How-to: Build your own custom keg system

I guess this is a “how-to” kind of week. The best kind of how-to’s: Those that involve beer!

But first, I’m excited to say our Chai Latte Milk Stout is DONE and pouring beautifully out of our very own custom built tap system. You might remember that this recipe started out as a basic milk stout recipe. We then added a chai tincture that we made by soaking chai spices (cardamom, cinnamon, etc.) with vodka. We had to do some fancy math to figure out exactly how much tincture we wanted in the beer. When was the last time you did cross multiplication? Hubby was all over that one. This way, we knew the ratio of tincture to beer that would give us the exact flavor we wanted. Once the beer was ready for kegging, we used a sterile syringe to measure out the right amount of tincture and added it.

OK, keggerator time. Since hubby built this sucker, I’ll let him tell you exactly what he did:

The Keggerator (aka “keezer,” short for keg freezer)

When you decide to make the equipment investment to jump from bottling your homebrew, to kegging it, you will never look back. Kegging gives you results faster (force carbonation takes 48 hours, compared to at least 2-3 weeks of bottle conditioning) and you no longer have to strip, clean, and sterilize all those bottles! The equipment investment is not small (ours cost about $900), but it works flawlessly, and even looks good enough to keep it in the dining room. It can be done for much cheaper if you are looking to have just one keg on tap at a time or have an old chest freezer lying around unused.

A few things to think about for your own system:

  1.  How many beers will you have on tap at a time? note: it is easier to build big and leave a little room for growth than to outgrow your system and start from scratch. Look here for some keg configuration ideas.
  2. Where in the house is it going? (i.e. does it need to be pretty?)
  3. How are you going to keep the beer cool? You can look to build from a fridge or a freezer. Most fridge models require the tap to come out of the front door, and obviously fridges tend to be tall and cumbersome. Freezers can be short and stocky, which works great but you need to control the temperature to keep your beer from freezing. We chose to go with a freezer.
  4. How is the beer going to get from the beer to the cup? Do you want little tap faucets that come out the side or big towers that come out of the top?
  5. Be creative. This project is custom by definition, so build something that works for you. A quick Google search will show you the vast array of systems out there from practical to ridiculous. Here are just a few ideas I used for inspiration: Massive keezer with collarFull bar.

I chose to use a chest freezer based on the aesthetic I was going for (something that would pass as furniture in the house and not be banished to the basement). Picking the appropriate freezer might be the hardest part of the whole project. You need to look at internal dimensions of the freezer compared to the dimensions of your kegs (especially the height of the keg plus an inch of clearance of the disconnects). I found that most 5.0 cubic feet freezers will fit 2 kegs and a CO2 tank easily, and most 7.0 cubic feet freezers would fit a tank and 3 kegs. You are able to squeeze a few more kegs in if you build a collar, which is a wooden piece that adds height to your system. I really didn’t want to do this. It seemed like it would end up poorly insulated and take a lot of work to gain the aesthetic I was going for.

I found a nice white chest freezer on sale at Sam’s Club. They delivered the thing for free, which was a bonus. Unfortunately, all of the economical chest freezers are white. This will look fine in your basement and maybe your kitchen, but not the dining room. So, I gave the whole thing a rough sand and painted it with black black appliance paint. It’s a glossy epoxy based paint which worked perfectly with minimal effort.

black appliance painted white chest freezer

Obviously, beer freezes in freezers, so a little temperature regulation was necessary. There are both analog and digital temperature controllers that will measure the temp inside the keezer and cut the power to the whole unit to maintain the right temp. No fancy installation necessary: just place the probe inside the fridge, plug the freezer into the controller, and set the temp.

Given the shape of the chest freezer, I loved the look of shiny tap towers. I initially looked at single towers that had 3 tap handles, but ultimately chose to go with 3 separate single tap towers. They look great and were cheaper than the triple tower. For installation, I just had to drill 3 holes in the lid of the freezer big enough to pass the beer lines through. A few sheet metal screws later, the towers were secured on top of the freezer. This method works very well since the lid of a chest freezer is just a slab of insulation. The sides of the freezer have all the working parts (chilling pipes), so they are not safe to drill through.

Now that you have found your freezer and your dispensing method, you need the guts of the keezer. This requires kegs, a CO2 tank, a regulator, and hoses. I bought mine all in one nice package from Midwest Supplies. I specifically chose the double gas regulator, which allows me to run two different pressures out of the tank simultaneously. I can use high pressure to be carbonating a new beer, while still having the other kegs on low pressure for beer dispensing.

Don’t stress too much about the CO2 tank. I picked a nice small 5 lb tank which is plenty of gas to carbonate and dispense 5+ kegs of beer. This small talk also fits easily into the keezer, so there are no gas lines running outside the system. I suggest that you buy a refurbished tank. Most gas fill places (large liquor  stores and welding shops) will just exchange your empty tank for a full one for the price of the gas (at least in Ohio).

Kegs can be purchased new or refurbished. Most homebrewers use old soda kegs (exactly 5 gallons) for their systems. Mine were refurbished and in great shape except for a few cosmetic scratches and dings.

Once the kegs and the tank are in the keezer, you just need to hook up the hoses. Beer lines go from kegs to faucets. Gas lines go from the gas regulator to your keg. You’ll figure it out.

To top it off, I added a couple oversized bar mats on top to catch any dripping beer. These just get rinsed as needed. Don’t put them in the dishwasher. They might warp a little. Learn from our mistakes.

final product: beer "keezer" tap system

Eventually, I hope to add a small nitro tank, and change out one of the faucets to a stout faucet. Unfortunately, this requires buying a nitro tank, a nitro regulator, and a stout faucet. None of these are cheap, so this upgrade will need to wait for another day.

Finish Product - keezer keg systemFor now, we always have at least two to three beers on tap in our dining room at any given time. It seems to be popular with guests, and our house gets volunteered to host gatherings quite frequently. As a bit of fair warning: it is difficult to walk past the keezer without at least considering pouring yourself a beer. Beer on tap in your house will certainly increase your beer consumption. You will love it because it’s delicious homebrew, but you and your liver have been warned.

Enjoy!!

19 thoughts on “How-to: Build your own custom keg system”

  1. This is awesome. My biggest fear regarding a keggerator is that it would end up in the house and look terrible. But this looks like an very functional and very normal piece of furniture! You’ve once again changed my mind on a beer-related topic! (The first one was allowing the almost hubby to home-brew.) I’m sure he is thankful to you 🙂

    1. Thanks Kim! Yea, I was definitely leery at first that our house would look like a college frat house, but it’s actually really nice. Has your man started brewing yet? I want to hear updates!

      1. That’s so good to hear! He hasn’t started brewing yet… we’re moving in late summer/early fall and want to wait until we’re settled to get started. But we are both super excited to get started! We noticed a link to a starter kit from one of your older posts and have a kit picked out already! 🙂

        1. I was wondering about the temp control – shutting the freezer on and off. Is it bad on the freezer unit. Does it shut down only the compressor or the entire unit. Thanks

          1. Great question. The two most common temperature regulators I’ve seen (digital and analog) shut the entire freezer unit off. The freezer plugs into the regulator which has a temperature probe that runs into the freezer. It cuts off the power to the whole freezer when it reaches target temp. I haven’t seen anyone post about it hurting the freezer or cutting it’s longevity. Hope this helps. Good luck building your own! Report back!

            1. I recently finished my keezer and had a similar concern. I have a 7 cu.ft. freezer. I timed the cycle with the Inkbird temp controller. I have the set point at 37 with a 2 degree differential. The freezer turns on at 39 and runs for 2-1/2 minutes. The freezer stays off for almost 30 minutes before it gets back up to 39, and the cycle starts over again. I believe it runs less than if it was a typical freezer.

  2. So, do you have to move the kegerator away from the wall when you change out kegs? Seems like you’d need some clearance with those towers.

    Also, when you open the lid, do you feel like the towers are very securely attached?

    Just found this blog and I’m loving it. Well done.

    1. *blush* Thanks!!

      To answer your questions:

      Yes, we have to move it away from the wall to open it. Not ideal, but we put sliders on the bottom so it is very easy to do. The tap towers are VERY secure, so I’m never worried about doing this.

      Stay tuned for our upcoming post on installing a nitro tap 🙂

  3. I have a commerically made kegerator/mini fridger with a double tap tower but want to build something like yours. I notice that the first pour is usually foamy because the beer sitting in the tower is warmer than the beer in the keg. Do you have any similar problems with your set up? Have you done anything to minimize getting a foamy first pour?

    1. This is a great question. The answer may be a number of things:
      Foaming in the beer lines can be caused by several problems: dirty beer lines, warm beer lines, short beer lines, or inappropriate pressure.
      – Since you pointed out temperature as the most likely culprit in your situation, let’s tackle that first. The line has to get from the keg to the faucet somehow. In our setup, the majority of the line is still inside the fridge, so stays cool, and then goes through a 1″ hole in the lid up to the tower. The tower itself is insulated, but has some air space in it. Depending on how your tower is constructed, and how far it is from the actual cool part of the kegerator, you may need to find a way to cool the inside of the tower. In bars, this is done with a complicated cooled glycol system that is pumped along the beer lines and into the tower (sometimes you’ll notice that the tower is “sweating” or even frosted because it’s so cold). This isn’t feasible at home, but I have seen several people open up slightly larger holes where the beer line is passing to allow cold-air movement, and some have placed small computer fans near the opening to keep the cold air moving up the tower.
      – Beer line dirty. Solution: clean the beer line. We do this between every keg change.
      – Short beer lines. Beer lines should be 6-10 feet long for your average kegerator. This allows the keg to sit a normal pressure, and still apply adequate resistance to the flow of beer. Fluid flow dynamic equations are well beyond my expertise, but I’m told 6-10′ is the magic number for you average home system. Any shorter, and the beer has a tendency to foam, longer and it slows the flow out of the faucet.
      – Inappropriate pressure: higher pressure leads to foaming. Most home systems are happy at serving pressures of 6-10psi (assuming a fridge temp of 34-38 degrees F). You can try turning your pressure down a little, but you probably won’t notice a serving difference until you have used it a few days in a row as the beer level drops and the gas in the keg equilibrates to your new regulator setting.
      Here is a more lengthy resource I found from Probrewer: http://www.probrewer.com/resources/library/bp-troubleshooting.php

      Hope this helps. Cheers!

  4. Was there a problem with drilling though the lid (going through the installation and plastic under the metal top)? As far as sealing it?

    1. I didn’t have any problems. I used a large 1″ drill bit so it was big enough to put the beer lines through. The tap towers mounted to the sheet metal with sheet metal screws, so secured tightly down to the lid easily over the large hole (diameter of the base of the tap towers was ~4″). I didn’t do anything else in terms of “sealing” it.

    1. It really depends on the price of the freezer. We bought a white one, since they’re drastically cheaper, and spray painted it with appliance paint to make it more attractive. Add on at least a couple hundred dollars for faucets, tap towers, regulator, and the kegs themselves when you’re ready for them. A lot of stuff can be found used on Craigslist or Ebay.

      Good luck!!

  5. This has been such a helpful pat, thank you!! My only question is do the legs have to be 5 gallon or are they available smaller to fit 3 in a 5 c ft? We are short on space and I know she will love whatever it is, but our tastes vary drastically, so you think that could work? I have no idea what I am doing as this was just decided today, but I’d love to get 3 in. I know they sell the mini kegs but I don’t know what kind of keg needs to be inside the kegerator, any help would be super appreciated! Love your finished product!

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