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Friday, March 01, 2013

How to Keg your Home Brew

In the previous post I mentioned that I keg my beer.  I thought it might be helpful to explain how I accomplish that task.

First off, sanitation.  I mix up a 5 gallon bucket of Star-San (dilute phosphoric acid).  Star-San is nice because it won't attack stainless steel, as bleach will.  Also, amazingly, it is not necessary to rinse Star-San from your equipment before using it.  Heh.  Try that with bleach!

Star-San is a weak acid that will kill germs with about 60 seconds of contact time.  Since it is a weak acid, and your wort is quite basic, the wort basically neutralizes the traces of Star-San, and poof, it disappears as your wort contacts it!  Awesome stuff!

So, I start with a clean keg that has been washed out with with soap and water, and rinsed well.  Then I place the siphon and pump into the bucket of Star-San, and get them thoroughly sanitized.  After that I pump several ounces of Star-San into the keg.  I put the lid on the keg and shake it until I am confident that the solution has soaked the entire interior of the keg. 

Next I remove the "gas in" and "liquid out" fittings and soak them in the solution for a minute or two, then re-assemble the keg.  Put a little CO2 gas in the keg and flow all of the solution out the tap.  We have now sanitized everything the beer will be in contact with.  Release the gas pressure, using the safety valve lift, and place the keg lid and o-ring in the bucket of Star-San.

OK, our keg is now sanitized and ready for beer! 

Side note:  For this next step you will need a second CO2 hose without any fittings on the end.  In the photos you will notice the red and blue lines coming from the regulator.  The blue line has a fitting to connect with the keg, while the red is an open-ended line.

One more step and we can transfer the beer to the storage keg.  Oxygen is harmful beer, so try to minimize exposure of your beer to air.  I accomplish this by filling the keg up with CO2 before transferring beer to it (using the red CO2 line).  Sanitize the CO2 hose, and place it at the bottom of the keg.  Start a gentle flow of CO2 gas.  CO2 is heavier than air, so it will fill up the keg like invisble water.

Even though the CO2 is invisible, it's still very easy to tell when your keg is full of CO2 by sniffing gently at the lip of the keg.  When it's full of CO2, sniffing it will feel like you just burped a soda through your nose.  That's the feeling when CO2 and moisture in your sinus form carbonic acid and cause pain in the sinus.  Not pleasant!  But you can tell when you have a keg full of CO2.

Now, let's move some beer!  Remove the lid from the fermenter.  Gently place the fermenter on a surface higher than the keg will be, trying not to stir up sediment.  Put your sanitized pump into the fermenter and the other end of the siphon hose into the keg.  Give the pump a few strokes and you are transferring beer!

Here's my transferring and kegging arrangement:  Fermenter with new beer on the counter-top.  Auto siphon pump and tubing transferring beer into the keg.  CO2 bottle for purging air from keg in the background, and orange Home Depot bucket with sanitizing solution at the right.

Below: what the inside of a fermenter looks like after a batch has fermented.  Non-brewers probably wouldn't drink beer if they knew about this!!!  Beer is siphoning out the Auto-siphon tube.

Transferring beer into the keg.

View inside the half-full keg.

Let the process continue until the level in the fermenter is near the bottom.  When the level is close to the bottom, very gently tilt the fermenter to get as much liquid as possible without disturbing the sediment.  If you want to know why, take a taste the sediment (also known as dregs) afterwards.  You won't want to taste it twice :) 

After the transfer is complete, take the keg lid and o-ring from the sanitizing solution, install them on the keg, and pressurize the keg with 5-10 psi of CO2.  Inspect the lid and both fittings for leaks (soapy water can be very helpful for locating gas leaks). 

Next, install the tap and purge any sanitizing solution from it with your new beer.  Pour yourself a little and check it out.  This will be green beer and it won't taste very good at this point.  Beer needs to age for a while for the flavors to settle down.  Also, it will probably at this point contain live yeast that will cause you to experience bloating and gas.

Fresh beer.  Notice how cloudy it is.  The cloudiness is due to live yeast cells, and you will pay the price if you drink them :)

Give your brew 2-4 weeks to settle down and see how it tastes then.  Lighter beers tend to need less aging than darker, more complex beers.


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