Beer To Go!

HBS Blogger Chris Corcoran

When I started home brewing, the one aspect that I did not like was bottle filling. It took hours to do, weeks to carbonate, and when all was said and done too many variables made it nearly impossible to ensure consistency from bottle to bottle. After about a year, I moved to a decent two tap kegging system and relished in the fact that I was only dealing with one really big bottle.

That was when I discovered some drawbacks to kegging, like how to share my beers with friends and family, or enter in competitions, and even just to take some of my beers out the lake and camping. I had previously enjoyed all of these activities without thinking about how kegging would impact that. This led me down the road of finding the best of both worlds.

At first I simply took the bottle or growler, shoved it up under the tap, turned down the pressure, and filled it up. This process wasted a lot of beer in the form of foam, introduced a lot of air into the beer, and was very messy. Then one day at my local brew pub I saw them using a growler filler.

A growler filler is a piece of tubing slightly longer than a growler with a tap faucet plug on one end. The faucet plug fits snuggly up in the faucet and helps control the flow of beer. Meanwhile the tubing directs the flow, allowing a fill from the bottom up. This all contributes to reducing the amount of foam produced and the amount of air introduced to the beer. This device is very inexpensive and quite easy to use, just turn down your serving pressure a little and start pouring.

Sadly, while inexpensive, a growler filler doesn’t work as well for standard 12 ounce bottles.  For competition entries or even handing out bottles to friends and family you want a counter-pressure bottle filler. These bottle fillers allow you to fill directly from the keg. Most bottle fillers allow you flush the bottle with co2 first then you can fill slowly with minimal amounts of foam. This method helps ensure proper carbonation levels, minimize chance for infections or oxidation, and is just as quick and easy as standard growler filler attachments! These fillers work best at very low co2 serving pressures, somewhere in the 2 to 5 psi range. One more tip: chill your bottles before filling. This will help to reduce the amount of foam.

Last but not least, what do you do when you want to take the whole keg out to serve while camping or spending the day at the lake or river? The answer: jockey box. A jockey box is a cooler which has been modified with a stainless steel coil or chiller plate installed inside and one or more faucets on the outside. When chilling, the coil works best if packed with ice and allowing the water from melting to stay; contrariwise, the plate chiller functions best with melt water drained off. You can get all shapes and sizes of coolers, from small easy to transport or shoulder strap coolers to massive rectangles or cylinders. One tip about serving with a jockey box: higher than usual pressure is required. This can lead to foaming and over carbonating the beer when not serving, so your best bet between glasses is to turn off the gas. My secret is to start the pressure low and slowly turn it up. I keep turning it up until I get a steady but slow flow of beer. This helps keep the beer from becoming foamy and, since it’s slower, lets the beer cool off more while moving through the chiller.

Aside from the jockey box there are small CO2 chargers and faucets you can attach directly to the keg, though they will not keep the beer very cool, unlike the jockey box which holds the ice. I like to use CO2 chargers and faucets when serving from the fridge or ice bucket to keep the beer cooler. The chargers are small, use paintball CO2 cartridges and are not recommended to carbonate the beer. Chargers simply don’t have enough CO2 to carbonate a full keg, so the keg will need to be carbonated before going on the road or into the fridge. You don’t need much pressure with the tap attached directly to the keg, and in my experience it takes about two CO2 cartridges to serve a full pre-carbonated keg.