The Pros and Cons of 5L Kegs

Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum

Help Support Homebrew Talk:

Five liter kegs have been used for a long time. You can get them empty for you to fill with your homebrewed beer, cider, or soda. Or, you can buy them filled with beer and reuse the container after you drink the beer. They hold 1.3 gallons of beer, or 169 ounces. That’s equal to 10 pints or 14 twelve ounce bottles.
They have gone up and down in popularity. There are several manufacturers that made countertop dispensers for these kegs that were very popular a few years ago and had a fair amount of breweries filling them for the dispensers. That number has gone down quite a bit now. But now, some of the new mini/nano brewing systems are bringing them back for use in their systems.
I bottle, keg, and use mini-kegs. I use what works best for me for the situation. Bottles are easiest to share and kegs are easier and less time consuming to clean and fill. Plus, the kegging setup becomes more expensive, as you move up the ladder. I started out using the mini-kegs as my first step into kegging. I had a few different setups over the years to dispense from the mini-kegs using small CO2 dispenser setups. And I continue to use them, depending on what I want to do with the beer.

There are pros and cons to using 5L kegs. A lot depends on how you intend to use the keg. Most of these kegs now have a pouring spout and a closable plug. So, if you just want to fill it with your fermented beer and add priming sugar, the application is pretty straight forward and the down sides are minimal. Mainly, your beer will go flat and it is best to drink it all in one day or very soon after.
As you add equipment like dispensers with CO2 and kegerators, things get more complicated and expensive. There are MANY articles on homemade connections for liquid and CO2 out there if you are handy and/ or looking to save some money. I fall into this category. I love to build stuff. I included a couple pictures of some homemade stuff at the end, just to show a few things that are possible.

The Basic Setup for 5L Kegs



5 liter keg with spigot output on the bottom and bung hole on the top

Bung and plug to plug it up

The Pros of 5L Kegs


Simple and Cheap: 5L kegs are relatively inexpensive to buy—around $11 to $15. Not a lot of local homebrew shops carry them, but most will order them if you ask. I found a place to get them online for $11. I usually buy them with beer for around $20 and drink the beer. There are a bunch of German lagers that are available and Bell’s releases a few varieties, too. You get more for your money this way and beer is good, right? You need about 4 kegs for a 5 gallon batch. This leaves a bit of needed head space at the top. I split my batches with others, so I could get 1-2 kegs, depending on how many people are brewing and getting beer.
Please note: You only need half to one third the amount of priming sugar for use with these kegs. Don’t overdose your beer. I have seen pictures of bulging and leaking kegs. You don’t want to clean up that mess! Okay, if you just want to fill it with your fermented beer and add priming sugar, this is all you need to read. See, I just saved you some more time.
Save time cleaning bottles: There is no need to clean and sanitize two cases of bottles, just a few containers. Cleaning bottles is just a pain in the butt. No one likes to do this job. It takes time to soak, scrub, and sanitize. You won’t get away from this entirely. But for a 5 galloon batch, there will only be 4 containers, not fifty.
They are great for sharing: Take a 12 pack of beer to an event to share. That is a good amount of beer to bring to a small gathering. Or, add some well crafted homebrew to the cheap, fizzy, yellow stuff that is usually available at barbeques and other events.
Great for experimenting with flavors: Sometimes, I will split up a batch into multiple mini-kegs and add different flavors to each keg. For example, a Russian Imperial Stout with vanilla in one, chocolate in one, bourbon soaked in wood chips in another, and cold brewed espresso in another. One batch of been with many flavors. Or make a summer wheat and split the batch up into the kegs using raspberry, orange and cherry flavorings.
Keeping that tap rotating: Another use is to empty your keg when it is getting low. If you use 5 gallon kegs, you can save off the last gallon in the mini, to make room for your next fresh batch.
They make Great Gifts: I’ll use the new kegs when I give beer as a gift. For special occasions, I will spray paint a keg and add labels and pictures I print off from my computer. I will use waterslide decals, like you used to put on models, for a super professional look. It is a cool one of a kind gift, which you can drink and share, if you want!
They are great for small batches: If you only brew small batches, these could work for you. One to two gallons batches are great for testing new recipes. Or if you are like me and sharing batches with others.

They make countertop taps and small dispensers: Small dispensers like the Tap-A-Draft and PartyStar with the use of small CO2 cartridges will dispense your beer and keep a blanket of CO2 on your beer, to keep it fresh. Then, you can toss it in your fridge and grab a beer whenever you like. Without the CO2 blanket, your beer will go flat.
There are mini kegerators built for these mini-kegs. Avanti, Krups, Edgstar, BeerTender, and a bunch of others. Put it on you counter or desk and plug it in. Keep it cold, fresh and carbonated.

They are much easier to transport that full size kegs: Full size five gallon setups do not transport well. The kegs and the tanks are big. There are some cool transportable setups out there that I have seen. I have even built a couple for parties. But, they are still big and a bit of a hassle to setup, when you would rather be enjoying a beer at the party. And, if you are already kegging, you can use the mini-kegs just like you would use a growler. Fill them up from your keg with a growler tube, beer gun, or counter pressure filler and take them to go. No glass to break.
They just look cooler than bottles: Enough said.

The Cons of 5L Kegs


Can be prone to leaking when using smaller dispensers: This is by far the biggest problem, in my opinion. I use mini CO2 cartridges to dispense beer and I also force carbonate smaller batches in these kegs and I have lost the entire contents of a CO2 tanks, due to a small gas leak. All connections need to be leak tested with soapy water and double checked to make sure they leak free. I use keg lube to help make sure the connections in the bung hole have a good seal. It also helps to get the bung into the top of the keg a little easier.
They cannot handle the pressure of a real keg: Be careful NOT to overdose with priming sugar or force carbonate at too high or a PSI. The buckling pressure is only 58 PSI and the bursting pressure is 87 PSI. Granted, you should not have your regulator set this high to begin with, but it does not have as high a rating as a regular keg and should not be treated as one. I have force carbonated in these kegs, but I will only put up to about 8-10 PSI on the keg.
Cost of CO2 cartridges: Some mini kegerators use small CO2 bottles that need to be replaced or refilled. If you choose to go the rout of the mini CO2 cartridges that the dispensers use, it is a bit more expensive. The small dispensers use 8-16 gram disposable cartridges that go for a buck or two apiece. It’s not a lot, but it adds up.
Replacement of the kegs: These kegs don’t last forever. They get old and wear out. They are coated internally, but scratches or harsh cleaners can remove the coating and they can begin to rust or give your beer an unwanted metallic flavor. I have read other articles that say you can get 10-12 uses out of the keg. A lot will depend on the care and quality of the keg.

Conclusion


I just wanted to share what can be done with these little kegs. There are limitations and costs, depending on how you use them. I’m sure there are more than I listed. And, I have to admit, with the great deals that are out there on used 5 gallon pin lock kegs these days ($25-$35 each when they are on sale), I am starting to fill them with 2.5 gallons of beer. But, I still manage to find uses for these little 5L kegs.

5L Kegs Homebrew Projects



BeerTender Upgrade: Tee setup with CO2 input on the left and liquid going out on the right. Stainless tube from the bottom feeds through the tee and compression setup on the liquid side. The barbed fitting on the bottom just pushes into the bung of the 5 liter. You can hook it up to whatever you want, for the liquid output. The CO2 input can be a tank with a regulator or a CO2 mini charger. I recommend one with a regulator. You can get them for about the same price.
I use the setup on a BeerTender dispenser that I got for free. It doesn’t have a CO2 setup in it, so I added a mini CO2 regulator ($20) that works with a 16 gram cartridge. It all fits nicely under the hood.
Carbonator cap expanded with some stiff tubing and a clamp to fit into the bung. I use it to force carbonate small batches. It works the same a 2 liter bottle. It just holds more and then moves over to my Beertender for dispensing.
 
Great write up. This was also the way I started. Wife bought me one of the kegerators that use the 5 liter kegs. Was so hard to find commetcial beer that we wanted in the 5 liter kegs, so I started brewing my own. I sure second the checking for leaks with the co2 dispensers. Nothing like showing up at a get together with your homebrew and really cool little keg only to find all your co2 is gone.
 
They would be great for doing experiments, you could split even a five gallon batch and try different combinations. :D
 
you can get keg/growlers available in that size..there more robust and can handle pressure
https://aussiehomebrewer.com/threads/mini-keg-discussion-mods-show-off-dedicated-thread.93045/
 
I have one of the mini-keg growlers. I like it, too. Adds to the "cool" factor, for sure. I find that some of these tanks can get pretty pricey. I started using 2 liter pet bottles with the ball lock adaptor for emptying my kegs. I just give it a quick shot of CO2, if I don't finish it in one shot.
 
The spigots and bungs have changed recently to a push button or tip forward to pour and a plastic bung that is hard to remove and not reusable. I haven't seen the turn to pour spigot and rubber bung in a filled commercial mini keg in a few years. I love them for making british cask ale but the biggest downside is they are really hard to clean and star san corrodes some of them. I just bought a hobgoblin cask yesterday and will hopefully be able to reuse it.
 
Great article... If I do the priming with sugar... How much should I put??? I am new making beer (I am from Argentina), can you explain how to prime with the co2?
Thanks
 
If you are going to do the entire batch in the mini-kegs, you only need half to one third the amount of priming sugar for use with these kegs. Don’t overdose your beer. So, adjust the amount of sugar down, in your bottling bucket. I have also heard of adding a tablespoon of sugar to each 5 liter keg.
 
I do 1 to 1.25 gallon batches a lot. Won't either size be too small for a 5L mini-keg? My concern is that too much head space and over-carbonation.
 
What is the easiest setup for force carbing with cartridges? I have a mini regulator and I figure I can force a stainless dip tube through the bung but how do I hook everything together? Dispensing will be done through a commercial dispenser.
 
I NEED HELP PLEASE!!! I need to know where/how I can buy 5 liter beer kegs, specifically Bud Light, Corona, and Stella. I just bought my husband a kegerator, but I had NO IDEA how hard it would be to buy two 5 liter kegs already with beer in them. PLEASE HELP, ANYONE! I would be happy if I at least found ONE! Thanks!
 
@Desiree. Those brewers don't distribute 5 liter kegs. There are some German lagers out there. Seems like that would be the closest. Dap is one brand.
 
@Kenneth. There are some small regulators similar to the one I have in the article, that could work. But, you would probably need a couple cartridges to get enough to carb it. It wouldn't cost effective. Maybe get a paintball keg setup with a regulator. That is the smallest I would go to force carb. My first setup was a Harbor Freight regulator with a paintball adapter and tank. Probably cost me $50-$60.
 
great article, informative and thorough! I was wondering about the set up on the last set of images under the "5L Kegs Homebrew Projects." What is the set up of the image on the right that shows the mini keg and either a ball lock disconnect or carbonation cap? and how would one replicate that? I have a mini keg right now that I would like to use for homebrew and I would really like to keep the design as simple as shown in that image. Thank you!
 
Top