The Great Kegs versus Bottles Showdown

Here is a completely subjective list of considerations when you’re trying to decide whether to keg or bottle.

Dave Carpenter Feb 16, 2016 - 6 min read

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I’ve been kegging most of my homebrew for about four years now. But deep down, I’m still kind of partial to bottle-conditioned beer. It’s often said that carbon dioxide is carbon dioxide, whether created by yeast in a bottle or delivered from a tank of high-pressure gas. But I still insist on bottle conditioning certain beers, such as barleywines, that I want to age, as well as a handful of styles that I think really do benefit from being in the bottle (if for no other reason than personal preference), such as Weißbier.

And yet, most of what I brew ends up in a keg. In choosing one vessel over another, I consider a variety of factors. Here is my completely subjective list of considerations in the great kegs versus bottles showdown.

Clarity >> Point: Kegs

It’s rare that you move a keg once it’s in the fridge, so there’s little opportunity to disturb the yeast sediment after it has settled. After the first pint or two, kegs almost always deliver clearer beer—until the very last pint, which is once again full of yeast, accompanied by that depressing hiss that lets you know you’ve kicked the keg.

Competitions >> Point: Bottles

There’s no way around it: If you want to enter a homebrew competition, you’re going to have to submit bottles. Now, it’s entirely possible to bottle from a keg using a counter-pressure bottle filler, which is a surefire way to get crystal clear beer into the hands of your judges. But it’s an extra level of complexity that bottlers don’t have to deal with. And on that note…


Complexity >> Point: Bottles

Kegging simply requires a lot more equipment than bottling. Most homebrewers don’t bottle directly from the primary fermentor, but it can be done in a pinch. But to keep a keg system going, you’re going to have to deal with gas cylinders, tubing, faucets, clamps, O-rings, wrenches, lubricants, and all manner of other gadgets. Dedicated DIYers no doubt love digging into such things, but bottles offer fewer distractions from the beer and fewer opportunities for things to break. That said, all of that complexity does deliver convenience, and so…

Convenience >> Point: Kegs

I won’t lie. I often put off bottling because I know I’ll need to set aside a couple of hours to complete the project. I’ve seen claims that some can finish solo bottling a 5-gallon batch in less than 60 minutes, but these must be the same overachievers who hit the gym instead of the snooze button. For most of us, racking to a keg entails overcoming less inertia than carving out time to fill bottles.

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Carbonation >> Point: Kegs

Kegging lets you precisely adjust carbonation to a level that’s just not possible with bottles. From high-gravity imperial stouts to sour ales, setting a regulator is much more reliable than futzing about with priming sugar and yeast. And if you do over-carbonate a batch, kegs can handle many times the pressure of bottles.


A few years ago I struggled with carbonation on a Belgian dark strong ale that I bottled. I ended up opening each bottle, adding champagne yeast, and then re-capping it. I could have avoided the headache if I’d just kegged the thing. But I really wanted to put some age on a few bottles, which brings us to…

Cellaring >> Point: Bottles

Before I got married, I whipped up a batch of sparkling mead and bottled it in twenty-five 750 ml champagne bottles. Each bottle got a number from 1 to 25, representing the anniversary upon which my wife and I would enjoy it. I guess you could do that with kegs, but you’d need a really big cellar.

Conveyability >> Draw

Want to take some homebrew on a hike to enjoy on the summit? Bottlers definitely have an advantage in the portability department, but keggers (people, not college parties) who have a counter-pressure filler can get around this (See Competitions above). So we’ll call it even.

Charm >> Point: Bottles

I’ll probably get some flack for this, but I think opening a caged, corked Belgian bottle is just a lot sexier than opening a faucet. But that’s just me. It’s the beer equivalent of the wine ritual, but without all of the awkwardness.

So, in my book, that’s four points for bottles, three for kegs, and one draw. What about you? Do you bottle it all, exclusively keg, or remain firmly noncommittal?