Test Drive: The 1 Gallon Mini-Keg

I’ve never been a big fan of bottling. Cleaning out 50+ bottles and sterilizing them is not really my idea of an exciting time. I like to use the 22 oz bomber style bottles, and that just about cuts the bottle prep work in half.  I haven’t made the financial commitment to a real kegging system, and still don’t think I’m ready… but I got pretty excited was when I discovered mini-kegs.

The mini-keg

This had all the qualities I was looking for:

  • Cheap
  • Holds a lot (relative to bottles)
  • No need for CO2 or accessories
  • Fits in my fridge

So I picked one up, along with one of the special rubber stoppers that goes in the top. We went through the typical bottling process, and primed the beer just like you would normally. The mini-keg got filled first and we capped it off with the stopper. I was pretty skeptical about a few things. First, I fully expected the stopper to pop out champagne-cork-style at some point, and to wind up with a beer eruption on my hands. Thankfully that never happened. I also worried that the stopper wouldn’t be strong enough to hold in all the internal pressure of carbonation, it would leak, and the beer would wind up flat.

Four weeks later, and it’s time to try out the results. I’ll let the video speak for itself…

As you can see, the beer comes out with a ton of pressure, and there’s no way to dispense it without getting 3/4 of a glass full of bubbles.  It was like that for at least half the keg, and then it settled down to a reasonable flow that you didn’t have to wait 5 minutes to settle down.  Another drawback is the limited time frame you have to drink the beer.  While the pressure’s built up in the keg, it’s fine, but once enough space is opened up in the keg, it tends to go flat quickly.

Care for some beer with your foam?

Conclusions

The mini-keg had some definite pluses and minuses. The good news was that it was super easy to include in the bottling stage. It’s a great little thing to be able to bring along to share your homebrew with some friends. It’s so much more convenient than bottles. It also allowed the beer to carbonate like a champ. No leaks, no explosions, piece of cake. And it’s the center of attention in my fridge. However, the high pressure dispensing and the limited lifetime of the beer once the keg is used may be a deal-breaker for some folks.

I still love mine and plan to use it for lots more beer to come, though.

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7 Responses to Test Drive: The 1 Gallon Mini-Keg

  1. randomface says:

    To reduce the amount of foam in the pours, open the spout fully. When you are dispensing the beer through a smaller opening, the beer foams considerably. Hopefully this will help with that issue substantially.

  2. Scott H says:

    Cool, thanks. I’ll give that a try.

  3. mattmatt says:

    I assume you can clean and reuse the kegs, right? Can you reuse the stoppers?

    My buddy has a pump dispenser that goes in through the top and it seems to work well – I think it’s a little less foamy because it depressurizes a bit when you put it in. Thoughts on that vs. the built-in dispenser?

    • Scott H says:

      Yes, I clean and reuse them, and the stopper is reusable too.

      So I went through this mini-keg and the pressure stayed all the way through its use. I had a second mini-keg, filled with a different beer, and the pressure gave out about 1/3 of the way through it. The beer just stopped coming out of the tap. So I figured that I should take the stopper out to allow air pressure to enter it and allow the beer to flow naturally out the tap. There’s a little plastic plug in the middle of the stopper that comes out (I’m assuming to put some kind of dispenser or pump in, like you mentioned) and you have to take that plug out to get the stopper out of the mini-keg. After I took the plug out, the beer flowed normally from the spout and worked great. I’m wondering if it wouldn’t just be worth it to just remove the plug and release the internal pressure when I’m ready to drink it. That would let the beer come out naturally, not under too much pressure. I’d imagine that that would really shorten the carbonation life of the beer once I did that though. Something to try for the next mini-kegging…

  4. Scott M says:

    The corny kegs have a similar device to release pressure. Perhaps you could remove the entire stopper to create the ultimate shotgun situation. Pop the top, let it rip, maybe some extra holes in the side so friends can assist.

  5. Outdoorgrrl says:

    I also wonder if you could reduce the carbonation by reducing the amount of bottling sugar you’re using. Alternately, if you’re using corn sugar for bottling, you might try switching to dry malt extract at a ratio of 1 part corn sugar to 1 2/3 parts malt extract.

  6. IAbrewer says:

    This is long after you posted this blog entry, but …

    Two things.

    First, open the spigot more to reduce foam as randomface suggests.

    Second, reduce the amount of priming sugar for mini-kegs. I have a PhilTap – a CO2 tap handle once made by Listermann for mini-kegs which goes through the top. Using about 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of corn sugar per mini (added dry to the beer through the top hole), I have had very good success with a variety of beers (ranging from high gravity Russian Imperial Stouts to lower gravity Kolsches), typically only needing to use a blast of CO2 to push the final quarter or so of volume *up* the tube to dispense. You are using gravity, so no CO2 is needed.

    If you can get your hands on a PhilTap, do it. Sturdy, well-built and well-engineered. I am not sure why Listermann stopped selling them to retailers for resale in the early 2000s or why they no longer stock them. But they are great to have.

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