KEGERATOR: (/ˈkeɡəˌrādər/) (n) 1) The ultimate captivating gadget for home brewers. 2) A refrigerator exclusively designed for dispensing draft beer, cocktails, and other beverages.
Ideally, one should possess a minimum of three kegerators: one for the basement, one for the main floor, and a portable one on wheels that is typically kept in the brewing garage but can also be rolled out to the backyard for picnics! However, realistically, most people are fortunate enough to have just one.
There are three types of kegerators. The first and most popular one involves converting a refrigerator and installing faucets on the side or door. The second type is a compact refrigerator specifically designed to accommodate a commercial half-barrel keg either under the bar counter or at the same level, typically featuring a draft tower with attached faucets on top. The third type involves converting a chest freezer using a temperature control device and attaching one or more draft towers on top.
The setup for the freezer is nearly identical to that of the vertical refrigerator, with the main distinction being the requirement of a temperature control device to maintain warmer temperatures. Building a bottom shelf is not necessary in this case.
Instructions for Building a Kegerator in 5 Simple Steps
- Measure the interior space to determine the maximum width, depth, and height, thus determining the capacity.
- Construct a sturdy bottom shelf to support the keg(s).
- Install the faucet shank(s) and faucet(s).
- Arrange and install the gas line(s).
- Test it out!
Constructing a Kegerator - Step #1: Measure the Inside of the Refrigerator
Begin by measuring the interior of the refrigerator to ascertain its maximum capacity. Remove all main shelves, as they are typically not strong enough to support kegs. Measure the height from the ledge across the back/bottom of the fridge (covering the compressor) to the top. Measure the width at the same point. Measure the depth from the back of the fridge to either the inside of the door or the fridge shelves if you plan on keeping them. You can determine whether the refrigerator light goes off when the door is closed by putting your phone on record and placing it in the fridge.
Cornelius kegs are approximately 8-1/2" in diameter and 26" high, while commercial kegs are roughly 16" in diameter and 24" tall. A typical 21 cubic foot fridge can hold three kegs wide and two deep or one commercial keg. Although most home brewers may not have six installed faucets, the additional space is beneficial for lagering or chilling the next corny keg to put on tap. If three kegs cannot fit widthwise, you can arrange them in a zigzag pattern to maximize the number of Cornelius kegs that can be accommodated. Also, consider the extension of the door shelves when determining the maximum depth.
Constructing a Kegerator - Step #2: Build a Sturdy Bottom Shelf to Support Your Keg(s)
To support the keg(s), it is necessary to construct a wooden shelf that extends the compressor shelf. This is the most significant task when building a kegerator.
Measure the height of the compressor shelf from the bottom of the fridge at both sides and in the middle. Install boards parallel to the sides at these three positions as shelf supports, and add additional boards perpendicular to them for the deck. Measure the distance from the front edge of the compressor ledge to the door (or door shelves if you plan on keeping them) to determine the depth of your shelf. Assuming 2"x 6" or 2"x 8" boards for the supports and 1"x 8" boards for the deck, subtract 3/4" from the height at each support position to determine the width of each support board to rip. If you only have a circular saw, attach each support to a base board using short deck screws, adjust the cut depth to clear the support, and then rip it. When cutting the length of the supports, angle the back end to fit closely against the compressor housing and provide better support for the rear deck board. Optionally, for more head-space in the front row of kegs (if going two deep), lower the front 8-1/2" of the deck. See the example below for clarification.
Kegerator Build Your Own Kegerator - Step #3: Install Faucet Shank(s) and Faucet(s)
Decide where to place the faucets. While most people install them through the side, some may choose a door installation. If opting for a door installation, keep in mind that opening the door will also pull out the beer lines for each faucet. If you select a side installation, ensure there are no coolant lines in the sides by checking with the manufacturer or conducting a simple test: turn the temperature dial to a warmer setting, wipe the side with baking soda water, then lower the temperature. If you observe frosted coil patterns, coolant lines are present in the sides. Although most refrigerators manufactured in the past two decades only have coolant lines at the back, it is always wise to double-check.
If you plan to install a drip tray with a tall back through which the faucets pass, begin by drilling the holes in the drip tray, and then use them as a guide to drill corresponding holes in the fridge. Since the outside of the fridge is the only steel surface, drill from the outside using a hole saw to prevent drifting. Our shanks have a diameter of 7/8", so you'll need a hole saw of that size. Position the center line of the faucets above the top of your corny or commercial kegs to maximize usable space and maintain positive pressure in your beer lines. After drilling the hole(s), insert the shank through the hole with the black flange on the outside, then attach the brass lock nut without over-tightening as the inside walls of the fridge are plastic. Install a washer on the end of the shank and secure the tailpiece to it using a beer nut. Attach a 6' piece of beer line to the shank and the other end to your disconnect. 6' lines are used to allow dispensing at 12-14 pounds of pressure without excessive foaming. Finally, use a faucet wrench to install the faucets on the outside.
How to Build a Kegerator - Step #4: Layout and Install Gas Line(s)
It is advisable to keep your CO2 bottle outside of the fridge to maximize the interior space for kegs and prevent internal condensation when removing the bottle for refilling, particularly in warm summer months.
Before deciding on the lengths of the gas lines to be used, consider the carbonation process. If you only plan to serve commercial beer from your kegerator, you only need enough gas line to reach your coupler/sanke. However, if you intend to serve homebrew, you need to decide how you will carbonate your beer.
Homebrew will naturally carbonate after 4-5 days at 12-14 pounds of pressure or 24-30 hours at 30 pounds. Alternatively, you can rock your corny keg on your knee like a see-saw using 30 pounds of pressure, repeating the motion 100 times (each left-side-up movement counts as one), and then let it sit at 30 pounds for 2-6 hours for carbonation. If you plan to shake the kegs for quick carbonation, you'll need at least one gas line inside your kegerator that is 6 feet long so you can shake the keg outside. Otherwise, 3-4 feet per keg should be sufficient.
Most homebrewers set up their kegerators to have 2 or 3 kegs on tap. To accomplish this, you'll need to split the gas line inside your kegerator using either a chain of "T" connectors or a gas manifold. While "T" connectors are cheaper, they lack shut-off valves to isolate already carbonated kegs from a new "flat" keg. However, it's worth noting that you can always remove the gas disconnects from carbonated kegs while you force carbonate another keg at a higher pressure. The length of the first gas line from the outside regulator to the split will depend on where the split is located. The remaining gas lines can be 3-4 feet or 6 feet long according to your requirements.
How to Build a Kegerator - Step #5: Try it Out!
Before connecting your kegs, make sure the faucets are shut to avoid beer shooting out and creating a mess on the floor. Spray some soapy water on your gas connections to check for any leaks that could result in CO2 loss. If you see bubbles, there is a connection that needs to be fixed. Carbonate your beer (if it's homebrew) according to your desired method, then pour your first draft and enjoy. Don't forget to take plenty of pictures to commemorate your kegerator-building achievement!