In this blog post, I will address the basic steps of kegging, so that you can safely and properly keg your delicious beer! Before I get to the specifics, it’s good to remember that brewing is mostly cleaning. Every piece of your brewing equipment needs to be cleaned AND sanitized before each piece’s involvement in brewing your beer.
First, we clean! I suggest using a product called PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) to clean all the organic and inorganic material that has built up on your equipment. Important: always read labels and material safety data sheets (MSDS) before using a cleaning product. For PBW I recommend wearing the appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE), such as Blichmann Brewer’s Gloves before mixing 1-2 oz of PBW into a 5 gallon solution in your keg. Once the solution is mixed, I check my pH to ensure the solution is between 11.5-12, which is ideal for cleaning – this solution is caustic so be careful!
Let the solution sit in your keg for 20-30 minutes. When a cleaning solution sits on all dirty surfaces and is then recirculated through your equipment, you are cleaning in place. Cleaning in place (CIP) is a great way to clean, because it is also a professional brewery practice! Now that your cleaning equipment has been cleansed, everything needs to be flushed with water that is at the same temperature as your cleansing solution. I recommend doing this for a few minutes and using a pH meter (or paper) to drop the alkalinity of solution.
Now, we sanitize! Sanitizing is the practice of killing the surface bacteria on the equipment. The products that Fifth Season offers to sanitize with are IO star and Starsan. IO star is an iodine cleaner which is great at killing bacteria WITHOUT causing pain on your skin. Fun fact: iodine cleaners are the same cleaners that are used in hospitals due to their effectiveness and gentleness on human skin. The downside with iodine is that it has a taste, odor, and turns porous equipment orange. Therefore, I recommend using Starsan (which is mainly phosphoric acid) to clean your brewing equipment. Phosphoric acid is the same food grade acid that is used in Coca Cola. When phosphoric acid is applied to brewing equipment it eats its way through the cell wall in the bacteria. That being said, phosphoric acid will do the same thing when it comes in contact with skin so wear your PPE!
Cleansed AND sanitized equipment can now come into contact with beer! When transferring beer into a keg, remember to transfer your product on top of a carbon dioxide (CO2) blanket. First, add a small amount of CO2 gas to the keg. Once the transfer is complete, purge or burp the keg to get rid of excess oxygen, because oxygen spoils beer. NOTE: CO2 can pool in certain conditions for short periods of time. I would either recommend people purge the keg with CO2 by filling it with water and pushing that out with CO2, OR recommend that the CO2 added to the keg prior to racking needs to be added through the liquid dip tube in order to pool at the bottom.
Carbonation volume of CO2 is based on how much CO2 is dissolved at an equilibrium state (when opposing forces or influences, or in our case ingredients within the beer, are balanced). To calculate how much CO2 you need in your beer, I recommend consulting a carbonating chart.
Fun fact: CO2 dissolves better into a beer at colder temperatures. In my experience, a moderate amount of CO2 (12 psi in a 5 gallon keg for 1 week) is the perfect and dummy-proof way to carbonate your beer!
As homebrewers we learn that every beer is carbonated differently. Cask beers, British beers, Stouts, and Porters are carbonated using lower volumes of CO2. American Ales, Lagers, German beers, and Belgians are all carbonated using high volumes of CO2. Before working in a brewery, I would try to carbonate every style to the “exact style guidelines”. This idea worked, but it was tedious and not fun! Sometimes it’s important to adopt Charlie Papazian’s famous words: “Relax. Don’t worry. And have a homebrew”. Professional brewers follow Papazians philosophy because most breweries release all of their beer between 2.42-2.46 vols. and bottle/keg at a temperature between 33-37 degrees.
Most breweries do this because of their bottling and kegging equipment. It is impossible to shoot beer through a pin sized hole at 150psi when it is carbonated beyond 2.42 vols!
Mixing Charlie Papazians mentality along with professional knowledge will help you make a great product! Just leave your keg around 33-37 degrees at a pressure of 10-12psi for 1 week and you will have great results.