Kegerator: 10 Secrets to Great Draft Beer

beer-mugs-partyWho can deny the appeal of a great draft beer? Fresh, flavorful, chilled to perfection, with a thick head of foam that clings to the side of the glass as you gulp it down - what could be better?

How about getting all that great-tasting satisfaction in the comfort of your own home? More and more, beer connoisseurs are discovering the advantages of serving beer on tap at home. The popularity of kegerators -special beer refrigerators designed to dispense beer from a keg - continues to increase.

But there's more to getting a perfect draft beer at home then just installing a kegerator in your home bar. Make sure you're getting the best results from your draft beer dispenser by doing it the way the pros do.


10 Tips to Great Draft Beer

1. Keep it Cold - The ideal serving temperature is between 34 and 38 degrees F.
2. But Not Too Cold - Beer that is too close to freezing will be cloudy and taste flat. Beer freezes at 28F.
3. Let It Set - Before serving, let your keg refrigerate overnight to reach a proper temperature.
4. Watch Your Pressure - Most kegs require 10-12 psi. Too much or too little will affect the quality and amount of foam, and wreck the flavor of the beer.
5. Drink It Fresh - Bacteria and oxidation will sour beer. If you use a hand pump to tap your keg, finish it within 24 hours. A kegerator with a CO2 regulator can keep beer fresh for over a month.
6. Keep Your Kegerator Clean - Clean and sanitize the beer lines every time you change kegs to avoid a buildup of yeast and sugars.
7. "Beer Clean" Barware - Keep beer glasses for beer only, and watch out for oily and soapy residues that will affect the foam. Always air dry your barware.
8. Rinse Your Glasses - Before pouring, rinse your glasses in cool water.
9. Pouring - Hold the glass at a 45-degree angle and open the tap quickly and completely. Pour the beer so it hits the middle of the glass and slides down the side. Straighten when it's 2/3rds full and finish filling.
10. Start With Great Beer - Why go to all this trouble to serve up an average brew? Have fun exploring local and microbreweries to find new and exiting beers to serve at home.

Have a Cold One - But Not Too Cold!

Since the whole point in having a Kegerator is to serve your beer cold, this one seems kind of obvious. But how cold is cold? Most experts peg somewhere between 34 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit as the perfect temperature for most brews - your preferences may vary, but don't stray too far outside this range.

  • Beer that is too cold will look cloudy and taste flat - the low temperature of the liquid keeps the carbonation infused in the beer from escaping. It's more likely to leave you feeling overly full, and lead to belching.
  • Beer that is too warm will have too much foam and not enough liquid to enjoy properly - that's just a waste of good beer!

Ideally, you should let a new keg refrigerate in your kegerator overnight before tapping and serving. This allows plenty of time for the beer to settle and for the temperature to reach a proper serving level. Check the temperature by pouring a glass and sticking a thermometer in the beer. (Don't be afraid to taste test!)

CO2 Pressure - Getting that Perfect Frothy Head

co2guageA beer dispenser uses CO2 in a pressurized tank in order to force beer out of the keg, through the tap, and into your glass. To get that perfect, frothy head, it's crucial that the pressure is set correctly. Most of the time, you'll want the regulator set between 10 and 12 psi, but check with your local keg distributor for an exact setting.

How do you know if the pressure is right?

  • If the foam is tight with large bubbles, then the pressure is too high. You'll know it, too, if the beer streams out too fast - more like a beer fire hose instead of a beer tap! Leave the pressure too high, too long and the CO2 in the keg will be forced into the beer, making it over-carbonated and ruining the taste.
  • If the there is too much foam, then the pressure is too low. Under-carbonated beer has foam that is loose or soapy-looking, with small bubbles that quickly that quickly dissolve. Look for bubbles or foam in the beer line for indications of too little pressure.

If the gauge on your CO2 regulator is set correctly, but you're still experiencing pressure problems, check and make sure there are no obstructions in the air line between the CO2 tank and the keg. If that's not the problem, it may be a faulty CO2 regulator - they usually need to be replaced every 4-5 years.

Keep Beer Fresher, Longer

How long does beer in a tapped keg last? That's a matter for some debate. Beer doesn't go bad in a way that's harmful to humans, but it does attract bacteria that can affect the taste. Keeping your keg properly chilled in a kegerator will help keep bacteria at bay.

A kegerator also protects your beer from oxidation. Hand pumps - the kind of beer tap you're most likely to find at a college kegger - use oxygen to pump the beer out of the keg. But when your beer mixes with oxygen, it turns flat and sour in just a few hours. When you tap a keg with a hand pump, you've got less than 24 hours to finish it off before the beer becomes unpalatable.

So how long can you keep beer fresh in a kegerator beer refrigerator? At the very least, your beer will stay great tasting for 30 to 35 days after being tapped. But, depending on how well you clean and maintain your system, you might keep that keg fresh for 4 or even 6 months.

Cleaning Your Kegerator - For Better Tasting Beer

beer-foamBeer contains yeasts and sugars that can accumulate inside your kegerator beer dispenser's hoses, faucets and components. This buildup will affect the taste of the beer and cause excess foaming, so it's a good idea to clean everything thoroughly every time you replace keg.

Cleaning kits are available to flush the hoses, including handheld air pumps and a special beer line cleaning solution. Never use abrasive cleaners, as scratches on the interior of the beer lines will lead to excessive foaming. Follow up cleaning by sanitizing everything thoroughly to help battle bacteria.

Even with regular cleaning, it will be necessary to replace the beer lines in your draft beer dispenser every year or so. Regular use will naturally degrade the interior surface and lead to more foam, less tasty beer.


"Beer Clean" Barware

Your beer glasses should only ever be used for serving beer, and you should avoid using dishwashing soap to wash them clean. Why? Because even the slightest residue of oil or soap in the glass will reduce the amount of foam a beer produces when poured and diminish the taste.

Some people recommend washing beer glasses with a mixture of baking soda and salt or special bottle brushes with hot water, vinegar or glass sanitizer. For most of us, a dishwasher with non-sudsing detergent will work just fine.

Always let your beer glasses air dry - a towel will leave link and other residue behind. And be sure to store your beer glasses upside down so no debris falls inside.

The Perfect Pour

Assuming you've got everything else with your kegerator running properly, all that remains is to get a perfect pour from tap to glass. Here's how the pros do it:

  • beer-pouring-angleRinse the glass in cold water right before pouring. (Don't freeze beer glasses - the iciness inhibits the flavor of the beer.)
  • Hold the glass at 45-degree angle under the faucet.
  • The larger the distance between the faucet head and the glass, the bigger the head of foam.
  • Open the faucet quickly and completely.
  • Let the beer hit the middle of the glass and slide down the slide. This prevents too much head from forming too quickly. Ideally, you'll want a head of foam that's between 1/2-inch and 1-inch thick.
  • Straighten the glass when it's about 2/3rds full and fill the glass the rest of the way.

Whatever you do, don't dunk the faucet into the foam as you top it off. Some bartenders will do this as a way to cut the foam when serving. But if you've followed all the other steps in this guide this practice is unnecessary. It's also unsanitary - just think of the bacteria that must form around the faucet's head!

Now you've got one perfect beer! Sit back, put your feet up, and enjoy the pleasures of having your favorite beer on tap, any time you want it.