Kegerator, a portmanteau of keg and refrigerator, is a refrigerator that has been designed or modified to store and dispense kegs. By keeping the keg in a refrigerated environment and using CO2 to pressurize and dispense the keg, it is going to allow the contents to remain carbonated and fresh for an extended time period, generally a couple of months.
Especially designed kegerators are available for both commercial and residential use, however a frequent refrigerator can be reconfigured to a kegerator using a kegerator conversion kit. Not all typical refrigerators have enough room to get a keg, so kegerators are designed in a manner that will enable one or more kegs to fit inside along with the dispense system. Kegerators are typically used to dispense draft beer, but are also gaining popularity for dispensing wine, cold brew coffee and kombucha with certain modifications.
Why does a kegerator need CO2?
As described in the following link from the AHA, An Introduction to Kegging Homebrew – American Homebrewers Association: CO2 is the gas used to carbonate and push out the beer into your glass.
If you have a carbonated beer in a keg (commercial or homebrew) it will just have a certain amount of CO2 gas at the keg, depending on the style’s suggested serving temperature. As you dispense the beer that the CO2 expands and pushes the beer up the tube and down the spout… finally you wind up with a closed keg with a smaller quantity of beer and a proportionally smaller amount of CO2.
Because you have used up some of the CO2, the pressure in the keg will drop a small amount and the beer will lose carbonation and the gas will come out to fill that space; do this enough times and eventually you’ll get a set tasting beer; a few more times and even though there is beer in the keg there will not be enough energy (read pressure) from the keg to push out the beer to your glass.
Keeping your keg using a CO2 attached helps to keep the pressure at the exact same level on your keg. Keeping a keg always balanced is not easy, but it is not essential to enjoy a good beer; if you are interested you can read this AHA document
How difficult is it to maintain a kegerator?
The most expensive bits of building a kegerator are the CO2 tank (about $120 for a 5 pound tank) and the refrigerator itself. With luck and perseverance, you should be able to find both on Craigslist.
It is not difficult to maintain a kegerator. There are four things that go into maintaining a kegerator.
- Cleaning the lines
- Cleaning the faucet.
- Setting the pressure on the CO2 tank
- Refilling the CO2 tank
Rather than needing an external pump to wash the lines, generally I clean the lines once I clean the keg. I attach the CO2 tank into the gas-in side of the keg and run the water out the liquid-outside of the keg. The CO2 tank lasts for fewer kegs when you do so, however, as the CO2 is filling the keg for more than simply dispensing beer.
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Maintaining a homebrew keg is somewhat different. Instead of needing an external pump to rinse the lines, generally I clean the lines when I clean the keg. I attach the CO2 tank to the gas-in side of the keg and run the water out the liquid-outside of the keg. The CO2 tank lasts for fewer kegs when you do this, however, since the CO2 is filling the keg for more than just dispensing beer.
How long will a keg stay fresh once tapped?
It depends on the kind of beer, the size of the brewery, and the sort of kegerator you might have. As a general rule, mini kegerator reviews stouts and porters will provide you the maximum time, with around 6 weeks where the beer will still be drinkable. Having a single or double IPA, the keg needs to be completed in no more than 4 weeks. Wits and hefeweizens should be kicked within 3 weeks, tops. Additionally, dear god, do not drink a tapped-keg cream ale that is more than 3 months old. You will thank me later.
Bigger breweries (think Bud-Miller-Coors) will have this information readily available for you, and their kegs are sent out with a lengthy shelf-life. Medium-size breweries (Lagunitas, Allagash, Stone, etc.) have enough production to where their kegs will stay fresh for a moderate quantity of time while untapped, but should be drunk consequently once they are exploited. Kegs from small breweries should be exploited ASAP and drunk accordingly.
Finally, if you have a manual kegerator, drink your beer as fast as you can. It’s going to turn a lot faster than a CO2 system will.