What’s the cheapest way to get started kegging?
It’s a thought in a lot of homebrewers minds. There is a lot of conflicting info out there about kegging. Regulators, 5 lb vs 20 lb co2 tanks, keezers, cornies and more!
Here is a simple breakdown of the absolute minimum you need in order to stop botting as soon as possible. Afterwards I’ll talk a little bit more about the downsides of a minimalistic setup like this, and offer up more solutions.
The absolute most basic kegging setup you can get is:
- a Corny keg $49
- gas and liquid fittings for the keg $12
- picnic tap and dispensing tubing $10
- hand held co2 charger $25
- 30 – 16 gram threaded co2 cartridges $30 (you will need around 7 per keg)
- mini fridge / full size fridge / keezer or ice bucket – your choice. (Not priced because you will need this regardless of the route you go.)
Total ___ $126
With this setup you have to carbonate in your keg the same way you would normally do in your bottles – by adding priming sugar when you rack it into the keg. It’s actually even easier because you don’t have to worry about mixing it.
You’ll next attach your co2 dispenser to your gas side and give it a burst of air to set the seal on the corny. Take the gas connector off (and take the beer dispenser off as well if it was connected.)
Once your beer has sat for roughly 2 weeks it ought to be well carbonated. Put it into your cooler and let it get down to drinking temperature. Connect the beer and gas connectors, and pour your first pint. But don’t drink it! That first pint (or potentially a few) will be all yeast. Feel free to drink them, but they’ll start to taste better once you’ve run the yeast out of the bottom of the keg. After a number of beers that is very difficult to guess (5 maybe?) give the gas dispenser a quick squeeze. Possibly one second, but more like half of a second. This is just to keep the pressure up in the keg, otherwise your beer will slowly start to go flat as its carbonation turns into serving pressure.
That’s pretty simple, right? And it’s cheap! What are the downsides?
- Those co2 cartridges are much more expensive compared to a co2 tank.
- You’ll have to swap cartridges often if you’re pouring fast.
- There’s no way to know if the co2 pressure is right.
- You can’t force carbonate, so you have to naturally carbonate.
- You can only do one keg with this setup.
- Drunks LOOOOOVE to pull triggers on things like that co2 charger.
If you need to serve beer once for an event and don’t plan on making a habit out of it, this will work. It’ll be a hassle, but it’ll work. If you go this route and decide you want to step up your game later, then you can use the corny keg, connectors and tubing. You’ll probably want to upgrade to a traditional co2 tank and a regulator. If you wait long enough you will have spent the price of the regulator on cartridges!
This approach is good if you want a bare-bones approach, and it’s the absolute cheapest you can get into kegging, but if you can save up a bit more, the next level up is worth the extra wait.
Caution – MATH BELOW!
I wanted to see just how expensive the co2 charger method is.
The charger by itself is $18
Pre total for the cheapo route – $18
The recommended regulator is $39
The recommended tank is a 10# tank for $60
Pre total for the recommended route – $99
Here comes the amazing part. There are 453 grams in a pound. That 4# container is the same as (453*4/16) 113 16g cartridges. The cartridges sell for $30 per 30, or $1 per 16g, or $28.31 per pound. The 10# tank will cost between $10-$20 to refill, giving it a $1-$2 price per pound.
In summary, the cartridges are more annoying, less precise, more prone to drunken tampering, and 14-28 times as expensive!
I would recommend the charger only as an absolute first step. Otherwise, save a little bit more money and buy the good gear.