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Cornelius Kegs

Before I start I want to say cutting off your out dip tube is a big mistake and there is no reason to do it. After drawing a few glasses of beer or wine, you will have cleaned up the bottom around the dip to and it will be clear sailing from then on unless someone moves the keg.

There are at least 3 or 4 different manufacturers of kegs. Of these, Cornelius and Firestone are the ones you will see most often. The others are fairly rare. Some people say that the Firestone kegs are not as good and should not be bought. Also there are pin lock and ball lock varieties. The ball lock quick connects have a sleeve that needs to be lifted before you can put it on or take it off. Pin lock work like the old car tail light bulbs they have 2 and 3 pins coming out of the male quick connect on the keg. You push the female connection on and twist it into the slots to hold it. I used that type when I first started, and I realized immediately that, while they will both work, the pin lock variety were not as good. The ball lock is superior in my opinion. Firstly, whenever I swung the hose around to fill my glass it would often disconnect on me. Second, the pressure relief is a blow-out, not one you can release yourself like on the ball lock. Finally, it will not disconnect until you pull the sleeve up. Both can be made by the same company and in some instances you can interchange the male disconnects, but most of the time, you cannot. There are 4 different types of poppets, but on most of the ball lock a Cornelius poppet will seal with them but not always. I believe the Cornelius is a better poppet and so I try them first. They are the most expensive ones, but I feel have the best seats of all of them, although sometimes they will not work and you will need a different one.

Some people are saying the Cornelius brand is the only one to buy. This is not true, there are older styles that will work but are more trouble then the newer ones. Replacement parts are often hard to find, rebuilding them is harder (getting them not to leak is harder also) and many are no longer made. I do not sell that type any more since I found out about the parts though I have sold them in the past. Since I sold a few I wanted to make sure that they could be fixed and remain in service. I still have a few of the pressure reliefs that are not made anymore, but when I run out, which will surely happen, I want to be able to get them back in service. Those pressure reliefs are also expensive. The all-plastic one is one such pressure relief, I now have a pressure relief that can be substituted for it. The release pressure on it is 60 psi, which should work prefect for beer or wine and add a little safety factor into it. The all-metal one, until the post that holds the o-ring seal in place is corroded away, we can fix, and after that it could be drilled to fit the new pressure relief I put together. The other thing is a plastic CO2 side dip tube that are no longer available. Some of those dip tubes were made in stainless steel, so that does not cause a problem. Some people did not want the plastic although it never caused me any problems in my kegs over the course of 15 years. So I solved that problem, by taking a dip tube and cutting it off so it is only 1/4 long, and then you can put the O-ring on it and seal it up with all stainless and no leaks. The plastic ones start at the same diameter and are then reduced to a smaller one so a straight sided tube will not fit unless you cut it off. There are some kegs as I said earlier are some to stay away from if you can. The kegs with race track lids will be more problems. The plastic lid ones you could do without also although I still am using some I got 15 years ago and expect they will last a lot longer. Another bad style is an older style keg and it has a metal handle (there are some new ones with metal handles that will not be this way and are perfectly alright to use if you have the money. The older ones the male quick connect on the keg is not welded on it screws together with a nut inside the keg and they can be harder to seal, there are more parts to them, and they take longer to work on.

Of course we guarantee that the kegs we sell if you buy all new seals, poppets, and pressure relief will seal, although I reserve the right to try and refurbish them first if there is a problem. If I cannot make it seal you get your new parts and another keg. If the pressure relief is good and it is leaking somewhere else you do not have to buy a pressure relief. We will take care of the leaks if applicable. However, we do not cover the shipping costs back and forth, but after a telephone diagnostic, you may only need to ship a small piece of it. Some lid seats can be bent thus preventing the lid from sealing. Do not use pliers to try and bend it, it can cause damage ranging from cosmetic to irreparable. I use a plate bender, which was copied from a medical tool that they use to bend steel implants so they fit better, it does not leave gouges or marks on the metal like pliers do. With this tool I have fixed most of the bent seats, but some were beyond repair. If the lid seals loosely a lot of the time the wire post on the lid just need to be bent down a little so the lid pulls the o-ring up tighter. If you work on the kegs trying to fix them yourself, this voids your warranty. I would check that out before I bent the seal to try and stop the leak. I have seen people talking on the internet who say to buy the o-rings that are bigger and softer and mention a few shops. Back in the late 1980s there was a softer bigger o-ring and a smaller harder one, I have not seen the hard smaller o-rings from my distributor for 15 years. I would bet 99.9% of the shops only sell the big ones, because most are buying from the same place I do. I do have some of those left as well as square lid rings that were meant for the race track lids. I have some if someone wants them. Do not buy the plastic lid ones as they will probably crack eventually, although I have used some for almost 20 years. I usually end up with most of the bad kind of kegs (one of the disadvantages of selling kegs, I suppose) I do sell those once in a while for a discount with full disclosure as to what is happening with them.

When buying them make sure the male disconnects are not bent very much at the lip where the outer gasket goes as that seal leaks between the male and female quick connect. I use them all the time, but trying to bend it up they usually break off a piece. I drem it until the broken part is smooth and put the o-ring on. With this method I have yet to have a problem.

The kegs most everyone sells (used ones) have not been in use for 20 years from when distributors started using bag in the box for commercial soda pop . Finally, after 15 years they decided to sell them and the amount of home keggers has increased dramatically. I believe I was the first major seller of them because when I put my add in Zymurgy magazine (1987) I was the only one with an ad for them and sold them all over North America including Alaska and Canada to shops and individuals. Pepsi would not sell them to me after that for another 15 years. The reason Pepsi sold them to me back then was they had just bought the 7-UP company. What I bought had been 7-Ups inventory. They would not sell them after that saying they were afraid of liability. 15 years later they started selling most of their kegs to homebrew shops and the rest is history.

The kegs will have small dents and scratches, but the inside, once cleaned is impeccable. Do not worry about first appearance.

If you want to check your pressure relief, put 30 psi of air or CO2 in it and put soapy water on the pressure relief and watch for bubbles. When checking to make sure the rest is not leaking only put 10 or less psi in it and check for bubbles. The higher the pressure the more it will seat the o-rings. Since you deliver your beer at 5 to 10 psi, setting it higher might leave you with a leak at a bad time. After not finding a leak at 10 psi, I will let the keg sit for a few weeks to make sure I did not miss a small leak, which has happened many times.

Manually clean the kegs as well as you can with a scrubber, and after that perform a caustic cleaning. Put your new parts in and pressure check your kegs. Rinse well to remove the soap and sterilize. I fill the keg with iodine, then sink the lid with the pressure relief open at the top of the keg dangling from the opening for 3 to 5 minutes. Then close the pressure relief, and then close the lid and with an out to out jumper push it into the next keg ready to be sterilized with you CO2 (so it goes up the pick-up tube and down the other pick-up tube). At the end of emptying the keg, roll the bottom of the keg around in circles slowly to make sure there is no standing sterilant and pull off the out to out from the stylized keg. Allow it to come to 10 to 12 psi and if it is still holding pressure when you are ready to use it all you have to do is fill it because it is sanitized and purged, so no aeration. When looking for bubbles small leaks around the lid can be so tiny that you can not see the bubbles emanate from it.

To carbonate I usually do 10 to 20 kegs at a time, so I shoot the keg to 30 psi and the next night I shoot it back to 30 psi. 3 or 4 days of that and I take it to where I use to store my bottles. I like my kegs aged at least 1 year or more before drinking. After filling the kegs and before I force carbonate, with the lid on and pressure relief open I shoot CO2 into the for 30 seconds shut the relief valve let it sit for an hour and do the same thing 4 or 5 times just to try and remove as much of the oxygen as possible.

IT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT NOT TO LEAVE YOUR KEGS HOOKED UP TO PRESSURE FOR EXTENDED PERIODS OF TIME!
In 1992, one of my customers sent me a newspaper clipping from the Ketchum (Idaho) Tribune. A man had a commercial keg hooked up to pressure and his wife would put his lunchbox on it every day for work. One day, it wouldn't fit, due to the keg having bulged. While he was looking at it, the keg burst and killed him instantly due to a regulator failure. Why the hose didn't burst, I can't say. Suffice it to say, you should only charge your keg as needed; charge it when you plan to use it. If you must leave your keg hooked up, turn the CO2 off at the valve, not the cut-off switch

I do not use lubricant on my gaskets and get a lot of use from my o-rings, if the quick connects go on hard, I wet the CO2 quick connect with water or the liquid one before putting them on and that is all I have needed to do and that saves me having to clean off all that lubricant after it is empty. You need to keep the tops covered so dust and other things will not fall between the lid and the keg, and when you open it something could fall in from there which is no good. I make a shower cap type of thing by wrapping the keg with Saran wrap and after a couple of times, start angling the wrap up until it is only about 3 inches from the top. I then fold the top over and at the bottom start rolling the Saran wrap up until I get to where the top is folded over and stick it in as I roll. That leaves me with a leak proof dust-cover top for when I need it.

Wine has worked wonderful for me in the kegs, from the racking to clear, down to using it to deliver a pitcher or a glass at a time. I use CO2 and have never noticed the acidity you allegedly get from it and it is recommended it be done with nitrogen. I use low pressure and get a pink head, but no carbonation. I only put it into the keg after fermentation is complete. Since the air hardly touches my wine I only sulphite it at the start. I have gotten better wine for a lot less work.

When buying kegs look at the pressure relief valves. That will tell you if you have the right type of keg. The pressure reliefs you want on the keg lid have two types, and they are interchangeable. The fist one is called a pull ring. It looks like a ring like a key ring you can pull up to open the pressure relief. Under it is a plastic cylinder, with a couple of notches on top for the ring to settle into. Once pulled up, you can turn the ring 90 degrees and that will lock it open, having cleared the notches. The second one has a thin plastic bottom that plastic toggle you can flip up to keep it open.

All the pressure relief valves unscrew counter-clockwise. When you install them be careful not to strip the thread on the plastic part of the pressure relief valve.

Leaky kegs

The keg can leak somewhere on the body of the keg, I have only seen it a couple of times. The first time it was brought back, it had a pin hole leak in the side. The inside had a lot of rust in it and even though he told me he did not use chlorine, It is my belief that he probably did. I have had a couple leak other places and I couldn't say why but they had small holes. The lid can leak anywhere around it, and is the hardest problem to fix as there are any number of reasons why it could leak there.

The rods that pull the lid up to seal can be bent out a little, and by clamping the wire in a vise very carefully, you can use a big pair of pliers and bend the wires down a bit just above on the 90 degree part from the bottom. That will pull the lid up some to a lot depending on how far they were bent. It could be a bad o-ring, they flatten out with use, or could have been damaged. I have seen bad lids and bad welds on the lid, but they are pretty sturdy and hard to bend (except for the bale). The seat for the o-ring on the keg can be bent and I have seen a lot of those. Bending the lid seat is risky as it can wreck a keg very easily, I have wrecked probably over 100 kegs this way though I have probably fixed even more. A person who used to work for me (Chaz, who now works at a brew pub) said this of the kegs he could not get to seal around the lid will seal at least sometimes by using to 2 lid o-rings. I will have to check into that sometime.
If the pressure relief is leaking, take it out and make sure there is nothing stuck where the valve seats. Check where the pressure relief is welded, I have had a few leak there (watch where the bubbles are coming from, the holes or around the base of the valve. Some bad pressure relief valves I could not see why it should leak, but it did and replacing it fixed the problem. I have fixed them but it takes time and equipment. Luckily they last a long time after the fact.

Male quick connect on top of the keg.

All threads are regular right hand threads so to remove them they need to be twisted counter clockwise. Under the quick connect there is a dip tube and the 0-ring seals the bottom of the connect to the keg. If leaking, it will blow bubbles out around the bottom of the quick connect and the keg. The o-ring at the top of the quick connect will seal so there are no leaks, either liquid or gas side between the female and male keg quick connects. The poppet is the little spring loaded item in the middle of the male quick connect on the keg. If it is leaking you will see bubbles around where the poppet and the quick connect meet. They can be slow and so you need to watch them carefully to make sure no bubbles are occurring here. Close to the edge of the quick connect in the center could have been hit and bent the metal so there is an upset on the inside where the seal is or a build up of rubber or something else that will allow it to happen, or it could be a faulty poppet that needs replacing. If there is an upset from the metal a lot of times you can use a rotary tool to grind off enough that it will sit even, all though some times it has not worked. And I have seen quick connects that have holes in them, so you need another male quick connect (I have only seen it twice).

Now, I know the system is a lot of money, but the Pepsi kegs are starting to become scarce, and of course just like the 3 gallon kegs that are hard to find. When you do the price will reflect this. If you can not afford the system right now, what I would do is pick up a keg once in a while at $70, it is not out of reach for even a poor person like me. Build up a stockpile and then when you can afford it, you will have kegs at a reasonable price. I believe 10 is too few, but each person has to make the decision as to how many they will want and if you make wine you will need some for it. I would want over 24 but I do bulk brewing and I need over 100 of them for myself. Lets say you buy too many after you get started and realize as much. There will be enough people looking for those kegs the selling price will be at least $65 and probably more so you will make money off of them when you get rid of them if you try. You do not have a lot to lose.

if you start kegging your beer will be better, it will store longer, you will save around 4 hours work each time you brew, once you have the equipment it is cheaper then bottling (just from the cost of the caps and corn sugar), you can take sediment free beer with you if you want in bottles, and you can filter your wine or beer to help fix problems 0r make sure you will not stir up the sediment when the keg is moved. You can bottle from kegs, straight from the keg, or use counter pressure bottle fillers and other special fillers. Some allow you to put sediment free beer in a plastic soda bottle, but that can be made very simply and easy. You just take the soda bottle cap and drill the right size hole for a tire stem then buy the stem ,pull it through and make a air chuck connection for your CO2 line and you are in business without buying the expensive commercial version.

Cleaning, filling, and carbonating a Keg
A. Prepare your keg

NOTE: Chlorine corrodes stainless steel do not use it to clean or sterilize your keg. I know of brew pots and kegs that had holes put in them by chlorine.
1. First you should manually clean your kegs to get all the dirt and deposits you with elbow grease.

2. Next you should do a chemical cleaning to remove any fat and or protein deposits left from previous use. I do this on all my equipment and for sure immediately after using any plastic equipment. I use Cipton, but you need a good caustic cleaner to clean your equipment.

3. If you have a new used keg now is the time to rebuild it. if it had soda in it there is a good chance that your beer could taste like soda. The o-rings are impregnated with soda flavour. If you are just cleaning you have to test for leaks and test on the newly rebuilt keg also. Soapy water to see where it blows bubbles is a great way. Only use 5 psi pressure as higher pressures could seal things that will cause you problems later. Allow time to pass as slow leaks take time to show up. Rinse well after to get all of the soap out before proceeding.

4. Sterilize with a good sanitizer, I use Iodine (low foaming iodine sterilizer for the brewing and dairy industry) I do not think there is a better one on the market.

5. Drip dry or rinse, I use an out to an out jumper to transfer a keg full of sterilizer to another keg. Once done I have a keg clean sterilized and full of CO2 ready to be filled without oxidation (I leave about 10 psi on the keg so if it still has pressure I know it does not leak and there is no oxygen in there).

6. I put a cap on the keg so dirt does not get between the lid and the lid seat that could fall in when I open it. I use stretch wrap but a shower cap would work great.

B. Filling your Keg

1. The first step is to remove all of the air from the keg to lessen chances of oxidation. If it was not stored full of CO2 shoot CO2 into it for 30 seconds.

2. If you have it set up to start your siphon great if not get your siphon going and put a clean towel over the lid opening so nothing can fall in it, but good beer. Make sure your hose goes to the bottom of the keg.

3. Once filled put the lid on and open the pressure relief and shoot CO2 in through the quick connect to try and remove most of the oxygen. 30 seconds is more then enough.

4. I lower the pressure of the regulator down to 2 or so psi and run CO2 in to the keg while I close the lid, being carful not to cock the lid to one side or the other. If the lid is cocked to one side or the other you can bend the seat while closing the bale. If you bend the seat it can make it so the keg will not seal. Be very careful if it does not seal it is useless as anything other than a fermentation vessel.

C. Removing almost all air from the keg
1. There is not going to be much air in the keg but we want to make sure that the air is mostly gone.

2. Shoot the keg up to 30 psi and let it sit for an hour, after that time release all of the CO2 pressure in the keg.

3. Shoot the keg up to 30 psi and let it sit for an hour, after that time release all of the CO2 pressure in the keg.

4. Do this procedure 3 or 4 times and your beer should have most of the oxygen taken out. Store in wine cellar temp but you do not need to have the humidity. About 50 to 60 F is a great temperature to store at.

Happy Brewing!
-Art

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