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Why and How to use Sanke Kegs for Fermentation, Serving on Draft, and Distillation
by Gabe Jackson
Copyright by The Beverage People, January 2023
Nearly every keg you have seen at a pub, restaurant or brewery is a Sanke keg. There are different sizes and connection types (Type D, S, A, and U are used in different regions), but they all share the same basic design. There is a single opening which is fitted with a spring-loaded ball that closes the keg, and this ball closure is fixed to the top of a long “spear” or downtube to draw beer up from the bottom of the keg. To make use of one of these Sanke kegs at home, the spear must be removed for cleaning and filling. Spear removal is tricky and is not discussed here. My recommendation is to use one of our Sanke kegs with removable spear---this is a special variation of Sanke keg that is ideal for the home hobbyist.
With the spear removed they can be cleaned, sanitized, and filled with wort easily. There are a few different options of how to seal the fermenter during the fermentation for a clean and sanitary fermentation.
Airlock options for Sanke keg:
There are a few advantages of pressure fermentation. Fermenting with pressure in the fermenter (typically 5-10 PSI) suppresses the production of fruity esters by the yeast. Ester suppression makes this technique popular for fermentation of lagers, sometimes at temperatures higher than the typically low temperatures required for lagering. Another advantage is that the pressure ensures that oxygen is not finding its way into the fermentation and causing unintended oxidation of the beer. Finally, if you finish off the fermentation under pressure, there will be CO2 dissolved in the beer when it is finished---this speeds up the force carbonation process when kegging the beer. It is even possible to carbonate and serve the beer directly from the primary Sanke keg fermenter, if so desired, by using the adjustable Sanke keg serving spear or a floating dip tube.
To clean an empty Sanke keg, there are some options that make it simpler. The Mark II Carboy & Keg Washer uses a strong submersible recirculation pump to get the job done. A Clean-in-Place (CIP) Spray Ball is popular in commercial settings, and is a good option for creating high water pressure for cleaning inside the keg. A large brush such as carboy brush will also be very handy.
To sanitize an empty Sanke keg before beer fermentation, you can use either a sanitizer solution, or you can boil a small amout of water inside the opened keg to steam clean the vessel. Steam is an extremely effective sanitizer. An all-stainless Sanke keg can handle the direct fire from a propane burner, so go for it!
With spear installed, the Sanke keg can be used to carbonate and serve the beer. This is, of course, the typical purpose of a keg. On the home scale, however, this has long been impossible with Sanke type kegs. Without expensive, industrial machinery for cleaning and filling the kegs, homebrewers have been unable to re-fill the kegs. But those days are behind us!
There are now two options that allow for removal and re-installation of the spear:
Sanke Type D tap with adapters and ball lock disconnects attached.
With both of the above solutions, the spear can be removed and re-installed at any time, allowing for cleaning, filling, force carbonating, and draft service.
I recommend that you fill the keg with the spear removed, then install the spear for carbonating. It is also possible to “back fill” the keg backwards through the spear, but this is trickier and requires more equipment.
Once the keg is filled with beer and the spear is installed, you can proceed with force carbonating and serving the beer. Place the keg under refrigeration and use our kegging instructions to complete the process.
First, a safety and legal warning. While distillation equipment is not illegal, certain types of distillation require a permit before they can be performed in our state of California. Distillation of alcohol for human consumption requires a permit. In contrast, distillation of water, essential oils, and fuels do not require a permit. Aside from the legal restrictions, there are some safety concerns, especially regarding the flammability of alcohol vapors during the distillation process and the potential for production and consumption of harmful methanol. This article is not intended to address any of these legal or safety issues, nor is it intended to teach you how to distill.
With spear removed, the Sanke keg can be used as the boiler pot for a still. The opening of a Sanke keg accepts 2” tri clamp accessories, which generally can be attached with a 2” half gasket and 2” tri clamp clamp. A propane burner is required as the heat source for directly heating the keg.
To build out the Sanke keg into a still, we stock the following accessories:
Cooling reciculation is usually accomplished using a sump pump in ice water. Tip: The carboy washer has a powerful submersible pump that can be attached using cam & groove disconnects to the condenser.
Handy to keep an eye on the vapor and possible “puking” or foaming from the pot. It also contains mesh which helps with reflux.
Used to reflux water vapor back into the boiler pot to increase the purity of the alcohol extract in the process.
Want more information? For general distilling instruction, please read How to Distill. Also, please be aware that The Beverage People does not teach home distillation.