Japanese Beer Server/Dispenser

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For those of us living and brewing in Japan, you know that space is limited and supplies can be hard to find or very expensive. Japan typically has their own way of doing things, and beer servers/dispensers are no exception. Instead of chilling the whole keg, these draft systems consist of a jockey box-type dispenser with a refrigerator unit to keep the conducting liquid cold. They can be found on auction sites and in second hand "recycle" shops for relatively cheap. The goal of this tutorial is to introduce such a system. Force carbing, carbonation units, filling a keg, etc. can be found elsewhere and are not in the scope of this tutorial.
Makers: From what I have seen, there are two major makers of the systems. Hoshizaki is probably the biggest one, followed by Nittoku. There are some other smaller names such as Bokuson. Hoshizaki is definitely the most common and if you are looking for adapters and such, this maker may be your best bet. In my experience, Nittoku seems to be a little more compact in design, which may be more suitable for typical living conditions in Japan.
The box: Like a typical jockey box, Japanese beer dispensers have 1-2 coils of either stainless steel or copper. These sit in a pool of chilled water. The water is chilled to near freezing temperatures with a refrigeration unit. There are typically 1-2 faucets on the front, with a built-in removable drip tray. There are connectors near the bottom of the server for beer line. There is also a plug for draining the water inside the server.

Faucets: The faucets are typically made of a combination of stainless steel and plastic. They usually come in regular or creamer style. The creamer style faucets have two outputs, allowing you to push the tap handle after drawing a pint to add head.

Hoses: Beer line is 5 mm inner diameter and 10 mm outer diameter. Gas hose is 5 mm inner diameter and 8 mm outer diameter. Gas hose is typically colored in some way or another, whether it be solid or tinted.
Connecters: Most of the connections are made with "one-touch" connecters. These don't require any special tips to the hoses and are designed to be super easy. Simply push the hose into the connecter and you are done. The retaining ring can be pushed down as you pull out the hose to remove it. To prevent accidental pressure on the retaining ring and subsequently a keg of beer on the floor, there is a small spacer that is used to prevent the ring from being pushed down. The threads on the various connectors seem to be a standard inch (can anyone verify this?) They are interchangeable between the gas-in post and the beer-out post, although they are not interchangeable in regards to hose type (gas/beer).

Gas: Japan uses a deposit system which can be great for you. This means you don't have to fork out the money for the tank yourself and you don't need to get it checked every few years. I paid a 5000 yen deposit, plus 2500 yen for a 5kg tank. When I run out, I take my tank in, and they swap it out with a full tank for the cost of just the gas. If you ever decide to quit brewing, you can return the tank and get your 5000 yen deposit back.
Regulators: Typical used regulators here seem to usually bear the names of big breweries here such as Asahi or Kirin. The picture shown is a double regulator, with the gas line output located on the bottom and the control dial on the side. The outputs are the same as those for gas lines, featuring one-touch built-in connectors. A majority do not have gauges. The dials have readings from 0-4, each number representing a bar of pressure, or 15 psi. Pressure should be set based on the temperature of the beer in the keg, not the temperature of the beer as it passes through the server.

Heads/couplers: When buying a used server that includes heads, they will typically be for the Japanese Sanke kegs (Asahi, Sapporo/Yebisu) or Grandy kegs(Kirin). Japanese couplers typically have no pressure release valves. If you don't plan on using either of them, you can probably catch at least 1000 yen by selling them on the auction sites. Japanese beer line can be boiled lightly and forced on to typical barbs if you are using corneys or any other system. Personally, I don't use corney kegs, but have forced connections onto a barb for a portable faucet without much trouble.

Maintenance: For obvious reasons, this may vary from person to person. For my initial cleaning, I filled a keg with oxiclean and pushed it through with gas. I then followed it with hot water (before adding water to the chilling compartment and chilling). Lastly, I pushed Starsan through it. There are commercially available cleaning tanks. I don't have experience with them, but they seem to be like a super mini-keg with Sanke or Grande connections. As far as I can tell, you open them up, fill them with your cleaning liquid, and push through the server with gas. ( If anyone else out there has experience with them, your input would be appreciated.) I have also seen pricey systems on the auction sites that can connect to the typical coupler and use a pump to push liquid through and drain into an attached tank, allowing it to be re-circulated as much as is needed.
Cost: I purchased my server through Yahoo Auctions Japan. It has two creamer faucets for two bevs. It included a single regulator and a gas line splitter, two heads/couplers for Kirin Grande kegs, and all the required line to connect it all up. It cost 13000 yen (about $140-150 USD). I previously collected a double regulator and different heads in a separate auction. If you are patient, you can find very good deals. I have seen similar 2- faucet sets go for 5000 yen. Keep in mind that you will also need to buy kegs, couplers, and the gas tank (rental/deposit). Also keep in mind that a server that was recently taken out of service may be much cleaner inside than one that has been sitting untapped in the back of a warehouse or recycle shop for months. Good news is that shipping is always surprisingly cheap here. Mine was shipped overnight for 2000 yen. I later sold the single regulator and one of the couplers in an online auction.
  1. Decide on a location for your server. Keep in mind that it will be quite heavy once it is filled with water. Also make sure that the beer line posts are easily accessible and take into consideration where you will be placing your full kegs and gas tank.
  2. Fill the server with water and plug it in. It will take a few hours to chill if you are doing this in the summertime.
  3. Assemble beer line with your required connectors. These will vary depending on your coupler. Keep in mind that the coil inside the server itself is long and should be considered when deciding on the length of the line.
  4. Connect line to the respective post on the server and to the coupler.
  5. Connect gas line to regulator and coupler. The regulator setting can be set before or after engaging the coupler.
  6. Engage the coupler. The beer line will not fill completely until you open the faucet.
Nice write up Brian. The little cleaning pots work well because it is a bit of a pain to put liquid into a Japanese kegs. I picked up an american sanke S tap last year since they have a pressure relief valve. Threads ended up being different and very hard to find something, but finally did. I use it now though just for filling and cleaning my asahi kegs.
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Maybe one of these days I'll break down and get one of those little cleaning pots...
As far as a PRV goes, I use a spunding valve that I put together with an adj PRV. I used standard plumbing parts with a barb on one end, and basically used a piece of gas hose to adapt it all together and still be able to just push it into the one-touch gas connector. It's a good idea to have a bit of length between the spunding valve and the gas port, anyway. For the gas port end, I had a few of the rubber insert gas check valves, so I just cut the check part of it off to serve as an open rubber washer. Spunding valves are more expensive, though. I bought a "doren kokku" once and planned on making one from that, but never did. It can probably be adapted in much the same way all for under 1000 yen, including the piece itself.
I've thought about picking up couplers from the states before. The one touch connections didn't fit? Or did you adapt that? I remember seeing different sizes one the connectors for the ones sold in the states. I like the standardization of the parts here. The convenience of a built-in PRV would be nice...
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First of all, thanks!
I was worried at first when I got mine that it might be a little overwhelming. Luckily, the local liquor shop actually let me borrow one for a while and showed me the ins and outs of these things. They are actually much easier to use than they look...
That's why I wrote this up, to tell the truth. Hopefully, it'll ease any worries for some fellow brewers out there.
OMG, that is an awesome idea for us in NYC or anyone that lives in a tiny apartment and has too many hobbies.
Is there local, stateside suppliers or something like this is not readily available in the US?
I guess this would be the same as a jockey box with a small refrigeration unit cooling the water.
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Yes! A jockey box with a refrigeration unit is exactly what this is.
When your kickstarter campaign for this takes off, let me know.
Keep in mind that these units new cost several hundred or so. Used, they are very cheap. Many of the breweries here in Japan or their distributors actually lend out the box for businesses that buy their kegs (free, in my experience).
Couldn't you use a water dispencer to do that? They have a built in cooler, and a tank just about big enough to put a couple of coils in.
Also, would filling it with glycol and sealing the top be an advantage?
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Water dispenser is a good idea and a nice way to start.
As far as glycol/top is concerned, are you referring to this model or a water dispenser? This type of machine has a top, sometimes two. A fan keeps the cold water circulating. Glycol may increase the efficiency and electricity use, but the system cools pretty well as it is.
Thanks for the great write up. I've been tossing around the idea of kegging for a while but I always rejected the idea because it seemed too costly and complicated to do here in Japan, but perhaps I'll reconsider.
I was wondering, is it necessary to keep the server running all the time? (in the interest of saving on the electricity bill) I would guess not, since the keg itself isn't being cooled...although some beer will probably be left in the lines after a pour
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Well, it takes several hours to room-temp water. In fact, it chills it so much that there is ice formed around the coil. In cold weather, you can probably cut the electricity to the whole thing, but in the summer that would be a different story. I guess it might depend on how long the water holds its chill. I suppose if you have a timer that clicks it on 2-3 hours before anyone would be drinking it and kicking it off even an hour before the last pull might save some electricity.
The unit does have a thermostat and you can hear it come on and off. Most also have a fan or propeller of some sort to keep the water circulating. I guess you can always just try it and see what happens.
Alternatively, I'm sure you can connect a thermostat with timer much like a fermentation chamber. You can save electricity by letting it rise a few degrees when not in use rather than having to chill the whole volume over again. That's more work than I'm interested in at the moment, though. I guess the only concern would be the fan/prop not turning and some of it actually freezing up on you.
I had a former foreign exchange teacher who lived with our family come back and visit. She brought her family. Her husband took a while to warm up to the USA, but on his second visit he got to try our home brew. The first trip all he could talk about was Corona for $1 and 18 holes of golf for $18. But the 2nd trip he was all about home made beer. I tried to explain about this article, but his English is limited. His wife is much better, but she hasn't lived in the USA in 15 years.
Does anybody have a link to a site for Japanese speakers who home brew? He was very interested in our set-up and process, but I had to explain that trying to brew in Japan like we do in the USA would be almost impossible for many reasons. I'd love to get him a 'Japanese version' to check out, but in Japanese.
PM me or reply here Thanks!
Do you know who makes the twin spout beer tap with the creamer action.
Any help in sourcing it would be much appreciated.
Hoshizaki is the biggest brand. Check out yahoo auction in Japanese (i put the link in “mywebsite” option because i couldnt put it in this comment window) to give you an idea of prices. I use a single tap 2010 machine.