, but it is an issue. The keg/beer isn’t the problem; it’s the beer that is in the lines. So flush out the lines by pouring a LOT out. Cleaning a beer line can take quite a bit of time. You have to disconnect the coupler, the gas line and the line that goes up to the faucet. Completely disassemble the faucet mechanism, flush the beer line and coupler with water and then cleaning solution. The parts to the faucet must be scrubbed and soaked in the cleaning solution. Then you have to let the beer line and coupler soak with the cleaning solution for about an hour. This is a lot more involved than washing dishes. Many bars have the beer distributer or a service professional handle this. It’s irritating, but it must be done to consistently serve beer from the tap. A cleaning kit can be bought from Kegworks.
Another issue is CO2 leakage. CO2 is an invisible compressed gas. Its presence is visible via condensation at specific temperatures. For large leaks, you can hear a hissing sound and easily identify where it is. But – it’s extremely irritating when you have a small leak. It could drain a CO2 tank within a day or two. I’ve had this happen twice so far. To check for leaks you can do two different things: a bubble test or a water test. A bubble test is a soapy solution that is sprayed on the full CO2 setup. If the solution bubbles up, the bubbles indicate where the leak is. The other option is to put the CO2 system in a bucket of water, with the tank upside down, and look for bubbles. Please check more official guides on doing this as that turning a CO2 tank upside down can be dangerous. If the lines, regulator, and tank are setup properly, there should be no leaks and CO2 exiting out of the end of the CO2 line. To make things worse, you could have an issue with the CO2 tank. Research the tanks before you get one. If you buy a kit, it’s rarely ever disclosed, recently a popular manufacturer produced a defective tank. Refillers tend, and should, check the tank brand, date, and if it was recalled before refilling. Also to note with kits, cheap regulators are not worth the money that they cost. The keg/soda supply store that I recommend used to have a bucket full of the same cheap regulator. If you buy a kit, you’re going to get a cheap regulator.
Beer leaks: these are a bit easier to identify than their CO2 cousin. If you have excess beer pooling on the keg or the in the refrigerator, you have a leak.
One of the best things that this kegerator kit has given me is the refrigerator that is formed to strap in the CO2 and the hole for the beer tower. However, I feel that I would have done better financially if I had bought the mini-fridge individually and stripped it down. If you do buy a mini-fridge ensure that it can hold a full sized US keg [half barrel]. Also to note, find a good keg distributor before building/buying a kegerator. Most stores won’t hold kegs and require a 7+ day notice to acquire a keg.
All and all, I wish I had built my own kegerator and bought all of the parts. The downside to doing this is that it appears to be a lot more expensive than a kit. However, I believe that I would have had much less trouble than I did.
Why is my kegerator a type of a boat? It is well known that a boat is something someone enjoys the day they buy it and the day that they sell it. It requires more maintenance than expected and requires quite a bit of monitoring.
Some of the products/companies that I strongly recommend:
· NFC Chicago – These are the guys who deal with keg systems, and do CO2 refills. They’re good people and have been very patient and helpful. They’re local and they will sell you all of the parts, minus the refrigerator to build a kegerator.
· Kegworks – These guys are an online keg store that sell all of the parts you need. Buy a cleaning kit from them before you tap your first keg.
· Binny’s Chicago – These guys have a direct line to the beer distributors and can help you get the keg that you want. Total Wine and More may also help you with this, but I’m not sure about how convenient it is.