DIY: Kegerator and Fermentation Chamber (Part II: Construction and Assembly)

This post continues where I left off in Part I: Concept and Equipment. Read on for the steps to constructing and assembling the kegerator and fermentation chamber from parts and equipment discussed earlier.

If you’re in a pinch, you could also just skip right to the chase by reading on and grabbing the tools as you go.

Steps

Making the kegerator was one semi-difficult manual task followed by a lot of assembly and improvisation using duct tape.

Step 1: Make the hole for the faucet

Use the electric drill and 7/8″ hole saw to drill a hole in the door of the fridge. Drilling through the door allows you to be sure you won’t hit any coolant lines or electronics. The door is hollow, I promise. It’s also thinner than the sides and thus easier to punch through. After much consideration, I drilled the hole right in the middle about 4″ from the top for the sake of symmetry. Having the faucet near the top also means you won’t have to bend over as much to pour a beer.

To make the hole I just pressed really hard until the drill bit in the middle started to catch and the hole-sized saw followed soon after. I measured the same distance down on the inside of the fridge and punched a hole through the plastic to meet the one on the outside.

Note: Don’t touch any of the metal while you’re in the process of making the hole or you will burn yourself from the heat developed from drill bit friction (whoops!)

Step 2: Move the freezer unit

fridge_freezer

The U-shaped roll of metal you may have in your minifridge is the freezer. It is also the cooling unit and contains coils that circulate coolant. Unfortunately you’ll need to move the freezer to allow space for the faucet shank, tubes, and clearance for the fermenter and keg.

At the top you can see the bolts that hold the freezer to the top of the fridge. They are plastic bolts that serve to lock the unit in place, though it is not screwed in place.

The steps to move the freezer are as follows:

  1. Carefully but firmly press the freezer backwards until it clicks out of the bolts.
  2. Disconnect the clip-in thermometer probe (metal wire) and its casing from the underside of the freezer
  3. Carefully bend the freezer to the back of the fridge and duct-tape it in place.

fridge_bent

As noted, I later used duct tape to affix the freezer to the back of the fridge. It hasn’t moved since. This will give you plenty of space to work with for your fermentations without having to do something difficult like remove the door panel to make extra space.

Step 3: Attach the faucet and shank

As noted above, the Perlick faucet and shank can both be attached using the faucet wrench. It isn’t necessary to over-tighten this connection, just place the sheath between the faucet and the tighten it enough that the faucet doesn’t move on its own. This sheath may also be called a flange.

Once you’ve attached everything together, screw on the small black tap handle.

faucet shank

The photos above are the outside (tap) and inside (shank) of the kegerator’s beer faucet.

Step 4: Assemble the lines

Connecting all the various tubes, nuts, and bolts is a bit of a pain, but once you’ve done it once, you won’t have to take it apart for a long while. The next time you disassemble it should be for periodic cleaning in roughly every 2 months.

Beginning at the keg, here is the order in which the connections should be attached on the beer side:

  • Three-pin keg post ->
  • MFL Pin Lock liquid quick disconnect -> 1/4″ flare swivel nut ->
  • 1/4″ barb -> 5 ft of 3/16″ ID x 7/16″ OD Thickwall PVC Beer line ->
  • Hex nut -> 3/16″ tail piece -> gasket ->
  • 7/8″ lock nut -> 7/8″ shank ->
  • Flange -> Perlick 630SS flow control faucet

At either end of the tubing it is good practice to add a hose clamp. On the liquid side I used easy-turn 1/2″ clamps. On the gas tubing I used 5/8″ clamps.

Here is the order of connection for the gas side:

  • Two-pin keg post ->
  • MFL Pin Lock gas quick disconnect -> 1/4″ flare swivel nut ->
  • 3/8″ barb -> 4 ft of 5/16″ ID x 9/16″ OD Thickwall PVC Gas line ->
  • Regulator -> CO2 tank

For the regulator to tank connection, make sure you tighten it down using the adjustable wrench or gas will escape everywhere. Spoken from experience. This particular regulator has a built-in rubber gasket, as seen in the photo below, but some will require a gasket at that connection point.

regulator regulator_seal

Note: Care should be taken when connecting the parts because a slow gas leak can drain your tank. Tighten and check all gaskets and connections, even the ones on the keg itself, by spraying some Star-San or soapy water on them to see if they bubble.

Step 5: Disassemble, clean, reassemble keg

The graphic below from the American Homebrewers Association shows how all the parts fit together.

IMG_1912

When you purchase a used keg, it’s likely to come complete with ancient liquid or residue, thus requiring cleanup via:

  1. disassembly,
  2. soaking in PBW for 30 minutes, and
  3. sanitizing with Star San,
  4. reassembly,
  5. fitting keg into fridge.

PBW and Star San can both be reused to wash multiple items if they aren’t too dirty. Soak everything for at least 30 minutes the first time around and then soak in sanitizer. Star San sanitizer saved in a spray bottle is a great way to sanitize an area without having to submerge everything.

Most kegs are around 8.25-9″ in diameter, which was the exact depth of the floor area of my minifridge. Mine fit perfectly once I raised it up above the door lip using a styrofoam wedge.

If you’re extra lucky, you’ll find a fridge without a compressor bump, which would give you space for 2 kegs. If unlucky, you may have to remove the interior plastic on the door to capture an extra few inches of space. I was in between. Always measure before you buy your fridge.

See Cleaning and Sanitizer under Brewing 101: Building the Brewhouse (Equipment) for more.

Step 6: Fermenter and Temperature Control

I purchased the Ss Brewtech Mini Brew Bucket, which is really just a half-sized fancy version of the standard brew bucket. Luckily, it fits snugly into the fridge if you reinsert the bottom shelf. To hook up my temperature controller, I did the following:

  1. threaded the temperature probe and cord through the space between the door and the body of the fridge on the hinge side;
  2. duct taped a sock to the fermenter as insulation; and
  3. slid the temperature probe under the sock to sit against the side of the fermenter;
  4. plugged the fridge into the cooling socket of the controller and the controller to the wall.

fermenter temp_controller

Now the fridge turns on only when the liquid inside the fermenter warms up above the set point, which for my last brew was 64 F.

That’s it for the fermenter and kegerator. If you’re new to the brewing process, check out my Brewing 101 series from earlier this month.

DIY: Kegerator and Fermentation Chamber (Part I: Concept and Equipment)

New York apartments are small, too small for mountains of bottles, that was my rationale for jumping into kegging my homebrew beer. Though to be totally honest, my motivation was a desire to professionalize my homebrew setup with temperature control and quicker grain-to-glass times. Combining keg, tap, and temperature controller in one mini fridge allows for better ferments and quicker serving times.

Read on for the parts needed and steps to take to make this project happen.

Sizing

Fitting everything into this sleek and compact package required a conscious decision to focus on smaller 2.5- or 3-gallon batches of beer.

The typical homebrewer would consider these half-batches, as most pre-packaged recipes come in 5-gallon sizes. Smaller batches means more room to experiment, but they also mean buying your ingredients a la carte, which lends itself well to all grain / BIAB brewing (more on that in a later post).

My three-gallon kegs is approximately 16″ tall and 9″ wide, while my Ss Brewtech Mini Brew Bucket is 16″ tall and 11″ at its widest. Either of these vessels fits easily inside a standard minifridge.

Parts: Big Items

The parts below are the big-ticket items ($20+) for the project build.

4.6 cu ft Kenmore minifridge

I found a used stainless steel-accented minifridge on Craigslist for $75. A new minifridge would cost around $150 or more. Larger minifridges like this one give more space without needing to tear things out of the inside of the fridge.

As it is, the keg fits on the floor of the fridge on a wedge of styrofoam, no further modification needed. The fermenter fits on the bottom shelf, which I normally take out the shelf when the keg is in.

Ss Brewtech Mini Brew Bucket 3.5-gallon fermenter

This particular fermentation vessel is solid, easy to clean, and happens to fit perfectly in the fridge. Plus it looks really slick in stainless steel. It does not come with a stick-on thermometer, which is a recommended addition. The price is $130 from Ss Brewtech. If you’re not looking to break the bank, a modified $40 used Cornelius keg could have probably fit. A plastic fermenter like the one from this kit might work as well.

Perlick 650SS flow control faucet

This fancy faucet with flow control for overly foamy beer cost $50, though in retrospect the simpler Perlick faucets without flow control would have been fine at $30-35.

Note: A forward-sealing faucet will be the best extra $10-15 you’ll ever spend on beer dispensing. Perlick faucets are forward-sealing, which means that when the faucet closes its internal parts are insulated by the beer liquid. The cheaper rear-sealing faucets allow beer to dry inside, gumming up the piston that releases the beer and resulting in a completely immobile beer tap that has to be taken apart and soaked and will break if forced.

4 1/8″ Stainless steel shank and tail piece

This is the metal rear sheath element that attaches to the faucet on the inside of the fridge. It costs $35.

3 gallon Cornelius-style pin lock keg (used)

At one time, small, mostly 5-gallon kegs were used by Coke and Pepsi to distribute flavoring syrup for their soda fountains. These kegs have large openings that allow easy access for adding liquids and cleaning, plus they’re made of food-grade stainless steel. My 3-gallon example is a rare find that is perfect for half-batches.

A healthy secondary market of used kegs and replacement parts exists because of the kegs’ ability to hold beer under pressure. These kegs may be found used or refurbished for $30-50 or purchased new for $75-150.

5 lb CO2 tank

When buying a CO2 tank, you have two options: new or trade-in. Places that sell CO2 and propane will nearly always swap your current take for a full one, but not all will refill your tank. I paid $130 for deposit and $17 for a tank fill.

Inkbird ITC-308 temperature controller

This little gem is inexpensive ($35-40), has simple directions, and functions perfectly. Plug your fridge into the Cooling circuit, and it will turn on when the temperature registers above your set point. This allows for clean controlled fermentation in the 60s, even during summer heat waves. Find it on Amazon Prime.

4 x 6″ Stainless steel drip tray

I actually haven’t installed the drip tray yet. Functionally and aesthetically it isn’t really necessary, but it will catch some drips if you want to keep the floor clean. Cost was $22.

Tools

The tools needed are to drill the hole for the tap, disassemble the keg, and assemble the jumble of hoses, hose clamps, and nuts in the beer and gas lines.

Electric drill

7/8″ Hole saw drill bit

You’ll need these two tools to do the one semi-difficult step in this project: drilling the hole for the beer faucet and shank in the door of the minifridge. Our electric drill was a Christmas present and the hole saw bit cost $8 from the hardware store across the street which usually inflates their prices.

13/16″ Wrench or pin lock keg socket and wrench

This is the size of wrench that will fit a pin lock keg disconnect. It may also fit the ball lock, but there are several styles so Google it first or bring the keg to the hardware store for that matter.

Medium adjustable wrench

You’ll need an adjustable or open wrench to attach the nut for the regulator to the CO2 tank. I believe the actual size is 1 1/8″ so get an adjustable that opens to larger than that size.

Flat head screwdriver

The flat head screwdriver is for adjusting the gas pressure on the regulator and really nothing else, at least not for this project.

Faucet and hex nut wrench

The faucet and hex nut wrench is a specialized wrench for attaching and detatching the faucet as well as the nut on the back side of the faucet that threads into the faucet shank.

Parts: Small Items

This project requires a lot of small connectors and fasteners, most of which are only available easily from a homebrew or beverage supply store. All cost $10 or less, which adds up after a while.

Take a look at the list below. You’ll need everything on this list except the gelatin, yeast nutrient, and Irish moss at the end, those are additives for recipes.

items1

items2

This post was getting a bit long, so I split it up. Read on here Part II: Construction and Assembly for the next post on how to construct and assemble your project.