Some people bottle, some keg, and some do both. Sometimes there are styles that steer you towards one medium or the other. But sometimes you keg because you just can’t stand the bottling process. That’s all fine and good, and you feel quite content in your decision to avoid bottle cleaning and let’s not forget messing around with the red bottle capper. But then you end up making something really great that you want to share, and you’re stuck. Unless you play host and have people over, that great beer stays exclusive to you. It’s like if Leonardo da Vinci kept the Mona Lisa as a bathroom wall decoration and the only people that ever saw it were his poker buddies. Not cool, right?
Bottled beer obviously is easier to share, but it’s hard to pass up the ease of kegging and serving beer on draft. Luckily, in the homebrewing world, if you’ve thought about something, someone else has probably thought about it too, and maybe come up with some slick equipment to help you out. That is definitely the case with ways to make your draft homebrew mobile. But since you’re wanting to make it mobile to share and impress your friends, you know you need something more sophisticated than the local brewery’s glass growlers with screw-on caps and plastic collar shrink-wrapped with a hair dryer.
I’ve gathered up a few of the different offerings out in the market and gave them a test drive. This equipment is for you if you’re a “cake and eat it too” type of brewer, where you don’t want to deal with the chore of bottling but you still want to be able to share your creations with others outside of your home.
Klean Kanteen Insulated Growler
These are described as either ‘double walled’ or ‘vacuum insulated’. The way they are constructed, it’s essentially a growler in a growler. There’s a stainless steel growler that your beer goes into, and that sits inside of another steel shell, with a boundary of air in between. The air is completely sealed, so it acts as a great insulator. And the steel shell helps protect things for that clumsy fumble.
There are a number of different models out there, but be sure you get one that has the double wall or vacuum insulated sales tag on it. Otherwise you just get a thin layer of steel that provides no insulation properties and doesn’t keep your beer cold. There are also different styles of top for these growlers. Based on various independent testers, the flip-top style seems to work best for keeping carbonation in, better so than the screw-top with an O-ring.
I tried the Klean Kanteen 64 oz. flip-top growler to transport some draft beer over to a party. It was simple and easy to fill, I just slipped a length of hose over my tap spigot and slid this into the growler. I pre-chilled the growler to avoid foaming from temperature difference. I also dialed back the pressure on the kegerator to likewise minimize foam. I filled it up, flipped the cap closed and was ready to transport. No cooler was needed or ice, as the double wall took care of that. It was simple and effective as I poured out 4 beers to share. The carbonation stayed good over the very short 4 hours, and temperature was still as cold as if I had it out of the keg. The beauty was in the ease of use. 64 Ounces was a bit light for supplying a party, but it was a good size for sharing a beer with a few people without the hassle of bottling.
These run about $50-$60 from Amazon (be sure to get ‘insulated growler’, not just ‘growler’).
Trail Keg Insulated Growler Draft System
Trail Keg takes the approach of “I see your insulated growler, but I raise you!” They take the insulated double-wall growler and then fit it with a custom-made lid that has a CO2 feed port, a pressure release valve, and a standard ball lock beer outlet port. There is a miniature pressure dial fitted to the CO2 dispenser, which takes small screw-in cartridges. An adjustable knob allows you to adjust the pressure to your desired level, all while monitoring the dial gauge. With the pressure release port, you can do the fill-purge cycle a few times just like when kegging your beer to force out the air that inherently gets on top as you fill it.
The system has very high manufacturing quality with everything nice to the touch and a great appearance. For the liquid output port the growler comes with both a tap like you’d have on your home kegerator, and a picnic tap on a length of hose.
This system worked great. After filling the growler, I did the purge cycle to get the air out, then shut the CO2 valve and took off the dispenser. I was left with a very conveniently portable 64 oz. growler of beer I could be 100% confident would stay carbonated and cold. I even was able to get the beer to a higher carbonation level since I did my test on a freshly kegged stout that hadn’t had a chance to fully build carbonation yet. 64 Ounces again felt a little on the smaller side, but if it got bigger, it would just become more cumbersome to haul around and more of hassle. Since the whole point is portability and the ability to be able to share your draft homebrew with others, 64 oz. is probably the right size.
These sell for $126 from the TrailKeg website for the growler and CO2/tap system, or $167 gets you several CO2 cartridges and a couple of nice steel tumbler glasses.
Growler Werks uKeg
Growler Werks launched their uKeg with a successful Kickstarter campaign that wrapped up in December 2014. This growler has a lot of cool features (who ever thought you’d need “features” in a growler, right?). It definitely gets the prize for Best Dressed. When you take it out of the box you see a nice brushed stainless steel body with stiffening beads in its double-walled insulated surface. Contrasting that is the golden brass carry handle prominently riveted on and an outlet pipe running up the front with a tap. And here’s where the features come in.
The outlet pipe coming out of the growler has a sight glass in it so you can see the level of beer left inside. The tap spigot up top works as typical but it has a small simple locking pin. The locking pin is extremely handy in preventing accidentally spilling beer while transporting your growler. And since the point of this growler is to take your beer on the road with you, it of course is going to be transported.
The other great feature is the CO2 system. The small CO2 cartridge tucks away inside the lid so it’s not an awkward appendage dangling off the side. The top of the lid has a dial to allow you to dial up or down the pressure. But rather than doing this blind, they packaged a compact dial gauge to allow you to see the pressure and adjust to your desired carbonation level and also see if your cartridge has run out of pressure.
Overall the uKeg is not only pretty to look at, but is packed with useful features to make it the hit of the party. They come in two sizes, 64 oz. and 128 oz. for $139 and $199 respectively. If you want to dial up the glam factor and go with copper plated instead of stainless steel for an extra $20 – $30.
Blichmann Beer Gun
If you’re like me, you may have heard of the Blichmann Beer Gun well before you actually knew what it was or what it did. Its function is pretty simple in that it uses CO2 and your kegged beer to fill beer bottles. But it does it in a way that’s akin to how production bottling lines work.
You hook up a CO2 line to it from your kegerator supply line, and attach a liquid line to your keg output. One button on the beer gun feeds CO2 through the line, and another feeds beer. So you start the process by blasting your empty bottle with CO2 to purge the air. Then you switch over to filling with liquid, and finally when done do a final CO2 blast to purge air one last time in the headspace before capping the bottle.
This works really slick. You can keg your beer for the simplicity of things, but if it turns out you want a bottle or two to enter into a competition or share with a friend- no problem. Bottle filling time is much slower than gravity filling from a bottling bucket with a bottling wand, so I wouldn’t recommend kegging everything and then bottling a couple of cases. It also requires some extra care to avoid under-carbonation in your bottles (chill bottles first, dial down the dispensing pressure, slightly over-carbonate your beer in keg before filling bottles, etc.). But you really only need to worry about this perhaps for competition beers. Under non-judging conditions, the carbonation difference isn’t really noticeable.
Overall, it’s a great device to have to give you the flexibility. It can be bought at homebrew shops for around $75, and the accessory kit is $25. Don’t let the name “accessory” fool you, it contains all the stuff you need to fully hook this up to your keg and connect the CO2. Blichmann recently released a version 2.0, which is effectively the same device, just updates a few parts, bundles the accessory kit with it, and comes in a nice storage case for $100.
Cool-Brewing Insulated Keg Bag
Sometimes the easiest way to share kegged beer is, well, in a keg. Cool-Brewing took a much more straightforward approach to answering the question of how to take your kegged beer on the road with you. They took their design they have for a fermentation chiller bag and modified it to the form of homebrew kegs. They make a large bag sized for a 5-gallon Corny keg, and a small bag for a 2.5-gallon keg. The insulated bag keeps the keg cold for hours when you put some ice in with it. The bag is completely waterproof if you want to load it up with ice, or they sell a nice-sized ice pack that’s flexible to wrap around the keg and fits inside without making things all watery.
You need to get a portable CO2 dispenser to make your keg last the party. There are various options out there that use small standard-sized cartridges that thread onto standard ball-lock (or pin-lock if you’re one of those types…) quick-connects. Some contain a pressure gauge and an adjustable pressure valve, but you’ll pay more for that. For the beer outlet you can go with either a picnic tap or one of the different ball lock fixtures that have a traditional tap directly built in.
Based on the fact you’re hauling around a keg with you, it’s not the lightest or most portable option out there. But it’s a great option when you really need to take the party on the road and be the beer truck. Of course if you don’t go through as much beer as planned, you don’t have to worry about having a partially filled growler to deal with. You just take the keg back home and throw it back on tap.
For more info on these products, you can see the following websites: