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Tutorial with Pictures and Discussion
by Jane Jackson
Copyright by The Beverage People, February 2023
So you’ve decided you’re tired of all the work it takes to bottle your homebrew. Kegging is an easy and logical option. You’ve read all about what it takes and you’re ready to take the leap. With one of our Complete Kegging Systems, completing kegerator can be as simple as placing the equipment into a dedicated refrigerator to store and serve your beer (or cider, wine, hop water, carbonated water, kombucha, etc!). Also, there are many ways to customize a kegerator...but first you need refrigeration.
Two common options for refrigeration when building a kegerator are a kitchen style fridge or a chest freezer.
Kitchen style fridges can be found in abundance and quite affordably on Craigslist (often for free) or at used appliance stores. Sizing varies but most fridges of this style can hold three or four 5 gallon kegs and a CO2 tank. A temperature override controller can be helpful as it will allow you to select precise temperatures needed for fermentation, storage, and serving, but it is not a requirement.
For a fridge of this style, the beer is most often delivered through faucet shanks installed through the door. Each keg being served will need its own faucet shank. To drill through the door you will need a 7/8” diameter drill bit. The door material is easy to drill, typically consisting of thin sheets of metal and plastic insulated with foam. Most any 7/8" drill bit should work fine (hole saw bit, forstner, flat wood bit, etc).
Faucet shanks and faucets installed into a refrigerator door. View from front of the door.
Faucet shanks installed into a refrigerator door. View from back of the door.
Chest Freezer with Override Temperature Controller (AKA Keezer)
Chest freezers can usually accommodate four or more 5 gallon kegs and a CO2 tank. With a chest freezer it will be mandatory to use a temperature override controller to prevent the freezer from freezing and to maintain a proper, even temperature for fermentation, storage, and serving.
A temperature override controller. No special wiring required.
Depending on the freezer, it can be helpful to build a wooden collar to allow more space for the keg disconnects and tubing. A wooden collar also creates a good place to install a gas manifold. More about manifolds in a bit.
To build a collar you will need the following:
As shown in these pictures, the collar is built from a 2" x 6" frame as the core of the collar.
The sanded 1" x 8" boards can be installed on three sides (front and sides) to make the collar more attractive and provide stability for the collar atop the freezer.
The two layers of wood should be glued and bolted together. Use the angle brackets for structural strength.
Add weather stripping to the collar surface that will interface with the refrigerator body to improve the seal.
Silicone sealant should be used to seal the finished collar to avoid excessive leakage of cold air.
Once you have built the collar, you will remove the lid hinge where it attaches to the freezer. Put the collar in place and reattach the hinges to the collar.
With keezers it is most common to install faucet shanks through the collar for serving. Each keg being served will need its own faucet shank. To drill the holes for the faucet shanks you will need a drill bit in 7/8” diameter.
Alternatively, a draft tower could also be installed through the top of the lid. While using a tower allows you to skip the job of installing a collar, they are often limited to 3 faucets for serving, and they can interfere, space-wise, when opening the lid.
There are multiple dispensing options to serve from a keg. The options requiring the least work are:
Thumb tap faucet and 4 ft of 3/16" tubing connected to Beverage disconnect.
Picnic Tap 2.0, which is mounted directly to a ball-lock disconnect.
These serving options, while affordable and low impact on the fridge itself, are less convenient when serving from multiple kegs at the same time. They can easily be knocked or bumped, releasing beer into the fridge, or can be hard to reach when dispensing. Designing a kegerator with serving options on the outside of the fridge looks nice and is more convenient for dispensing.
Two options for serving from the outside of the fridge are:
Draft Tower with 1, 2 or 3 faucets attached
Faucet shank with a nut to accept a faucet and a barb on the other end to accept tubing
Each of these two options will require some drilling. In the case of the tower, a hole large enough to accept all of the tubing for each keg will need to be drilled through the lid of the fridge or freezer. The tower is then mounted and held in place with screws.
Installing faucet shanks is easiest on a wooden collar but can also be installed through the door or wall of the fridge itself. Before installing a faucet shank through a fridge wall, take great care to ensure that none of the Freon lines are running through that area. The front of the faucet shank will have a nut that attaches to the faucet, and the rear of it (inside the fridge) will have either a welded barb or a flat end with threads to accept a barb, washer, and nut. Each of these faucet shanks will connect to its own keg.
Faucet Shank Options
Faucet shanks come in a variety of lengths. You will need enough length to get through the door/wall/collar and also still have enough thread space to tighten down the nut holding the faucet shank tight and install a tubing connection. Some faucet shanks come with a welded barb for tubing and some with a flat end. Those with a flat end allow greater flexibility in choosing how to connect to your keg system.
The faucet nut on all faucet shanks are universally the same. You can install any faucet onto any faucet shank.
Faucets come in a variety of styles, metals, and functionality. For most beer being served, a chromed brass faucet is economical and stylish. These come in "standard" and "forward sealing". Forward sealing faucets help prevent beer from getting sticky on the inner parts of the faucet and also drip less than non-forward sealing standard faucets.
More acidic beverages, such as wine or coffee, should be served through stainless steel faucets and shanks (and stainless beverage disconnects).
Stainless faucet with extended spout.
Keeping the Faucet Clean
Those with a kegerator in the garage or outside patio may find faucet plugs helpful to keep unwanted guests (fruit flies, etc.) from accessing the faucets in warmer weather.
Part of the fun of setting up a kegerator is being able to serve multiple kegs at once, be they beer, wine, water, etc. Most home brewers are using either ball-lock or pin-lock kegs. The disconnects for each keg style are NOT interchangeable. Throw in a keg of commercial beer and you’ll need a whole different tap called a Sanke tap. If you know you’ll want to serve the occasional commercial beer and/or you own both types of homebrew kegs, the best option when setting up the kegerator is to make everything interchangeable by going with flared (threaded) disconnects and flared tailpieces on other attachments. Both ball lock and pin lock disconnects can be purchased with a flared barb, and flared tail pieces can also be used on Sanke taps. Onto these flared barbs attaches a barb and nut combo. This barb/nut combo will remain in the tubing at all times. With flared disconnects, you can also make use of push-in fittings which eliminate the need to cut tubing when switching from one style of disconnect to another.
To switch between disconnect styles, unthread from one disconnect---be it Ball, Pin, or Sanke---and reattach to the appropriate disconnect for the next keg in the lineup. This set up makes it super simple to hook up a new/different style keg without cutting the tubing each time. Putting flared tailpieces on the faucet shanks further aids in the flexibility of the system and ease of cleaning.
Ball lock adapters can also be threaded onto sanke taps in place of barbs or flared tail pieces. If all your kegs are ball lock, this is faster than swapping flared disconnects.
Ball Lock Adapters are available for Sanke taps.
As with the beverage serving set up, the gas can be connected in a variety of ways.
Firstly, where to put the CO2 (or other gas) tank?
Most fridges or freezers will have enough space to accommodate a tank and regulator inside with the kegs. In a kitchen style fridge the CO2 tank often fits nicely in the bottom shelf of the door, and in a freezer there is often a small shelf area over the condenser which conveniently makes a great spot for a tank. For the sake of space it makes most sense to run all of the kegs off of one CO2 tank.
This can be done in a variety of ways:
A manifold is very useful to distribute gas to multiple kegs at once. A length of gas tubing, usually 1/4" ID, runs between the regulator and the manifold. Each distribution point on the manifold (four is common) will have a barbed shutoff with check valve connected to tubing going to each keg on tap. It is most user-friendly to mount the manifold to a place in the kegerator. If you’ve got a collar on your keezer, it will be the perfect spot. In a kitchen style fridge it gets a bit trickier. Be mindful of the Freon lines. At home, ours is mounted to a metal shelving bracket against the back wall of the fridge which was originally meant to hold the adjustable fridge shelves.
Another option is a splitter. A splitter is connected to a regulator by a short piece of tubing and is most often barbed to connect to two or three kegs at once. This option is cheap and easy to set up but does not offer the convenience of individual shutoffs like that of either a manifold or, potentially, a wye (below). It also does not prevent backflows of beer between kegs and the regulator.
Wye Splitter - 1/4" NPT Threads attach to regulator
A wye is a different style of splitter that threads into a regulator and can accept either two barbs (no shut off) or two barbed shut off valves, allowing backflow prevention.
Serving at Different Pressures, at the Same Time
If you want to serve kegs at different pressures from the same tank, a multi diaphragm regulator is needed. A multi diaphragm regulator can be purchased, or it can also be created from a standard dual-gauge regulator. On a dual-gauge regulator, the high pressure (tank PSI) gauge is removed and another single regulator is installed by connecting the two regulators with a 1/4" MPT pipe nipple with right hand thread. There can be multiple single regulators installed in this manner. Whichever is the last in the series will have a threaded brass plug installed to close the system. Each single regulator will have either a barb or shutoff valve (ideal) connected by tubing to its own keg. The keg requiring the highest PSI should be closest to the CO2 tank.
Two-In-One Regulator - regulators can be interconnected to allow multiple serving pressures.
Some things to consider when serving at different pressures: beverage line length; beverage line diameter; and temperature. Too much foam and not enough beer in each pour? High PSI hop water shooting out of the faucet like a rocket? Refresh these concepts here. Also, it is important to remember to use hose clamps at all gas connections (beverage too) and to pressure test your system once it is all installed and connected.
If you want to serve beer on another gas such as Beer Gas for a nitro beer, or argon for wine, you will need a tank of that particular gas plus a different regulator because those tanks have a larger connection port. Some CO2 regulators can handle the high pressure of these other gasses, in which case you’ll simply need an adapter.
Adapter to attach a CO2 regulator to a Nitro/Argon Tank.
It is recommended to keep a few tools handy that will be used often to make adjustments to your kegerator set up. If space allows inside the fridge, a Tupperware or similar box with lid will be conveniently located when the need arises. Some tools to keep nearby include:
And finally, for those looking to score some style points...
Many people building their own kegerator want to give it a more personal touch with special tap handles. You can even build your own tap handles out of almost anything by using the tap handle inserts we stock. We've known customers to make them from skateboard trucks, drift wood, wine barrel staves, and many other deviant ideas.
Tap Handle Inserts allow you to turn anything into a tap handle.
Painting with Chalkboard Paint
One of my favorite ways to make it one-of-a-kind is to use chalkboard paint on the entire fridge surface for ever-evolving art. The black paint seen on the kegerator built in this article is, in fact, chalkboard paint.