For those of us who enjoy home brewing, the art of the brew is always our primary concern. Crafting a fine beer is a satisfying experience; the time and effort of finding the right mixture of ingredients and perfecting a method become worth it while tasting that first sip of a truly unique, flavorful beer of your own making.
The joy of a good brew is not only to be experienced by the brewer, however. Any home brewer worth his salt enjoys sharing his creation with others. And what better way than to celebrate than with that oldest and most venerable of traditions, the good old-fashioned kegger?
Too many brewers have a great deal of knowledge about the process of making beer, but know far too little about preserving or serving that beer. Unless you enjoy ladling beer from your bathtub or serving it from a barrel, learning to put your beer on tap is one of the most useful skills you can learn. But where to start?
The most common way many home brewers store their draft beer is in a 5 gallon soda canister called a “Corny keg”, named after the Cornelius company, which originally produced it. Today many companies produce such canisters, and which one to choose is simply a matter of preference.
The complete keg draft-beer system is very simple. Besides a Corny keg to hold the beverage, a CO2 gas tank is often used to pressurize the keg (for dispensing and adding carbonation), a gas regulator to lower the gas-tank pressure to a usable level, a hose to connect the CO2 tank to the Corny keg, and a hose with a plastic faucet or picnic-style tap to dispense the beer. It’s always a good idea to buy a minimum of two kegs, since you’ll otherwise be unable to keg a new batch of beer until you’ve finished the previous one. The smoothness and richness of a true keg experience is always an unforgettable one, especially because it’s a beer of your own creation!
For those not in the mood for a super-sized bash, who like to enjoy their beer over a long period of time, there is another, more personal option: bottling. Bottling, while time consuming, is quite rewarding, and brings a significant feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. It is certainly the more portable and long-lasting option for many beer aficionados.
The process is fairly straightforward: Take some priming sugar and melt it down into a thick syrup. Then, mix it with wort (siphoned off from the beer) in the bottling bucket. The yeast in beer literally eats the sugary syrup, and the product is the natural carbonation so necessary for a good beer. The next step is to do the bottling itself. Most bottling buckets that are commercially available have a convenient spigot that makes bottling a breeze! Let the freshly bottled beer sit for about 10 days unrefrigerated, slap your own creative labels on the side, and you will have yourself a newly minted mega-case to drink as quickly or as slowly as you like!
Feel free to experiment with a variety of factors: amount of syrup (increasing or decreasing the carbonation) and wort, bottle style, length of the aging process– the strength of bottling lies in its customization. Imagine your brand becoming the hot “microbrew” of your circle of friends. Imagine bringing a sixer of that amazing “local brew” to the office party! There is no denying that bottling your beer will greatly enhance your enjoyment and appreciation of the entire beer-making process.
While the time investment of bottling and the monetary investment of kegging your beer may seem daunting, it is an extremely necessary and valuable part of the home-brewing experience. Unless, that is, you enjoy drinking stale beer from a stained bathtub!