There’s nothing better than having a cold, fresh beer in your house at all times. And if you like having a lot of friends over to drink, there’s nothing better than having a lot of cold, fresh beer in the house.
But keeping a bunch of bottles or cans on hand takes up a lot of space and can get pretty expensive. Wouldn’t it be great if you could keep a keg in your house all the time, and it would always be cold, ready, and waiting for you and your friends to enjoy it?
The good news is with a little ingenuity and a few hours of work you can make your own refrigerator for kegs (or kegerator if you want to use the technical term). Then you will be able to keep the equivalent of about seven cases of beer on hand and reading for pouring all the time, and it will keep for about a month.
There are two options to consider when thinking about installing a kegerator. You can buy a refrigerator that is already outfitted with the equipment needed to keep a keg cool, or you can convert an old refrigerator using a kegerator kit. This is, of course, the less expensive option and it’s really not all that difficult. The only reasons you might want to go with the ready-made fridge are if you care about the way it looks, if you don’t have an extra refrigerator lying around or if you want the security of a warranty on parts and labor.
But a homemade kegerator has more character. It’s a great way to recycle a piece of equipment that still works but maybe doesn’t match your decor anymore. And there’s something MacGyver-ish about doing it yourself that makes you king among your beer-drinking buddies.
Be warned that you probably will need to use a full-sized refrigerator for this project rather than a small, dorm-sized one. There simply isn’t room in a small fridge for the keg and the tubing and proper air circulation (there’s also usually a small freezer or compressor that gets in the way). But if you use a full-sized refrigerator with a freezer on top, you have storage space for frosty mugs, so it’s really a good plan to go ahead and use a big fridge.
Conversion kits run from $130 to about $200, and it is worth it to get the more expensive ones. Deluxe kits will offer more accessories, all of which you will probably use eventually, so if you have the money to go all out, buy the nice kits. You can also get a cleaning kit that will help you clean the hoses, which you should do each time you change your keg.
The kit will come with a CO2 tank, a tank coupler, a CO2 regulator, faucet head, knob and shank, a beer line, an airline, and connectors. CO2 tanks are shipped empty and can be filled at a local welding supply shop, fire extinguisher supply company, or by a gas retailer (look in the phone book under gas.
You will need to decide if your air tank will sit inside or outside of your kegerator. It doesn’t matter which way you do it, but the tank must stand upright at all times, and if you install it outside of the fridge you will have to drill another hole for the airline to go through.
Before you buy a full keg, ask your liquor store for an empty keg (they’ll probably charge you a deposit) and take it home to make sure it fits in your refrigerator with all the conversion hardware. There should be room for air circulation on all sides of the keg. When you are ready for the installation, bring home a full keg of whatever size will fit in your kegerator.
The only complicated thing about making a kegerator is that you will have to drill a hole somewhere in the refrigerator to make a place for the faucet shank to come out. It makes the most sense to drill in the side. The only thing you have to be careful of is that you don’t cut through any of the coils inside the refrigerator.
You will want to drill just through the outside shell of the refrigerator and stop, looking to see if you’re going to hit anything before you continue. Obviously you’ll want to do this when the refrigerator is not plugged in and measure carefully so the pipe will fit through but will not leave a gaping hole (though your kit should include a plastic flange that fits over the pipe that should cover up your hole). Secure the pipe with a lock nut.
The next step is to attach the beer hose to the keg coupler, using a washer and hex nuts. If your air tank is going outside you will now need to drill a hole in the side of the refrigerator to allow the air hose through. If you’re keeping the air tank inside the refrigerator, position it there now. Then attach the CO2 regulator to your tank really hard with a nut that includes a washer. This should be tightened really well because it is the most likely spot for a leak. Then insert the air hose into the keg coupler and the CO2 regulator and secure both ends tightly.
Put your keg in your new kegerator and allow it to sit for a few hours before tapping. This will allow the beer to settle down and cool off, making it less foamy when you dispense it. Your patience will be rewarded. The keg coupler will then be attached to the keg. Different kinds of taps vary in the way they are mounted to the keg, so follow the instructions that came with your conversion kit.
When the keg is tapped, turn the screw on your CO2 regulator counter-clockwise to loosen the spring, and then open the CO2 cylinder until the valve stops. Set the pressure at about 12 psi. You are now ready to drink up.
The ideal temperature for tapped beer is 36-40 degrees F, so you might want to invest in a refrigerator thermometer to check on how cool your box is. Other than cleaning the beer hose when you change kegs, there isn’t really any regular maintenance you need to perform on your kegerator. Just use it, enjoy it, and invite me over for the party.