DIY Kegerator Build: How To Easily Let the Beer Flow in the Comfort of Your Own Home
After homebrewing for roughly 4 years or so I have finally made the transition to kegging and this past weekend I hosted my first keg tapping ceremony with a kegerator that I recently built. You can easily buy one already assembled but doing this method I was able to get everything done for about $320 but with some discounts with loyalty programs and conveniently timed gift cards I was able to bring that cost down to around $270. Here’s how the progress went.
It all started with a Craigs List steal. I found this dorm fridge for $20. The lady plugged it in to show me that it worked so it was good enough for me. It seems the guy used this as a fermenting chamber. I would do the same but I wanted to do a keg system.
The next few months would be slowly building the kegerator. My agreement with my wife is that I can indulge in my hobby of homebrewing every other month at a set budget (I brew one month, the next month she does her thing). Happy Wife/Happy Life sort of thing. Plus this allows me to really concentrate on what I want to brew and I’m more carefully deciding on what to do which I think made me crank out better recipes.
The first thing to do whether the fridge was going to be used as a fermentation chamber or kegerator is to remove the stuff I didn’t need. Shelving was tossed out into the recycling bin. The door may or may not be an obstruction. In my case, The built-in shelves on the door prevented the fridge from closing when I put a fermenter inside.
The thing is you have to get rid of the bulky parts of the door but still keep the weather stripping and a outline to be able to close the door. You could just cut an outline under the strip frame with a rotary tool or something but I didn’t have one and didn’t want to pester anyone so I removed all the screws to remove the weather stripping to set aside. Next, using some awesome kitchen sissors, I just crudely cut around the frame leaving the outline that goes under the weather strip intact. Just go caveman on it if you need to! Looking at the door you wouldn’t even notice the caveman-like approach I took. Now that is out of the way I was able to use the fridge as a fermentation chamber before I did any of the kegerator build-up steps. I used a temperature control to maintain a proper fermenting temperature. At this point I just sort of loosely stuck the probe in through the front door.
The next step I did was a ultra scary part. A lot of these mini-fridges have a built-in freezer that will need to be bent back to cool the fridge. The particular Magic Chef fridge I was using seems to use it as the cooling unit. The problem is during this step it’s very easy to kink or break some of the coolant lines and if that happens the fridge is just a paperweight. The best thing to do is let it sit, unplugged for a few days. If the fridge is cold you have a higher risk of screwing up here. Towards the back was a single bar/Freon line. This was the focal point to bend. The sides released from their slots easy enough with a flathead screwdriver and effort. Once that was free I was able to slowly bend the freezer back to make room for a keg and gas tank. I used a cork as a makeshift fulcrum to bend around. Doing this and going slow allowed for the scary fridge bending part to happen. I plugged the fridge in overnight to make sure I didn’t goof up.
While that step was scary enough, it may not be required. Some kegs such as pin lock may be able to fit into a fridge without worrying about bending the freezer tray. I had enough room and the keg I scored for $35 on homebrewing.org would have fit fine, but I felt aesthetically I wanted a tap tower. The tower in my opinion looked much nicer than drilling through the door and adding a faucet. It does add a bit to the final cost going that route. As much as I’d like to do a 2 tap set-up I doubt unless I get a 2.5 gallon keg, I’m only going to be able to fit one keg in due to space. I also think my keg is actually a converted pin lock keg with ball lock fittings. So it’s definitely wider than a lot of new ball lock kegs appear to be and the temperature controls of the fridge are on the side wall so I think the 1 keg setup is all I’m doing.
While bending the freezer can make the fridge be a paperweight, you can just as easily kill the fridge when drilling. Especially on the top if you’re doing a tower! There’s often coolant lines that run throughout the fridge and if you nick or break one of those the fridge will be a paperweight.
There’s a trick online I saw where you can mix some cornmeal and vodka into a paste to paint along the top where you plan to drill and when you plug in the fridge, the alcohol will evaporate and leave an outline of the lines. That didn’t work for me. The fridge was white and then even when I mixed food dye I wasn’t able to see anything. So that method is a bit tricky. When drilling a hole for the dispensing tube I got really close to cutting a coolant line. So low and slow is the way to go. Once a hole that the tube can fit through happens all the hard work is done and now the fun can begin!
Once the tower was set it was time to get the aesthetics underway. I removed all the stickers that came with the fridge. While I do like stickers, this was a combo of cool beer stickers, ski stickers and odd shoe stickers and we wanted it too look nice if we were going to have it where visitors can see it. . The K-Swiss stickers were the hardest to get off. Once the fridge was liberated of the stickers I got my wife involved in the painting of the kegerator. Home Depot had some cheap chalkboard spraypaint and 3 layers gave it enough of a drawing surface. For the sides we just put a layer of an off-white color. The topper I decided to use some ceramic magnets with bottle caps. I’ve hoarded away some bottle caps since making “I’m broke as hell” gifts a few Christmases back to make magnets. I first thought about doing a big flag but then opted for inverting triangles mostly. The good thing is I can redo the top as much as possible. I saved a lot on a drip tray on Amazon. I felt paying $60 for one that had a curve to fit around the tap tower was dumb so I bought a $12 straight bar drip tray instead. I used some corks to line up around the tray so cool things I kept corks from like a Cantillion bottle I enjoyed in Belgium, and a cool Game of Thrones beer cork upgraded from a bag to decoration!
The final step for me was getting a Co2 tank. A 5 lb tank seems fine and should last a few batches. One problem is they are usually cheaper online BUT they have to ship them empty. Once you get it, largely it’s a bit like a propane tank exchange, you can spend a few bucks to do a swap, but getting a tank for like $60 (even though I had a giftcard) I was turned off from swaping a sparkly new tank for one that’s probably been around for decades. Luckily a brewshop on the other side of town for me did fills and apparently paintball places are good too. So I may go this route until it’s time to get the tank tested.
After a final water test, and realizing that on a regulator (needed to control flow of gas) you need to be loose for lower pressure (first few cranks sent the pressure needle flying). I was ready to prepare it for beer. I also had to clean the keg as most used homebrewing kegs are from the days when Pepsi and Coke were served in kegs rather than those syrup bags, so some of them may have decades old soda residue so they may need a good cleaning. Another thing to do before adding beer is testing your gasline for leaks which can be done by rubbing soapy water near the regulator and disconnects to see if bubbles appear.
Finally after several months of buying individual pieces and building the kegerator, I was finally able to put my first draft on: A Belgian Dubble with some plums I picked at my in-law’s tree. The beer ended up a semi-tart but refreshing drink. Plus it was fun to draw a plum in a straitjacket with giant sidewalk chalk.
Here’s my takeaways from this experience if you are reading this and want to DIY:
Plan around Gift Card season- this helps out a lot especially when buying the more pricier components like the regulator or the tap fittings
Some sites have a loyalty program- I used homebrewing.com which I got a few dollars off with a rewards program.
Craigslist steals- whether it’s the fridge, a gas tank or keg, there’s usually someone getting out of the hobby or just upgrading and sometimes you can find a few steals.
DIY is more fun- Depending on the route you go, you may be right at or below the cost of buying outright. It’s just more fun to me to customize.
Raising a glass to no more bottling– Kegging is a pricey jump from bottling homebrew, but I feel in a few short batches I’ll find it worth every cent to not have a sore back bending down to bottle or having a mess to mop after bottling 5 gallons of beer. I do still plan to bottle things I want to age (I have a kriek going now, I traditionally do a high ABV Christmas beer so those will still be bottled) but with the ability to force carbonate, it cuts out 2 weeks of waiting for natural carbonation to just a 24-48 hour wait before drinking. Plus I can fill a growler to take to parties and there’s some tricks that can let you bottle from the keg as well.