Introduction to kegging Part 1: Ball Lock and Pin Lock kegs

At some point in time, if you’re serious about brewing your own beer, you’re going to probably want to invest in some kegs. Using kegs has many advantages. First, it is much quicker to carbonate your beer using forced carbonation from a CO2 tank, and easier to control. Secondly, and probably the biggest reason that home brewers use kegs, is it eliminates the need to clean, sanitize, fill & cap all those bottles. I still prefer having my beers in bottles even though it’s more work. Having my beer in bottles actually curbs my consumption, as I don’t perpetually keep filling my glass from the tap, but it’s the control and speed of carbonation that really sells me on using kegs.  They are also great vessels to lager your beers in as it’s much safer and easier to move around a stainless steel keg than a glass carboy.

KEG SIZES

There are various sizes and styles of kegs in existence, all which come with various types of connections. The kind that is most commonly used by home brewers is the 5 gallon soda keg, or “Corny” (Cornelius) keg. In the days before the “Bag-in-Box” system was used for dispensing soda pop, both Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola had kegs designed for dispensing their products. The basic design is similar, both are made from stainless steel, but the connection type for each is different. Pepsi- Cola manufactured them with a ‘ball lock’ connection, and Coca-Cola used a ‘pin lock’ connection. There are literally hundreds of thousands of these kegs floating around, which is great for us!

CONNECTION TYPE

Here’s a view of the connection posts for each:

PIN LOCK

BALL LOCK

 

 

 

 

 

Which style you chose may have more to do with what’s available to you than anything else. I have a mix of each style and both work fine. Having said that, the ball lock kegs have a manual pressure relief valve that you can use to vent excess pressure before bottling or dispensing, which is very handy. With pin lock kegs, you need to depress the poppet on the gas side to release pressure, which if you’re not careful and on top of your sanitation, could introduce the potential for contamination. It can also be a bit messy sometimes since the ‘gas in’ and ‘beer out’ connections aren’t always clearly marked, you just have to know that 2 pins are the ‘gas in’ and 3 pins are the ‘beer out’. I’ve sometimes chosen the wrong one and soaked myself with beer!!!

SOURCING KEGS

Do a random search on the internet for ‘5 gallon kegs‘ and you’ll find a multitude of options. You can usually find used kegs anywhere from $20-$70 depending on where you get them. Sometimes you’re in the right spot at the right time and somebody’s offloading a bunch for next to nothing. Otherwise, you may need to buy them from a home brew supply store. Try and find ones that have been pressure tested, cleaned, and have new O-rings if possible to start. It just gives you one less thing to worry about. Old O-rings will be embedded with soda residue and smells that just don’t come out, so it’s easier just to replace them. I’ve personally bought great kegs and replacement parts from Patrick at Ontario Beer Kegs here in Ontario. I’ve also bought from Keg Connection in the States. Don’t forget to check Craig’s List and Kijiji every once in a while as they do show up from time to time!

Once you familiarize yourself with kegging, you can learn how to disassemble your kegs and replace the O-rings, which is something I’ll explain in a future post.

Cheers!

Upcoming Posts:

  • Introduction to Kegging Part 2: What you’ll need
  • Introduction to Kegging Part 3: Cleaning and reassembling your kegs
  • Introduction to Kegging Part 4: Carbonating your beer
  • Introduction to Kegging Part 5: Bottling with the Blichmann Beer Gun

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