There are only a few times in my life when I’ve thought, “I wish I’d known that when I was younger.” The value of a good bakery. The pointlessness of buying a convertible. And, just in the past year, the incredible, wonderful, practical utility of fermenting in kegs. My brewing life has never been easier. Easier brewing means more brewing. And more brewing (usually) means better brewing.
This all began when I started using the Picobrew Z, since it basically “brews” and ferments in the same single keg. Even before that first beer was ready, I knew that even if the Z crapped out after one batch, I would never go back to carboys or buckets: It was nothing but corny kegs for me from now on.
First, consider the fact that the stainless corny keg is a perfect vessel for no-chill. Transfer the near-boiling wort into a clean keg and let the liquid and steam do the sanitizing—that’s one nice benefit. Then there’s the ease of movement, in that corny kegs are already easy to toss around, and you can do the tossing without worrying about a cracked plastic vessel or (nightmare) a shattered or sheared glass carboy. But the best part? That comes when it’s time to transfer to a serving vessel: Simply move via pressure in a closed transfer to a CO2-flushed serving keg. The risk of oxidation is virtually zero.
There are some practical concerns, of course. You’ll need to rig up some kind of method for an airlock—either with a gasketed seal that replaces the keg lid, or simply run some tubing from the gas post into a blow-offbucket.
You’ll also need to identify a method for avoiding a ton of trub in the serving keg. That method can be simple, certain, and a little costly; or it can be simple, a bit uncertain, and cheap—depending on your budget and risk tolerance.
The simple-but-costly approach is by filtering: With a plastic 10-inch housing, a one-micron filter, and some tubing, your trub worries are gone—with some added shelf-life and flavor stability to boot, since a lot of potentially flavor-impacting biological material won’t be making it into the serving keg.
Or—and I swear this is also pretty effective—insert a rubber doorstop under the dip-tube-side of the fermenting keg, so it’s sitting at a slight angle. The result: After you pull a little trub out initially, the angle of the keg means that most of it drifts away from the outlet, and you pull mostly clear beer for the rest of the transfer into the serving keg.
Other than that, fermenting in kegs is just like fermenting in anything else, so the process isn’t substantively different. But one thing that will change is that you’ll rapidly come to love the uniformity of fermenting and serving out of the same kind of vessel. Also: With those extra kegs, you’ll have expanded capacity for finished beer for your kegerator if you end up overproducing. Think about it before you buy your next carboy!