Building a Homebrew Draft System

This guest post is brought to you by Ian Wilkes, AKA Best Husband. I’m not the only crafty one in our household: Ian concocts and brews delicious beers, and recently built a system for us to have beer on tap… out of a chest freezer. A complete parts list is provided at the bottom of this post, should you wish to build your own. — Stephany

Introduction

I’ve been homebrewing for a few years and finally decided to make the leap from bottles to kegs. Filling, bottle-conditioning, carefully pouring, cleaning, and storing lots of glass bottles was getting tiresome. Plus, we drink a lot of sparkling water at home and I wanted an easy way to make it in quantity.

I first looked into pre-built kegerators (a refrigerator adapted to be a draft system), but $800-1000 for a three-tap system seemed pretty steep, and I ideally wanted four taps: one seltzer, two beer, and one cider. I then hit on Northern Brewer’s how-to video for a keezer, a chest freezer rebuilt into a draft system, and decided to give it a go.

Front of keezer exterior with taps. Black tap marks carbonated water tap.

Front of keezer exterior with taps. Black tap marks carbonated water tap.

I ended up with a slightly nicer design than they have in the video, and am pretty happy with the results. Having chilled sparkling water on-tap at all times is an especially big hit. However, figuring out all the right parts was challenging, it ended up costing around $1,000 (far more than the equipment I use to actually make the beer), and there are some remaining problems, so I want to share my experience. Hopefully this will be helpful to others considering this route.

Parts and Assembly

I started with a white Kenmore 7.2 cu. foot freezer, model 12702. This snugly fits four homebrew kegs in the deeper part of the freezer (I think you could only do three 1/6bbl kegs if you were pouring commercial beer), with room on the shelf for the gas cylinder and a few bottles. You might be able to cram in a fifth low-profile keg if you kept the gas outside the keezer, but that seemed more trouble than it was worth.

Completed keezer interior. Only two kegs are connected in this shot.

Completed keezer interior. Only two kegs are connected in this shot.

I used a redwood 2×6 board for the collar, instead of the 2×4 suggested in the video, which was necessary in order to properly mount the hinges for the door. I also used a 45 degree angle cut for clean corners (glued and clamped with a large frame clamp), and finished the wood with two coats of polyurethane, which looks much nicer than Northern Brewer’s raw boards. I also insulated the collar (the boards) with a thick layer of wool felt, tacked on with small nails. I’m not sure how effective this is, but I’ve never had any condensation form on the outside of the collar, which other keezer builders have reported as a problem.

I chose Bev-Seal barrier tubing for the beer lines with matching John Guest quick-disconnect fittings. This tubing really delivers on the promise of protecting the beer in the line, and the fittings are really easy to connect and disconnect. Easy disconnection and reconnection is important because some of the lines are in the way of loading the kegs, and the tubing is not flexible and can’t reasonably be routed away into a corner of the keezer, so we have to disconnect and reconnect lines each time we load and unload a keg. (I’m using 5′ beer lines to minimize foaming at the tap.)

But, I’m less happy with the gas line setup. I wasn’t paying attention when I ordered the gas distributor, and ended up with 3/8″ barbs, so I just stuck with it and used 3/8″ gas lines. These lines are hard to bend and I had a lot of trouble getting good seals on the compression fittings, and I expect that 1/4″ gas lines would be easier. I also found that the Oetiker clamps many others recommend didn’t reliably tighten enough, so I switched to worm-drive hose clamps from the plumbing section of the hardware store and had better results.

The drip tray also proved challenging. My initial plan was to mount it onto the side of the keezer with magnets, but it turns out that magnets don’t stick well to this freezer’s side wall. I ended up using epoxy to affix rare-earth magnets to the exterior side, and to the tray, so they match for a really solid hold.

Six Month Status

Six months on, a few issues remain. Lifting full kegs over the edge and into the keezer without knocking any of the fittings is harder than I’d like it to be, and I wouldn’t want to try it with a larger commercial keg. The tap handles are much easier to accidentally knock open than they would be on a traditional kegerator’s vertical tower, although I’ve found that the small plastic handles make this less likely.

Finally, my main long-term concern is that even with a big desiccant box in the keezer, small amounts of condensation inevitably pool in the corners and eventually grow spots of mold. I’m not sure if this will eventually damage the inside of the chest freezer, but a traditional kegerator would presumably not have this problem.

Overall though I love this setup, and it would be easy to build a version from a larger freezer to accommodate even more kegs.


Parts List:

For Main Keezer:

  • Kenmore 7.2′ chest freezer, model 12702
  • Redwood 2×6″ board measured to freezer
  • Wood glue for collar corners
  • Polyurethane finish
  • Adhesive Caulk, to affix collar to freezer
  • Wool Felt to use as insulation
  • External temp controller (I used Controller 2 from William’s Brewing)
  • Gas manifold with 3/8″ barbs
  • 5lb CO2 tank
  • Taprite CO2 Regulator
  • 3/8″ hose barb for regulator
  • 2x worm-drive compression rings
  • Teflon tape, for gas fittings (not strictly necessary but I got a better seal)
  • 2′ of 3/8″ gas line
  • Faucet wrench (couldn’t get the taps on tight enough any other way)
  • Big box of desiccant

For drip tray:

  • Stainless steel drip tray
  • 8x Rare-earth magnets
  • Suitable epoxy or glue

Per tap:

  • Perlick Stainless Steel 630ss Perl Faucet
  • Stainless Steel Beer Shank 3 1/8″ x 1/4″
  • Kleen Plug
  • Tap Handle
  • 5 gallon Cornelius Keg (Ball Lock)
  • Beer Ball Lock (Black) Disconnect MFL
  • John Guest Female Adapter Flare – 5/16 x 1/4 Flare
  • John Guest Female Adapter BSPP – 5/16 x 5/8 BSPP
  • Gas Ball Lock Disconnect MFL
  • 1/4″ Swivel Flare Nut x 3/8″ Barb
  • 2′ of 3/8″ gase line
  • 5′ of 3/16″ Bev-Seal Ultra Barrier Hose
  • 2x worm-drive compression rings

2 Responses to “Building a Homebrew Draft System”

  1. Deb

    The metal shelf under the taps is a nice touch. It will support the back of your head, while you stick your mouth under the spigot. 😉 Nice job, Ian!

    Reply
  2. Wanda

    I’ve only had this running for about a week, and so far, so good. I only rellay have 2 complaints. First is the size of the CO2 tank that ships with this model is too small. It’s only a 2.5 lbs. tank, and the standard is 5 lbs. So when I went to exchange the tank for a new one (since I couldn’t find a place to fill it) I had to purchase a new tank for another $100. Had I know that, I would have spent the money up-front with the purchase of the kegerator. The second complaint is the directions that came with it. This is my first kegerator, and I knew nothing going in the directions were very little help, and the amount of extra parts only confused the issue. But, it’s running, and the beer is cold, so that makes everything all better.

    Reply

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