Bottle or Keg? And How To Bottle…
Beer needs packaging in order to store it and serve it. Really there are three main options open to homebrewers and they are:
- Plastic keg eg, King Kegs
- Cornelius kegs
The choice comes down to a number of factors such as your budget, how much free time you have, whether you wish to transport your beer regulalry, storage requirements, serving requirements etc.
Most homebrewers start with bottling. It’s cheap (you can get usually get bottles for free from the local pub or by asking friends to save their empties) so the only kit needed is a little bottle-capping tool and some caps. It’s easy to transport beer to friends houses and it can be easily stored in the fridge, basement, garage or spare cupboard for short or long periods of time. However, it is time consuming with each bottle needing to be individually washed, rinsed, sanitised, filled and capped. The beer must also be primed with a sugar solution or drops to carbonate the beer.
Plastic kegs are a logical option for those with no wish to transport their beer. It is one vessel to clean and fill taking a fraction of the time bottling takes. As with bottling, the beer in the keg must be primed to ensure carbonation. The main downside to king kegs is the lack of control over carbonation. As the keg starts to empty, the carbonation level will drop which in turn means flat beer. It also means dispensing becomes an issue. Some plastic kegs have the option of a spacial gas inlet valve that allows the CO2 to be topped up as required to ensure consistent carbonation levels. Note – this will not carbonate the beer, just maintain existing levels.
Although more costly, the best set-up in my view is to invest in a cornelius keg or two. These were originally made for soft drinks companies for dispensing their products in pubs and many still bear the name of the original owner. Whilst they are still available brand new, they are very expensive and so most people buy them reconditioned. Mine are actually classified as ‘budget’ kegs as they look a bit battered and dented. However they are air-right and function just as well as a brand new keg.
The advantages of corny kegs are numerous but the key feature for me is the ease of use. They hook up to a CO2 cylinder in the same way as pub beer taps giving ultimate control over the gas levels from carbonation through to serving. And providing you follow some simples process prior to kegging, they pretty much guarantee bright, sediment free beer right down to the very last pint. Being airtight and light-proof they are also very good for conditioning beers for many months if required.
Essentially it’s a home draft beer system.
The downside is they tend to multiply – my initial keg has now turned into four kegs, each connected to the master gas cylinder with a different beer on tap. I’m also planning a ‘kegerator’ build this spring – a conversion of a fridge that allows you to store the corny keg inside with the tap mounted on the door allowing beer to be served at the perfect temperature all year round. And cleaning them out is a doddle.
I approached packaging my beer the opposite way to most. I’m quite a lazy brewer and knew that if I had to bottle my beer after each batch was ready then the enthusiasm for my new hobby would soon falter. I needed to make life as simple as possible so I went straight to plastic kegs and then within a couple of months to corny kegs. I don’t often transport my beer, I have a shed with plenty of space to store the kegs and I like the convenience of having my various beers on tap.
I decided to give some of my ‘Bad Santa’ away to friends and family for Christmas gifts and so found the need to bottle some of my beer. Luckily, I was given a Blichmann Beer Gun several months ago but never really put it to use.
The set up can be seen below:
The gas is split, with one line going into the corny keg and the other attaching to the beer gun. The beer ‘out-post’ also connects to the beer gun. Bottling is simple – a quick blast of CO2 with one trigger on the gun to purge out the air and then a squeeze on the other trigger to fill.
I’m over-cautious on sanitisation so my bottle cleaning process is probably overkill. Here it is:
- rinse bottles out with hot water, removing any visible crud with a bottle brush
- soak for 1hr in oxi-clean
- thorough rinse
- load into empty dishwasher and run on hot cycle (no detergent added)
- blast through with star-san
- cap, having first boiled the caps in water for ten mins