Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Force Carbinating And Kegging Mr. Beer Sized Batches

After bottling my Mr. Beer sized batches for nearly a year I decided to go out and buy some nice new kegging equipment to try and make my life easier. Anyone who has bottled for a while will probably tell you it's enough to drive them to drink, which really only compounds the problem.

I sent Joe Bair, the owner of Princeton Homebrew, an email that included a list of items I wanted and he replied back that he had it all in stock. When I arrived at Joe's LHBS he rounded up the parts and showed me how to check the tank and connections for leaks. Joe also walked me through the major parts, pointing out which which were typically taken apart for normal maintenance. Joe also mentioned that the Co2 tank had a November 2010 test date and would need to be reinspected every 5 years and would cost about $35.00.

Once I got the new kegs, gauges and tank home I was off to get the Co2 tank filled at the local welding supply. The folks there were really helpful explaining to me that for $12.00 my tank would be filled with 1.5 pounds of Co2 and should be good to push about 25 kegs of beer on a single refill. Of course I plan to force carbonate my beer now so I'm sure the number will be lower.

2.5 Gallon Corny Keg With 5 Pound Aluminum Co2 Tank

Just as with yeast ranching, making a starter or brewing a lager beer I found that kegging requires learning a whole new piece of the brewing process. One of the most talked about things I heard was Co2 gas leaks, around fitting connections, gauges and tank threads. The tank pressure gauge read 800 psi right after the tank was filled with Co2. I'll be keeping an eye on how much the gauge drops after using the kegs for a while to see how often I'll need to refill it since most welding supply stores are closed on weekends.

Two 2.5 Gallon Kegs Hold 2 Mr. Beer Sized Batches

I tightened all the kegging system hose clamps and fittings, using a screwdriver and a couple of small wrenches, just to double check and make sure there wouldn't be any leaks once I put pressure on them. I mixed up a gallon of warm water and One-Step and poured it into the kegs, doing one at a time. I then lined up the keg cover and locked it down and gave the keg a good shake to wash the insides with the cleaning solution.

Keg Cleaned With One-Step Before Filling With Beer

I connected the Co2 ball lock to the 'In' side and used about 20psi to push about a quart of One-Step through the pickup tube and out the picnic spigot connected to the 'Out' ball lock. I poured the remaining One-Step from the first keg into the next keg and repeated the same cleaning steps before filling the kegs with beer.

In late December I brewed my Barley Stout and my Chocolate Stout and both had explosive fermentations using Dantstar Windsor Ale yeast. I had racked them to secondaries after 21 days of fermentation and then cold crashed them in the refrigerator at 34F for another week. I chose these 2 Stouts to use in my first attempt at kegging.

Stout Poured Through Sanitized Fill Tube To Reduce Oxygenation

I connected the Co2 line to the 'Out' ball lock and opened the valve a little to purge oxygen out of the keg before adding the beer. The beer flowing out of the secondary fermenter and into the keg was clear and free of trub making the first pour out of the keg perfect. The beer temperature at kegging was 34F, the temperature the refrigerator was set to during the cold crash.

When The Keg Was Nearly Full I Closed The Co2 Valve

When all the beer had been transferred to the keg I connected the Co2 line to the 'In' ball lock and opened the valve a little to purge oxygen from the top of the beer before aligning the keg lid and locking it down. Once the kegs were sealed I cranked the Co2 pressure up to 30psi and gave them a couple of good shakes before moving them out to the refrigerator to force carbonate at 12psi.

'Set And Forget' 34F Force Carbonate At 12psi

I rearranged the shelves in the refrigerator to fit 2 corny kegs and the Co2 tank and gauges at the bottom leaving enough room for 3 Mr. Beer kegs filled with my Oktoberfest/Marzen lagers. I secured the tank gauge to the shelf above it so the tank can't fall over and break the $80.00 gauges.

Refrigerated Co2 Drops Pressure Making High Pressure Gauge Useless

I noticed that once my Co2 tank and gauges had been in the refrigerator overnight the high pressure gauge needle had dropped down to just above the order gas range marked in red. The low pressure gauge and regulator stills worked fine and there is no adverse affect on the amount of Co2 available to force carbonate or dispense your beer.

I've read where other brewers simply take the tank out of the refrigerator and look for the frost line on the Co2 tank to find out how much Co2 is left in the tank. My tank is brand new and made of shiny aluminum. I don't mind keeping it inside the refrigerator even though it takes up a little room since it saves me the trouble of drilling another hole in the refrigerator.

If only I were able to include the flavor and taste of my Barley Stout after 6 days of forced carbonation at 12psi. The best I can do is post a few pictures of a pour and try to describe it here.

Barley Stout Pour With Creamy Head

The carbonation produced tons of really tiny bubbles that gave the head a rich creaminess that I think is perfect for any Stout. The smoky flavors of the roasted barley came through with a freshness that was not at all bitter or harsh.

  The Rich Creamy Head Lasted Long After The Beer Was Gone

After tasting my first forced carbonated brew I can put aside any doubts I may have had about Co2 producing too large bubbles or not being as good as using priming sugar. These claims were most likely made by brewers that used a beer that was somehow flawed to begin with.

I've since modified my kegging system to include a Perlick 'Perl' tap mounted in the sidewall of my refrigerator and I have also mounted the Co2 tank and gauges outside the refrigerator also.  Click here to read the complete post. The tap is connected to my keg using 5/16 inch vinyl tubing using a serving pressure of 3-5 psi and I've been force carbonating using 30 psi for about 3 days.


  1. Thanks for sharing. I really have to take that next step.

  2. I just bottled an oatmeal stout and a porter (both mr.beer products). I used the priming sugar calc on this blog for the first time and it was telling me to use approx 1 teaspoon(cane sugar)per mr.beer quart bottle. seems significantly less than what mr.beer says to use. How much priming sugar do you use when bottling? Does mr.beer tell you to use way too much or something? P.S. awesome blog!

  3. I agree Mr. Beer says to add 2 1/2 teaspoons per liter for any style of beer, but my calculator factors in the residual Co2 present in your fermented beer as well as the carbonation levels for particular style of beer. If you calculate the 4 Co2 volumes for a wheat beer it actually requires more sugar than Mr. Beer recommends.

    I've been using my priming calculator for a long time now and have been very happy with the carbonation levels.

  4. SB - Where did you source the 2.5 G kegs from?

  5. I sent Joe Bair, the owner of Princeton Homebrew (609) 393-9399, an email that included a list of items I wanted and he replied back that he had it all in stock.

    Located just off of Route 29 in Trenton, New Jersey at 208 Sanhican Drive, is Joe Bair's Princeton Homebrew LHBS, easily recognizable by the long green hop vines that stretch from sidewalk to rooftop during the warmer months.