Wednesday, 6 January 2016

My First Kegged Beers

Its taken me a while to get a kegging system, mainly because I don't have the space or the money for the kind of multi-keg setup I'd like.  But after my trip home this summer I decided it was time to look into something basic, if only so that I could brew the kind of fast, low-ABV beers I missed from home without the hassle of bottle-conditioning.  I already had a very small fridge that I'd picked up for cheap from a graduating student---barely enough for one three gallon keg and a five pound CO2 tank, but I had to start somewhere!

I actually bought this fridge over a year ago, and it was only when I noticed the relatively cheap prices for new three gallon kegs at RiteBrew that I finally decided to put it to use.  I bought two kegs, even though I knew I could only fit one in the fridge.  My idea was to prime most beers with sugar, allowing one keg to condition at room temperature while the other served beer from the fridge.

This has worked well so far, and is even easier now that I've built a basic spunding valve to regulate the pressure in the keg.  It also fits with one of my ambitions with these kegs, which is to come as close as I can to something like cask-conditioned beers from back home.  I took my lead here from Terry Foster's advice in his book Pale Ale:
An argument against the use of kegs is that you have to push the beer through the serving line and tap by carbon dioxide pressure.  This might be all right if you are operating at CO2 levels of 2.0 or above, but it is not so good if you want a less gassy beer... There is a very simple way round this that I use.  When I fill the keg, I set the regulator to around  5 pounds per square inch and let the beer equilibrate over a few days.  I draw off a pint or two, set the regulator to 10 pounds per square inch, open the valve, allow the pressure to balance, and then turn off the valve.  The valve is opened only when the flow of beer slows while serving, and it remains open for just a few minutes.  In that way, the pressure in the keg always remains close to 5 pounds per square inch and the beer is perfect, no gassier than real ale served from cask by a beer engine.
So far I've found that I don't need to close the valve: setting the regulator to around 5 lbs per square inch is enough to serve most of the keg, and I can just turn it up for a minute if the flow stops entirely.

The results so far are still a way from cask-conditioned beer, though certainly closer than anything I managed with bottles.  For one thing, the serving temperature is too cold---I've bought the parts to build a temperature-regulator for the fridge, but I need to borrow some tools from a friend to do the wiring, and haven't got round to it yet.  Another problem---obvious in the pictures below---is that all of the beers I've brewed so far have chill-haze, meaning they are not at all bright.  I suspect this is a result of my BIAB process, combined with the shorter conditioning time.

Below are descriptions and photos of the first three beers I served from the keg: all dry and bitter, with a low-ABV.  I expect I'll mostly be brewing beers along these lines, sticking to bottle-conditioning for my saisons and sours, but serving almost everything else I brew (almost all of which is what people call 'session beer') directly from the keg.  In fact, I have a kolsch lagering in the fridge right now while I take a few weeks off booze.

One thing I'm particularly looking forward to is brewing some beers with American hops, something I haven't done for quite a while!  I gave up on making IPAs and pale ales early on, once I realised that it would be impossible to make really excellent versions until I could minimise the amount of oxygen the beer was exposed to.  To solve this, I picked up a cheap second-hand five gallon keg, and my plan is to use this as a primary fermentor for hoppy beers (another use for the spunding valve), transferring them directly to a serving keg (with dry-hops) with CO2.  I found this post from Ales of the Riverwards very helpful here.  But more on that in a month or two.


Grist: Golden Promise (97%), Medium Crystal (3%)
Hops: EKG, Styrian Goldings
Yeast: Wyeast 1318
O.G.: 1.044
IBUs: 45
ABV: 4.4%

A standard recipe here, going for a lighter-coloured bitter without too much crystal malt character, nice and dry, with a moreish hop bite at the back end.  Most of the bitters I brew look something like this, though sometimes with slightly more crystal malt, and sometimes with a darker crystal malt.  Besides the bittering charge, this one had an addition of EKG at 20 minutes, and some Styrian Goldings at flameout.  In my experience, Wyeast 1318 tends to mute the hop character a bit, unless your dry-hop, so the end result was a sort soft hoppiness that blended well with the slightly fruity character of the yeast.  Very drinkable: this was my first beer in the keg, and it was a bit of a shock how quickly I finished it!

Dry Stout

Grist: Golden Promise (69%), Flaked Wheat (17.2%), Roasted Barley (6.9%), Chocolate Malt (4.%), Dark Crystal (2.8%)
Hops: Northdown, Challenger
Yeast: Wyeast 1318
O.G.: 1.044
IBUs: 39.5
ABV: 4.2%

What's not to like about dry stouts?  Bitter, roasty, and with a low ABV to boot.  I think I'll be making them a lot more frequently now that I have a keg.  I've been trying to come up with something a bit different from the standard home-brewer Guinness clone: something with a bit more hop character, bearing more than a passing resemblance to De La Senne's Stouterik.  The bitterness was nice in this one, balancing well with the fuller mouthfeel from the wheat, but I would have liked a bit more roast and/or chocolate.  Next time I might try pulverising the roasted barley and adding it post-mash, or perhaps backing down on the roaster barley adding more chocolate malt.  

One of my plans for this year is to try souring a batch of this recipe with the Omega Yeast lactobacillus blend.  My thought is that I could split this into small jugs, and then add it to regular batches to give a little lactic bite, either blending it in the keg and relying on the hops to keep the lactobacillus at bay, or maybe even adding it to the kettle for the last 15 minutes of the boil.  Watch this space.

Pale Bitter

Grist: Golden Promise (92.6%), Torrified Wheat (7.4%)
Hops: EKG
Yeast: Wyeast 1318
O.G.: 1.038
IBUs: 37.6
ABV: 3.7%

Here I was going for a pale beer, along the lines of the historical Boddington's Ordinary Bitter, or its modern counterparts like Marble Manchester Bitter.   Its supposed to be where Wyeast 1318 came from, after all! The original Boddingtons was reputedly intensely bitter, but I've also read that it didn't have much in the way of hop character.  With this in mind I decided to keep all my kettle additions before the final 30 minutes of the boil.  I did add a very light dry-hop to the keg though, giving it a delicate citrus aroma.  

I liked this beer A LOT, but I'm sure I'll tinker with the recipe a bit in future, perhaps trying a blend of different base malts.  To finish, here's a picture that gives a better sense of the colour of this beer (and also shows you where I write these posts!):


  1. Glad to know the spunding valve works! I'll be picking up some smaller kegs soon as well. 5 gallons is just a lot of beer when it's just yourself or a couple of friends drinking. I'd like to rip out some 3 gallon batches of lovely British beers for when I get off work.

    I may have to copy that Pale Bitter recipe! I've got some pale ale malt that needs to be used.

  2. Congratulations for finally making the plunge into kegdom!

  3. I'm going to jump on this wagon as well with kegged low gravity beers. I've had a kegging system for a number of years now but its gone woefully underutilized so I hope this approach puts some miles on it. I actually just began to build a spunding valve as well.

    1. The spunding valve was very easy to build. Took me all of five minutes. The numbers on the valve itself don't correspond all that closely to the pressure on the gauge, but you can play around with it to get what you want.

  4. I've been keg conditioning lighter sour beers and enjoying that experience as well. I find that if you don't leave enough gas in the keg, towards the end of it the beer starts to lose carbonation (I drink really slow).

    Question: do you have a favorite dark mild recipe/writeup?

    1. I remember liking the beer I made from his recipe:

      You'll notice that it has a lot of sugar. This is pretty characteristic of English recipes, and it makes the final result pretty different from what you would get from a lot of the American homebrew recipes I've seen, which often rely on a lot of crystal malt for body and sweetness. I tend to prefer the English kind, but you have to be careful: if they're not served with low carbonation and at cellar temperature, they will seem very thin.