I brewed my first batch of beer shortly after getting married and moving into my new home during the fall of 2009. My first brew day was horrendous; there was sticky, gooey liquid extract all over the kitchen counter, a broken hydrometer on the floor, and water everywhere in between. In the end, though, I made beer...and it wasn't bad red ale for my first attempt. My greatest vexation, though, was not the brewing process; it was bottling. Gathering the bottles, priming the beer, peeling off the labels, keeping the bottles sanitized, and finally capping each bottle was not my idea of fun. As a result, I decided to begin kegging after my second batch. It was one of the best decisions of my brewing career.
Of course, cleaning and sanitizing one 5-gallon keg takes much less effort than performing the same routine with a couple of cases of bottles. Still, cleaning kegs isn't much fun. Let a couple of used kegs sit in your basement for a couple of weeks, and it becomes a herculean effort to scrub them clean. Similarly, a hoppy IPA can leave a nasty, crusty ring inside a keg no matter how quickly you get to cleaning it. Taking the posts apart, cleaning the liquid dip tube with the special brush and putting it all back together takes time. As a father of a two year old, I've realized that naptime only lasts so long. Now that I brew fifteen gallons at a time, there are always multiple dirty kegs to clean. I'd rather not spend my time scrubbing these keg parts. There has to be an easier way!
As a DIYer, I have built my own brewstand, electric panel, and water chiller closet, so I thought about putting together my own keg washer. Sure, it would have been a tad cheaper than the Mark II, but Morebeer had it on sale for $80, so I gave it a shot.
The Mark II is comprised of five basic pieces: the basin, the "bridge," the seat, the pump, and the shaft. The basin is made out of lightweight plastic and holds about one gallon of water comfortably. There is a spot in the middle of the basin for the pump to fit. The pump itself is a 500 gallons/hour submersible pump. The bridge clips into the base and above the pump to support the keg, and the rubber seat is placed on top of the bridge so that the keg doesn't slip off the bridge. The shaft easily screws into the top of the pump, which creates a jet of water through the top. Two 90 degree hose adapters are included as well, so that hoses may be cleaned straight out of the pump. Finally, a T adapter is also part of the kit. The T screws between the pump and the shaft so that one may attach a piece of tubing with a liquid QD in order to clean a keg dip tube while also cleaning the entire keg.
While I have cleaned carboys (both glass and plastic) using the Mark II, I believe it is best suited to clean kegs. I have found that the convex top of the carboys often retain crusty krausen and require an once-over with a carboy brush to finish the job. I have not used the Mark II to clean buckets; I graduated from bucket brewing quite quickly. My old brew buckets now serve as basement garbage pails or grain storage bins. I did try to clean a 3L Erlenmeyer flask with my Mark II once. Don't try it. The shards of glass are extremely sharp and you'll never walk your basement floor in just socks again.
Here's how I use my Mark II: during a cleaning, I'll fill a bucket with 1 gallon of hot tap water and pour it into the base. Next, I'll take a scoop of PBW and add it to the water. I'll screw the T into the pump, the shaft into the T, and attach my piece of tubing with a liquid QD to the T. Push the QD onto the keg's liquid post, turn the keg upside down on the bridge, and plug in the pump. At this point, I'll go off and dedicate my precious brewery time to other things. Ten or so minutes later, I'll unplug the pump, disconnect the liquid QD, give the keg a rinse, and repeat with another keg.
As soon as I have all of my kegs washed and rinsed, I'll cap all but one. I'll fill the remaining keg with sanitizer, cap it, and pressurize it with CO2. Then I take a piece of tubing with a liquid QD attached to both ends, attach one end to the keg of sanitizer, the other to an empty keg, and pull the relief valve on the empty keg. As the sanitizer fills the empty keg, the Co2 pressurizes the first keg. I go down the line of kegs until all are sanitized, pressurized, and ready to fill. I'll push the sanitizer out of the last keg and into a bucket, and I'm done!
The Mark II has become a necessary piece of my basement brewery. The fact that I can clean, sanitize, and pressurize kegs without fully disassembling them is worth its weight in gold. If you want to piece a system together for the price of a pump, plastic pipe, bucket, and some barbs, go ahead. But if you want a device that cleans kegs quickly and affordably right out of the box, grab a Mark II. You won't be disappointed.