Keg or bottles

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by Abner84, Feb 14, 2013.

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  1. Abner84

    Abner84 Initiate (0) Feb 14, 2013 New Hampshire

    I am about to embark on my first try at brewing. I have the kit and have spent the last couple months reading up on the best ways to go about brewing at home. After a lot of reading it seems like bottling my beer will be far more work than if I were to just put it in a keg. I was wondering what kind of equipment I would need to keg the homebrew, basically to see if the money i'd spend would out weigh the time i'd spend bottling five gallons of fermented beer. I appreciate any and all responses.

  2. FATC1TY

    FATC1TY Moderator (1,229) Feb 12, 2012 Georgia
    Subscriber Beer Trader

    I'd suggest bottling your first batch. It'll give you the run down of the whole process.

    Some people never keg, they don't want to spend the upfront cost, the time setting it up, learning to balance the system, and ultimately, might just enjoy cracking a bottle open, or having plenty to share without having to go fill growlers and such.

    That said, some people hate bottling. I did. I bottled I think 2 or 3 batches and said to hell with it. Collecting bottles wasn't hard, but I hated cleaning them all, sanitizing them, and then racking to a bottling bucket, boiling and cooling the priming sugar, and then filling and capping the bottles, all to wait another 2-3 weeks, and then a couple of days to chill them.

    So I keg now. Exclusively. If I need to bottle, I have a rig where I carb in the keg, and bottle from the gun, and can empty out kegs for beer I'm not drinking fast enough, or beer I want to carb to a certain level and then age in bottles.

    You will need a fridge, or a freezer. A temp controller for said freezer. You need a way to get an exact temp of your kegerator essentially. You will need kegs obviously, a regulator, gas and beer lines. You won't NEED taps and shanks and all that crap early on, a simple picnic ( cobra tap ) will work just fine till you figure out what you want to do.

    There are kits online with a dual reg, 2 kegs, taps and line for like $200-250 bucks. You need a bottle of your own for Co2, or you can get them from welding shops/air shops/ local home brew stores.. Check around.

    If you can source a cheap freezer, or something, you'll need a $50-70 temp controller. So you are at $300-350 roughly for everything, but the freezer/fridge and a bottle.

    I'd plan for $500, but could be done cheaper, or more expensive, depending on what you have and how you get it.

    With that though, I find it to be a cost saver in the long run. I ferment my beers, keep them in primary, don't move them until they are well past done. Siphon them into a cleaned keg, and if I need to dry hop, I do it in the keg, and can let them sit at room temp, or do it in the keezer and have it carbing at the same time. Simply hooking up the gas, and letting it sit, I can have carbed beer in roughly a week from the primary.
    billandsuz and inchrisin like this.
  3. premierpro

    premierpro Disciple (384) Mar 21, 2009 Michigan

    I recomend bottling for your first few batches. I bottled for my first 3 years before keging. There is still alot of work cleaning and sanitizing your kegs also. You will always want to have bottles around anyways. Good luck.
  4. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,003) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    “After a lot of reading it seems like bottling my beer will be far more work than if I were to just put it in a keg.”

    You may be interested in reading what Michael Tonsmiere (a.k.a. The MadFermentationist; BA OldSock) write about this:

    “I really enjoy kegging. I think it's especially valuable for beers I want to serve quickly, and the ability to flush with CO2 keeps my hoppy beers fresher longer. The ability to control and adjust the carbonation as you drink. However, one advantage kegging doesn’t have is saving much time compared to bottling. While it allows you to spread out the tasks over several days, the total time spent is similar. Sure kegging feels fast when you sanitize a keg, rack a beer into it, snap the lid on, and hook it up to the tank, but you had to clean that keg after it kicked, disassemble the tap/lines for cleaning and sanitation, run to the store to fill your tank with CO2, clean your kegerator etc. I’m not saying it isn’t worthwhile, I’m just saying time savings isn’t one of the primary advantages.”

    spointon likes this.
  5. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Aspirant (295) Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    If you can handle the up front cost, forget bottling. The advantages of kegging are too numerous to list here. Bottling has only one advantage over kegging, but I just can't remember what it is :wink:.

    'Bottling Day', such as it is, is a half hour if I limit myself to no more than two beer breaks. Washing/sanitizing then racking the beer to the keg is no different than washing/sanitizing and racking to the bottling bucket, which you're going to do anyway. If you're bottling, the fun is just beginning. If you're kegging, you're done. No priming sugar, unless you really, really want to. Carbonation is dead-on perfect every time. You can serve yourself small samples of multiple beers instead of 12 oz increments every time. And the 'cool' factor just can't be overstated, IMO.
  6. VikeMan

    VikeMan Meyvn (1,328) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

  7. WickedSluggy

    WickedSluggy Devotee (400) Nov 21, 2008 Texas
    Beer Trader

    I have been primarily kegging for 20 years. I still bottle condition occasionally, but I don't know a brewer who doesn't hate bottling.
    hopdog09 likes this.
  8. inchrisin

    inchrisin Defender (654) Sep 25, 2008 Indiana

    Bottles are cheap and if this isn't a hobby that you want to pursue, you haven't spent $100+ on keg equipment.
  9. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Aspirant (295) Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    ...which is pretty easy to sell.
  10. hopdog09

    hopdog09 Initiate (0) Sep 6, 2012 Michigan

    go and scrounge can find most all of the equipment necessary to keg for a fraction of the "new" price..gotta be patient. the place i use to fill my CO2 has used bottles for sale and ocasionally for the price of the refill that someone didn't pick up!..used kegs are pretty easy on the wallet, regulators are a little harder to find but I can attest that it can happen..swap meets and the sort..
  11. reverseapachemaster

    reverseapachemaster Aspirant (244) Sep 21, 2012 Texas
    Beer Trader

    I don't love bottling but I don't mind it. (Oddly, it's the only part of the brewing process my wife likes.) I don't keg right now but probably will at some point in the future. For now I have higher priorities for the cash outlay to get into kegging and lack the space at home for a keggerator.

    Right now I mostly brew small batches so it doesn't really take that much time to bottle. I have more bottles than I know what to do with and there was no cash investment in the bottles (minus the beer inside and the very cheap cost of caps). I'm probably going to try to sell off some bottles on craigslist in the spring if I can find buyers.
    pointyskull likes this.
  12. reverseapachemaster

    reverseapachemaster Aspirant (244) Sep 21, 2012 Texas
    Beer Trader

    Due to the rise in homebrewing and preference for kegging, cornys are getting rather expensive. 2-3 years ago you could get them for $20-25 now they are selling used for as much as $60. There's not a lot of 1/6 barrel kegs available for purchase. Of course, there are other ways to find yourself in possession of kegs but if you're buying legitimately it's getting increasingly more expensive.
  13. wspscott

    wspscott Savant (979) May 25, 2006 Kentucky

    I mostly keg now, but I think the time savings of kegging vs. bottling is completely overrated.

    If you always rinse your bottles when you pour a beer, there is no "cleaning", just sanitizing. I use my dishwasher to sanitize, just run the night before I want to bottle. The bottling bucket goes on the counter above the dishwasher and fill the bottles on the door that way there is no worries about drips/spills. When my wife helps, she fills and I cap, we can do a 5 gallon batch in ~20 minutes.

    Kegging is quicker than that, but you have to clean the kegs and lines. I usually wait until I have 4 or 5 kegs to clean then hot water and PBW to clean and Starsan to sanitize. I built a keg washer to help the process, but 4 kegs takes at least an hour to clean/sanitize. And you still have to do your lines.

    The other issue with kegging is one small leak can lose 5#'s of CO2 overnight, very frustrating

    TL;DR Don't bother with kegs until you know you really like brewing (at least 5 batches).
    Ejayz likes this.
  14. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Aspirant (295) Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    wspscott: I have to disagree. Washing/sanitizing then racking to a keg is logically the same as washing/sanitizing then racking to a bottling bucket - except you can skip the priming sugar step. You have to do that anyway. The difference starts there - 20 minutes (or whatever) to bottle, versus maybe a minute to put the lid on the keg, seal, and purge.
  15. wspscott

    wspscott Savant (979) May 25, 2006 Kentucky

    I'm not following you. I'm saying that there is no "cleaning" of bottles if you immediately rinse when you pour, if you use a dishwasher to sanitize, then all you do is stack some bottles when you go to bed and they are ready the next day. Do the priming sugar at the same time, quick boil on the stove and then cool over night, ready when you (and the bottles) are ready.

    Basically, I think cleaning/sanitizing kegs and lines is a pain in the ass, I never felt that way about bottling. With that said, kegging is awesome, love having 5 beers on tap :slight_smile: I only bottle high gravity beers, probably would not even do that if I had more tap space (not sure what that says about my argument :slight_smile:)
    spointon likes this.
  16. Ejayz

    Ejayz Initiate (0) May 15, 2011 Iowa

    Like it was stated above learn to love the hobby first and then upgrade as you go. Bottling beer is not so bad once you get the hang of it the worst part is peeling all of the labels off the bottles! Also having a dishwasher with a sanitize setting will save you a lot of time!!!!
  17. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Aspirant (295) Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    I didn't say anything about cleaning bottles. My point is that, aside from the 30 seconds or so it takes to run a brush through the dip tubes, cleaning and sanitizing a keg is not a whole lot different than cleaning and sanitizing a bucket. But, since you brought it up, rinsing the bottles, loading them into the dishwasher, stacking them, and boiling the priming sugar, while not exactly a Herculean effort, is still more effort than not doing any of that.
  18. wspscott

    wspscott Savant (979) May 25, 2006 Kentucky

    OK, I see where you are coming from. When I clean my kegs, I soak with hot PBW, then rinse, then sanitize. For each step, I pressurize the keg so the PBW, then the rinse water, then the Starsan goes through the tube. After the Starsan, I leave some CO2 in the keg. If it is still pressurized when I go to fill it, I know I don't have to worry about anything. I spend about the same time on a batch of beer whether I keg or bottle, the time is just spent at different times. Maybe I need a better way to clean kegs.
  19. spointon

    spointon Poo-Bah (1,696) Nov 25, 2007 Illinois
    Supporter Subscriber

    I have a 6 tap "keezer" that I built, so I am obviously way into kegging my beer. However, I do still bottle condition a lot of stuff. Basically, strong beers or beers that would improve after a period of extended aging, I put into bottles. Such as RIS, Barleywine, Old Ale, Dubbel, Tripel, Belgian Dark Strong, Quad, Saison, Biere de Garde, etc. I keg session beers and anything I intend to consume fresh.

    In my opinion, something like a strong Belgian ale benefits from having live yeast in the bottle, and for that bottle to be stored at room temperature. Lots of flavor develops that way.
  20. bctdi

    bctdi Initiate (144) Dec 8, 2008 Georgia

    I have always kegged and never looked back. I do bottle a few beers from the keg from time to time , and hate doing that.... Mostly because I have to save the bottles, soak the labels off, then clean them because the glue from the labels have mixed into the soak solution, then sanitize, then clean the bottling equipment after bottling. It's a little time consuming , but not
    Really that bad. If you're going to keg I would reccomend getting a 20 lb bottle because you will use the co2 for carbing, serving, cleaning, and purging. That said I have a 2 keg serving setup and I get about 1.5 years out of my 20lb co2 bottle. If you decide you don't like brewing, someone will buy your whole setup. Just try to buy all your stuff used except for the regulator and lines/ taps. You have more flexability with a kegging setup. You can even bottle condition in the keg if you want. You can bottle from the tap if you want. Kegs don't explode if you over carb either. Cleaning the kegs is as easy as a 3 day oxyclean soak, then rinse and sanitize. The small parts can be removed in 10 minutes and boiled or cleaned with pbw soak. Beer lines are easy to clead with a diy pressure pot with a qd fitting so the beer line qd hooks up to it and hot pbw can be pumped in, allowed to soak for an hour, then rinsed with hot water the same way, then sanitized. No need to disassemble. You won't have to keep 52 bottles around for every batch, plus as someone else said, you will be able to have half a beer if you so desire. Force carbonation is foolproof once you get to know your system. You will be able to carbonate a belgian to 3-4 volumes in the keg without fear of exploding a bottle .... Most bottles can't handle that kind of pressure.
    Besides temp controlled ferment chamber, it was the best $300 I ever spent on brewing.
  21. utahbeerdude

    utahbeerdude Disciple (374) May 2, 2006 Utah

    Here's one! Even after 115 batches!

    To the OP: I know I'm in the minority, but I don't find bottling objectionable. As some posts above have discussed, there are things one can do to minimize effort and time when one bottles. I actually own a (filled) CO2 tank, and several kegs, but so far I've yet to feel motivated enough to go through the process of getting it all set up and learning to keep it going in an efficient manner. I'm sure that eventually I'll go for it.

    An upside to bottling is that you can easily cool a few bottles. Cooling a keg is more of a deal. Another upside to bottling is that you easily have more varieties of homebrew available at one time, if that appeals to you. In my last inventory I had 26 different homebrews in bottles (including a number of aged Belgians and ciders).

    That said, I need to go pull 120 bottles out of Chlorox solution and run them through the dishwasher!
  22. rocdoc1

    rocdoc1 Aspirant (268) Jan 13, 2006 New Mexico

    When I did more big beers I kegged them as any other beer but I put the keg in the closet and just ignored it for up to 2 years. The keg had the same live yeast as the bottles would have and a keg takes a lot less room than 50 bottles.
  23. wspscott

    wspscott Savant (979) May 25, 2006 Kentucky

    Why do you soak in bleach if you are going to run through the dishwasher? Does your dishwasher not have a sanitize cycle? Why bother with the dishwasher at all?
  24. utahbeerdude

    utahbeerdude Disciple (374) May 2, 2006 Utah

    Here's my overall procedure: Immediately after each pour I rinse out each bottle. This is perhaps the most important step in the process. You really do not want to leave any beer/yeast/trub behind in the bottle for bugs to attack. I then soak batches of bottles in Chlorox to clean up any potential residue that might be left. (Some aged Belgian beers leave residue on the sides.) Granted, the bottles are santized at this point, but I figure it doesn't hurt to rinse off any Chlorox solution that might be left on them, so I run them through the dishwasher to do this and to make sure that they are sanitized. Having them in the dishwasher is also nice when it comes to bottling. I pull each bottle individually from the dishwasher and fill (the bottling bucket is on the counter beside the dishwasher) while my wife caps.
  25. pweis909

    pweis909 Poo-Bah (1,599) Aug 13, 2005 Wisconsin
    Supporter Subscriber

    Which is more effort than recycling bottles.
  26. pweis909

    pweis909 Poo-Bah (1,599) Aug 13, 2005 Wisconsin
    Supporter Subscriber

    I bottled my first 100 or so batches of beer. I won't lie and say it doesn't take time. If I did the whole thing for a 5 gallon batch, start to finish, it would probably be three hours or so. It's a good time to listen to audiobooks, podcasts, radio, etc. When I used to work as a lab tech 18 years ago, some of the best days were those where my tasks were mindless - like washing labware - because I listened to good radio programming.

    Here's my procedure: I have no dishwasher in my house, so there is no automatic stage. I rinse all my bottles when I empty them, and then forget about them until the next time I bottle. At that time, I soak all my bottles, about 12 at a time, in basin full of oxyclean. I scrub each one with a brush. I triple rinse each with hot water. Then I soak them 12 at a time in star san. From there, to a bottling tree. Then I sanitize the bottling bucket, rack, add priming sugar, and start the bottling and capping operation.

    I also have a kegging setup that is about 1.5 years old. Since I've had it, I've continued to bottle as many batches as I keg. While kegging is not without it's time consuming elements, I disagree with Michael Tonsmiere's quote that Jack mentions. I believe I save time when I keg. But maybe I'm not being as meticulous about cleaning my keg set-up as I am about bottles.

    Although I let my kegs carbonate slowly over a few weeks, it's possible to speed that process up considerably. In this sense, you can serve your beer sooner, and that's an advantage over bottles.

    Another advantage kegging has over bottles is that - get ready for the obvious - there are no bottles. When I drink bottled beer, there is this cycle. Drink beer, rinse bottle, run empties down to the basement out of my wifes's view. I have a room in the cellar that has a mess of bottles in it. It's kind of silly to devote space in the house to storing bottles. I probably could have invested in some system to keep them all neat and tidy, but I never did. This is a problem that has no kegging parallel.

    I figure I learned how to bottle and it's worth having. I tend to keg lower gravity beers and bottle higher gravity beers. I also bottle sours and brett beers. This has to do with turnover rate and concerns (some would say misplaced) about infections.
  27. pointyskull

    pointyskull Disciple (310) Mar 17, 2010 Illinois

    I bottle and don't mind it one bit (plus I love to make labels). I don't mind the process I have in place, and StarSan sure makes like easy. Sure, I would like to keg but logistically for now it would be problematic. I'm working on that.

    My suggestion - if you go with bottles - is go with 22 oz and not 12 oz.
  28. spointon

    spointon Poo-Bah (1,696) Nov 25, 2007 Illinois
    Supporter Subscriber

    Certainly not a bad way to go at all...but I would hate to tie up one of my kegs for two years :-)
  29. rocdoc1

    rocdoc1 Aspirant (268) Jan 13, 2006 New Mexico

    I have about 20 kegs so one or 2 in the closet is not a big deal.
    spointon likes this.
  30. brewsader

    brewsader Initiate (0) Dec 7, 2012 New York
    Beer Trader

    as someone who just switched to kegging, i find that the biggest advantage is that the beer often tastes better. I found carbonating a beer properly and making sure it poured gently enough into the bottle to avoid noticeable oxidation was something I never really mastered, while kegging makes it easy to purge the container with co2 (thus avoiding exposure to oxygen) and dial in the perfect amount of carbonation.
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