Let’s face it no one likes to drink warm beer, well most people don’t. Keeping a beer keg cold can be a bit tricky if you are transporting it or enjoying it outside for an extended period of time.
I have a big social event coming up, and I wanted to figure out the best ways to keep a keg cold when I am “on location”. So, this is what I found out.
Bagged ice and a plastic tub are the simplest, cheapest, & most readily available items you can use to keep a keg cold. This tried and true method has been around for a long time for this reason. There are also more efficient and effective ways like using a cooler, keg blanket/sheet, or kegerator.
We all know how to use ice and a tub for the most part, but maybe not about the other options. Also, there are better ways to cool the keg for different situations. I will go over the best ways to keep your keg cool depending on the venue and weather.
Do I really need to keep my keg cold?
In almost all cases, yes, you do need to keep the beer keg cold. If you do not keep it cold, first off it will not be as refreshing on a hot day. Secondly, if you leave it to get warm or even hot for an extended period of time it could sour and taste funky.
Another by-product is that it will get quite foamy when you try to pour it, which is a waste of beer and this could be messy. The reason for this is that warm liquids hold less gas than cold liquids. So the CO2 that was dissolved in the cold beer before will shoot out of the tap when it becomes warm.
Now, there is an argument that you can serve a decent ale at room temperature ( 20–22 °C / 68–72 °F), and I grew up drinking beer like this from my late teens. However, most people will just expect a cold beer, especially on a hot day!
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Where should I store my keg before I drink it?
You don’t need to store the keg at the ice-cold temperature that you are going to serve it at all the time. There are a few places in most homes that you can keep it even in the summer that should suffice for a few days at least.
- A cooler/tub- Just have it in a cooler/tub with a bit of ice will do the trick.
- The basement- This option is more for people in the north but an old ice cellar would work as well.
- Shed/Garage- These may or may not get hot but in combination with a cooler it would do great.
However, to get your beer to stay cooler for longer, you might want to cool it down before you take it to your final drinking location.
New to homebrewing? Please feel free to read my ultimate guide to brewing beer at home and where to start.
Does adding salt to ice in a cooler keep it colder for longer?
If your goal (which is everyone’s) is to keep beer cold for a long time it is a good idea to add some water and salt to the ice. This will get your beer colder to start with which means it will stay colder longer. As long as you have a good cooler to hold the keg, the ice will melt faster but the water leftover will still be very cold.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that I understand the physics (something about a lower freezing point) behind this, but try it and you’ll see that it works great!
Another great tip is to try and buy your ice in large blocks rather than in small cubes. The more surface area the ice has the quicker it will melt. This means that an open tub full of ice cubes will lose its cooler power much quicker than the same tub with blocks of ice in it.
Keeping your keg cold at home
Whether you are making your own beer or not, a great way to keep and have a beer for everyone is to have a keg. That way you can enjoy your favorite beer (maybe even one you brewed yourself) and serve it from your own home bar.
Now if you are buying and making your beer in this quantity you really want to invest in a kegerator. A kegerator is about the size of a small fridge and fits easily around the house or in the garage.
A brand-new kegerator can range from around $200 to over $2,000 for a high-end multi-tap one. You can check out the Kegco K309SS-1 which is my mid-price choice (see Amazon for details).
You will also need a CO2 canister for it, which costs about $20, and a standard 5lb canister will serve about the equivalent of 7 half-barrels of beer (15.5 gallons X 7). You can of course also get a 10lbs canister too. Your local beer distributor should be able to sell them or point you to where you can purchase them.
If you are having a party in your yard or on the deck you can move the kegerator there and use an extension cord. It is best to remove the keg before transporting. If you don’t want to subject your kegerator than, the best method would be to get a tub with some ice and use a party pump (Link to Amazon).
This way it is easy to transport and very difficult to break. You can just return what’s left in the keg to your kegerator when the event is over.
How to keep a keg cold without a kegerator?
Now, having a dedicated and professionally built kegerator is something we’d all like, but you don’t need to be that fancy when you are just starting out. You can use basically any refrigerator or freezer with a temperature controller to keep your keg at the ideal temperature. Then it’s just a question of fixing up some beer lines and a tap so that you can search your beer directly from the keg.
By far the best piece of kit I ever bought was this simple Ink Bird ITC-308 (see Amazon) which I use with a regular chest freezer. I use it to ferment my beer, bottle condition it, and also chill kegs. All with this inexpensive unit, it’s just fantastic!
Keeping the keg cold at a campsite
There are many different types of campsites and campers. While some people like to camp in/from their cars, some just a tent, and others go glamping. The nice thing that brings us together besides the outdoors, is beer.
The benefit of bringing a keg when camping is that you will have less clean-up if you use reusable cups. Also, campsites tend to be shaded which will help keep your beer cooler as well.
You can go with the tried and true method of ice and a tub, but that is quite obvious and national parks don’t allow the consumption of alcohol, though it is rarely enforced as long as you are not being obvious and belligerent.
So, here are some more “clandestine” ways to keep your beer cold in the great outdoors.
A jockey box (link to Amazon) is a great way to chill beer, and it’s also fairly discrete. They also take up less space than ice and tub would and if you are keeping it in your car it won’t make a mess.
There are special ones for homebrew kegs and others for the traditional quarter and half barrels, so check the type of connection you need. The cost of these new ranges from $150.00 to $1,000 for one that servers multiple beers.
If you want you could also make one. They basically work like a wort chiller for homebrewing, by pumping the beer through a coil which is cooled by the surrounding ice water. The one downside to these is that they are labor-intensive to clean.
These go by many different names now such as keg blanket, parka, cover, sheet, insulator, jacket, etc. They are priced very differently and depending on shipping and tax to your state range from $60.00 to $200.00. They are very handy and will keep the beer cold for a while but are not recommended for use over a day. They are very easy to clean and maintain. Check out this one from Cool Brewing, which is sold on Amazon.
Bringing the keg to the beach and keeping it cool
This is the hardest thing to do. The sun is hot, even on the way there in the car, and the sand gets everywhere, and I mean everywhere. If you have got a Jockey box, you can bring it but just be aware that you want to keep all the connections free of sand as much as you are able.
Insulators or the cooler/tub of ice are the most common methods that most people use. The issue is that either they rely on power and or ice which will melt extremely fast and even evaporate. Getting more ice can also become costly and a hassle if someone has to drive to the store. It usually is the same person each time since you don’t want to drink and drive.
The method that I’ve found the best for the beach, which is a little labor and time-intensive, is burying the keg in the sand. You simply dig a hole place the keg in, first putting on the party tap then cover it with sand.
This not only keeps it cold but also can keep it hidden for children and local law enforcement if it is not legal on that beach ( I am not saying that you should break the law though). It also can lead to less waste and clean-up.
Do bring a shovel or two though or it could take a while to dig the hole. Also, having something on top of the tap so people don’t run into it is a good idea as well. You can find some sticks and rope the area off, or even better place your chair right next to it so that you don’t need to stretch for the next pint!
A new alternative
A new trend that is great for campsites and beaches alike is the new 5-liter party kegs. They are small and great for transport, these little kegs can be bought and you could store your homebrew in them or buy one of them from the distributor. You can get all types of dispensers for them, but the easiest for the beach may be one like this with the tab already fitted to the keg (see Amazon for more details).
Traveling with a keg
Bringing your homebrew keg, or any other you have knocking around, on vacation seems easy enough, but there are some things to take into consideration.
- You want to first make sure the keg does not roll around in the seat or the trunk. The keg could not only damage your car but the beer will take even longer to settle upon arrival.
- Don’t leave it in the car for an extended period of time. If it is the summer or you live in a hot place the beer can go bad by letting it sit in the heat.
- If someone else is driving the car, be sure to inform them that the keg is there. This is for safety and also if they are under 21 it would be illegal to transport it in most states (and possibly other countries too).
How do I transport my keg of homebrew beer?
Since you are homebrewing and not mass producing your keg will not travel and keep as a normal mass-produced beer would. This is ok, you just want to be wary of that and not allow the unpasteurized beer to sit in the heat.
I would recommend that you transfer, carb up, and cold crash the beer to a keg before you leave (or whatever your method is). On the way keep it as cool as you can and once you arrive at your destination let it settle for an extended period before you tap it. At least 24 hours would be best, or as long as your thirst holds out! This gives you the best chance for the clarity and taste of your beer to stay intact.
For more details on kegs for homebrewing, or for commercial brewing, why not check out my complete guide here.