Basement Kegerator with Kitchen Faucet
With the amount of beer Sarah and I go through, it made financial sense to invest in a kegerator to replace the cases of Grain Belt we go through. After all, 1 keg at $92 is better than the equivalent 7 cases of beer at a total of $112. ;) Plus there's the cool factor of finally having a tap in the bar.
So after shopping around, we bought a Kegerator Conversion Kit from the Beverage Factory. I also added a new 10 pound CO2 tank thinking that a bigger size would help prevent less runs to the gas company. And then later added a nice stainless drain as well. I chose the door mount kit knowing I'd be making my own faucet box to mount the handle through.
Then I began searching Craigslist for a free fridge I could haul into the basement to use. I see them on there all the time, (except, of course, when I'm actually looking for one.) Eventually, I ended up hauling in the old fridge that's been sitting outside our place for the last three years to see if it would work. After cleaning it up -- a lot -- it ran great and so I decided to use it.
In the meantime, I did find a little fridge on Craigslist for $10 that I thought would make a great soda/beer fridge. So I brought it home to discover the thermostat was faulty. I took it apart (or rather had it explode into 10 or so parts in my hand), and put it back together again after discovering the plastic dial had worn out. I fixed it, put it back together, and now the little fridge is working great keeping the extra bottled beer nice and frosty.
While waiting for the keg kit to show up, I researched various forums in which people discussed their own home keg setups. I quickly discovered that unless the faucet came right from the door, the exposed beer line would cause foamy beer as the beer would warm up in between pours. After a bit of hemming and hawing about glycerin chilling systems and the like, I decided I'd simply try it as is and see how bad the results really were.
After hauling the fridge in, I used a hole saw to cut a 2 1/2 inch hole through the side. As near to the top of the fridge chamber as possible to minimize the height difference between the keg and the faucet. In addition, I built a sturdy stand for the fridge to sit on in order to get it as close to the ceiling of the basement as possible to again minimize the height difference. I'd read the pressure head from a change in height would result in the need for more CO2 pressure and may make the foaminess issue even worse.
The fridge was located on its stand in the basement directly under the kitchen where the faucet would be mounted. I constructed a nice wooden faucet box out of scrap lumber and attached all the lines. On this first run, I used the 5 feet of beer line included in the kit to attach to the keg coupler and to the faucet and then bought a length of flexible cold water line from Home Depot to make up the extra length to get from basement to kitchen. About a 10 foot length in all. This means I used a few brass couplers to go from the 3/16" I.D. beer line to the 5/16" I.D. water line and then back to the 3/16" I.D. beer line again.
I went to the Oxygen Service Company to fill the CO2 tank for $15. Now all I needed was the beer. :) After shopping around, I quickly learned that here in Minneapolis, Zipp's Liquor is the place to get kegs. They have both the best prices and definitely more selection than anyone else. At the moment, they had an Irish Red on clearance in a 5.5 gallon keg for $25. I figured that would be an excellent way to get the kinks out of the system without wasting much money on wasted beer if something was screwed up.
Now that all the parts were hooked up and ready to go, I ran back upstairs and excitedly poured the virgin glass... Nothing but foam. :( I thought maybe that the beer keg was just to warm yet, so I put a thermocouple on it and waited it to go from about 40 degrees to the recommended 38. Once the temperature was right I tried again with the same foamy result. I was now worried that maybe this whole chilled line argument had a lot more validity than I gave it. But, the beer remained foamy even after multiple pours and clearly using more beer than may have warmed in the line. I also tried all kinds of CO2 pressures, both higher and lower without much improvement. So after more thinking and researching, I decided that the most likely culprit was the multi-diameter beer line with its brass couplers creating points in the system that introduced irregularities and a place for the beer to expand on the way up. I promptly ordered a custom 10 foot length of 3/16" diameter beer line to get from keg to faucet without any breaks. (And leaving just enough to be able to couple the keg on the floor and then lift it back into the fridge.) This would result in about 4 feet of chilled line living in the fridge and about 6 feet of "warm" line running inside the PVC pipe up to the faucet in the kitchen.
While waiting for the new line to arrive, I powered through the foamy Irish Red, (which was pretty ass-tastic anyway.) I then installed the new line and went back to Zipp's to exchange my keg. This time we sported for a full 16 gallon keg of Grain Belt Premium, our standard beer of choice. Good thing my brother was around to help me lift that thing, it weighed a ton! Definitely going to have to invest in a 2 wheeler cart for the future. Once the new beer was coupled and the temperature stabilized, I tried the first beer at the recommended CO2 pressure of 14 psi. It poured nicely with a little foam initially, but quickly calmed down as the small volume of warm beer came out. A little fiddling with the pressure to get a good pour rate and carbonated taste resulted in setting the pressure at 16 psi for my system and keeping the beer at a strict 38 degrees. Now the first pour is about half foam, but if we're drinking a few beers, then the system quickly settles down and pours consistently good glasses with a good head.
Now that the system bugs were worked out, I made a fancy tap handle -- in the shape of a pug, of course. :) The bar is now considerably upgraded and we're enjoying fresh tap beer at the touch of the handle.