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Kegging Beer Natural vs Forced Conditioning

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Kegging your home brew is a great way to save time. If you like draft beer you will love kegging your own brew. There are two basic methods for conditioning kegged beer. The choice depends on how soon you need the beer or if you want to conserve CO2. With natural conditioning, you prime the beer with priming sugar, keg it, then let it sit for up to two weeks. With force carbonation, there is no priming sugar, and you force the CO2 gas into solution by rocking or shaking the keg.

corny keg

Natural conditioning:
Siphon the beer into the keg then stir in priming sugar. Seal keg, and attach CO2 line. At this point oxygen is bad for the beer. By purging the head space in the keg, the beer will stay fresh longer. Clear out the head space by venting the keg and replacing with CO2. This venting procedure only needs to be done when the beer is first packaged.

The procedure: turn on gas to pressurize keg, leave for a few minutes, shut off gas, then open release valve on the top of the keg to vent it. Repeat this step a few times to get all the oxygen out of the head space.

keg pressure relief valve
The pressure relief valve on the top of a corny keg.

When the head space is purged, shut off the CO2, disconnect the hose, and store the beer for at least ten days. A couple weeks may be necessary. Natural conditioning takes more time but conserves CO2.

Forced carbonation:
Follow the same steps as under ‘natural conditioning’ above, except do not add priming sugar. Put the keg into the fridge to cool it down. After four to eight hours, hook up CO2 again, set regulator to the desired level of carbonation, and open the gas line. Rock the keg for several minutes until no more swishing is audible. It is helpful to orient the keg on its side to maximize surface area the gas can dissolve into. When you no longer detect any swishing or noise coming from the regulator you are almost there. Continue for a few more minutes. Now the beer is saturated with CO2 at the desired level. Shut off the CO2, disconnect the hoses, and store the beer for three days. After that time it is ready to serve. Force carbonating takes less time but uses up more CO2.

A note about light lagers:
I have found that adding priming sugar to light lagers throws off the delicate flavor by adding additional sweetness that takes a long time to subside. There is little active yeast left in a lager given it has fermented longer at colder temperatures. Force carbonation of light lagers yielded better tasting results sooner.

kegged home brew

Enjoy your draft beer! Caution – be careful when working with pressurized gases, take care to read instruction manuals and follow directions. Do not drink beer before or during any of these procedures. After you are done, then crack or ‘tap’ a home brew 🙂

  1. 9 Responses to “Kegging Beer Natural vs Forced Conditioning”

  2. Here’s a curveball: I have scored an old 4-tap Pepsi fountain. The Corny kegs will be kept at room temp, the beer is chilled in the lines as it is dispensed. How should I adjust carbonation?

    By Jeff on May 19, 2011

  3. I never thought of keeping kegged beer at room temperature. I wonder, would that lead to stability problems?

    As for the CO2 level, I’d have to play with it. My guess is, because of the fountain style dispenser, its going to splash and foam a ton as you pour it. I’d keep the carbonation low.

    By Larry on May 19, 2011

  4. I have been sucessfully krausening my kegs for a few months now. I fill a 1.75 plastic Vodka bottle with wart that is settling from the grains after I fill my pot. It has some sugar and all the specialty grains that came from the grain bill. I add a half cup of DME to the unfrozen wort and cook it for a hour to make sure the sugars are blended and to sterilize it. After cooling I siphon a little yeast from the fermenter as I rack the green beer into the Corny Keg. I have made up a pressure gage for the keg and monitor the progress over the next five to six days. As the pressure indicates the C02 level is right for the beer style I place it in the Keezer. 24 hours later I tap. No need for co2 yet because there is plenty. You could releive the pressure to avoid high foam but it tasts so good I just drink it. By end of the day it settles down and later you may need to add a few pounds to the keg to push. This works best with Brown, Porter and Stouts because it will raise the ABV a tad and may/has affected flavors of IPA’s. This is only a outline. Care should be taken to know how much suger is needed to keep the beer from changing too much. Only add the mixture to the Keg after there is obvious fermentation. Like making a starter the number of cells will carbonate faster. Everything must be sterle.

    By Ed C on Jul 27, 2011

  5. Wow thanks for sharing Ed!

    By Larry on Aug 1, 2011

  6. Having a party and would like to dispense my corny through a cold plate. should I carbonate as per beer style using charts at room temp

    By Keith on Aug 17, 2011

  7. Rapidly chilling before serving is an interesting idea. I have never tried that. You’ll probably have to fiddle with the CO2 pressure and line length to get a good pour. I would under carbonate it somewhat just to avoid an overly frothy head. In theory when the beer is chilled, the carbonation level will rise, but the pressure is not being kept constant.

    This chart is a nice graphical relationship between pressure and temperature for beer:
    http://www.kegerators.com/carbonation-table.php

    By Larry on Aug 20, 2011

  8. Thanks keith

    By Keith on Aug 31, 2011

  9. I’ve only bottled so far but I am interested in getting into kegging. In my experience, most of my brews taste a lot better after 3 to 6 weeks of aging. Certain harsh flavors from from grain or hops seem to mellow, and adjuncts, such as coffee or spices seem to come through in a more balanced way. My questions, using the forced carbonation method, is the beer still going to taste “young” due to lack of aging? If aging is still needed for optimum flavor, is there any advantage to forced carbonation at all, since priming will save on CO2?

    By Duskin on Jan 30, 2012

  10. You do have to wait for the beer to condition in the keg and mature. The more complex the beer the more time this will take, no matter how it is packaged.

    In my opinion, kegged beer tastes fresher longer, and my best beers have been kegged. There is zero risk of oxidation problems that come from bottling home brew. Kegging beer is also a HUGE time saver. Organizing the bottles, washing them, filling them, capping them, and then putting them all away takes at least an extra hour. Having beer on tap is just really awesome too. It can lead to drinking more, as you can always go for that extra half glass without having to crack another bottle.

    Getting a keezer/kegerator setup is an extra expense and a bit of a quest. Take care to get a moisture absorption product (if you use a keezer). The keezer must be kept clean, the lines must be all sealed, and when the tank runs out you have to get it re-filled. I keep a full spare tank on hand so I’m not forced into making a trip to the home brew store the next day. Every year or so I tear all the gas lines apart and clean them as invariably a bit of beer gets in there. Beer can ruin a regulator if too much back pressure causes the beer to flow in the opposite direction.

    By Larry on Jan 30, 2012

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