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Small Kegging Systems for Home Winemakers

July 5, 2019

Kegging is generally associated with home brewers, but can also be incredibly useful to winemakers.  For the home winemaker, Cornelius (“Corny”) kegs are generally the go-to method.  These five gallon kegs were used by Pepsi and Coca Cola for soda dispensing systems and are readily available on the used market.  Morebeer has not started offering corny kegs in smaller, more portable sizes with their “torpedo” kegs.  These are offered in 1.5, 2.5 and 5 gallons.  For my winemaking needs a 2.5 gallon torpedo keg is the preferred method.  This size allows me to keg half of a five gallon carboy while bottling the other half and it is surprisingly portable.  These kegs can be used to carbonate wine or to serve a still wine on tap depending on your tank and regulator setup.  For a full list of my preferred kegging equipment, scroll to the bottom.  

 

Kegs for Force Carbonating

One advantage of a kegging system is that it allows the winemaker to rapidly carbonate a wine.  This is a fun technique for fruit wines, rosé style wines and the occasional white wine.  I have found that carbonated wines tend to be a huge crowd pleaser with most audiences but it is important to select the right base wine for carbonating.  A sweet, fruity concord is a great candidate for a sparkling crowd pleaser and the low cost to make a concord makes it a great wine to experiment with.  

 

Wine Prep for Force Carbonating

Because the carbonation can add a bit of astringency, I prefer to sweeten the wine a little more than normal.  A Concord wine intended to be un-carbonated consumption is usually in-balance when sweetened to about 5% sugar or a specific gravity of around 1.012-1.016 on the hydrometer assuming a final pH of around 3.1-3.3.  For carbonating purposes, I suggest sweetening until it tastes balanced, but then adding about 1% more sugar or .005 more on the hydrometer.  This will taste a little too sweet at first but will come into balance when carbonated.  For my last carbonated concord, I sweetened to 1.022 with invert sugar.  This amounted to a first place medal in the “Other” category at a local wine competition. 

When sweetening to taste, always test at the proper serving temperature.  A room-temperature sweet wine will generally taste syrupy and out of balance.  When chilled properly, it will taste refreshing and wonderful.  Also… don’t be ashamed to sweeten if the wine needs it.  While I mostly make dry red wines, there are some wines that just need a little sugar to take off the mouth puckering edge (like concord). 

 

When sweetening make sure to sulfite with potassium metabisulfite and also add potassium sorbate.  The sulfite virtually eliminate the risk of bacterial spoilage in keg or bottle and the sorbate will stop any rogue yeast cells from multiplying and re-starting the fermentation in the presence of sugar.  Before adding potassium sorbate make sure that the wine is crystal clear and has been racked off of the lees.  If the yeast cell count is too high as indicated by a visible cloudiness, the sorbate will not stop a renewed fermentation.  

 

How to Force Carbonate Quickly

This method will require the ability to chill your wine in bulk.  You can chill the carboy, but I prefer to chill after transferring to the keg.  Cold wine absorbs gas more readily, including oxygen. 

 

Step 1: Transfer your wine from the carboy to the keg with a racking cane.  It doesn’t hurt to give a little squirt of CO2 to sparge the air from the keg before transferring. 

 

Step 2: Place the sealed lid on the keg and set the regulator to 30psi

 

Step 3: Open the shutoff valve on the regulator and insert the CO2 Fitting on the keg but to the “Out” rather than the “In”.  This allows the CO2 to bubble up through the wine, aiding in the carbonation process.  (If the regulator valve is off, the wine could push into the CO2 hose).  "Burp" the keg several times with the pressure relief valve.  This flushes any remaining air from the keg.  

 

Step 4: Shake vigorously for 10-15 minutes.  Placing the keg sideways helps to create more surface area for the CO2 to absorb. 

 

Step 5: Switch CO2 fitting to “In” side of keg and place in fridge or cooler for 30 minutes. 

 

Step 6: Reduce pressure to 10psi by turning the regulator dial counter clockwise and bleeding pressure through the relief valve. 

 

Step 7: Insert tap and hose to “Out” fitting and pour a sample to test for adequate carbonation.  If more carbonate is needed, repeat at 30psi from Step 3

 

How to Force Carbonate Slowly:

Step 1: Transfer your wine from the carboy to the keg with a racking cane.  It doesn’t hurt to give a little squirt of CO2 to sparge the air from the keg before transferring. 

 

Step 2: Place the sealed lid on the keg and set the regulator to 12psi

 

Step 3: Open the shutoff valve on the regulator and insert the CO2 Fitting on the keg but to the “Out” fitting.  "Burp" the keg several times with the pressure relief valve to evacuate any remaining air.  

 

Step 4: Leave CO2 connected for two weeks.  If you can refrigerate the keg it is preferred.

 

Step 5: Place CO2 Fitting on the “In” and the tap and hose on the “Out” and serve.  If too foamy, reduce the keg pressure to 7-8psi.  Be sure to pour with the tap high above the keg level to bleed any CO2 from the lines.  

 

Traditional Carbonation in-keg (VERY SLOW)

This method is intended for dry wines and is done in the traditional champagne method by priming the wine with sugar and a yeast starter.  A keg works great for this because it has a pressure relief valve to avoid severe over pressurization and explosion.  Wines fermented in this method can take on a pleasing character from the yeast. 

 

Step 1: Create invert sugar by simmering a 1:1 sugar:water mix on the stove for 20-30 minutes.  A splash of lemon juice helps to invert the sugar from Sucrose to Glucose and Fructose.  Measure your sugar addition very carefully when making the invert sugar.  Add 12 grams of sugar per bottle of champagne or for a 5 gallon keg, add 300 grams (1.5 cup)

 

Step 2: Make a large yeast starter using a champagne yeast like Lalvin EC1118.  For a 5 gallon keg, two packets should do.  

 

Step 3: Transfer your dry wine to the keg.  Fill to just below the keg capacity, leaving some room for priming sugar.   Make sure the wine is dry and reads .994 or lower on the hydrometer.  Do not sulfite the wine at this stage.  Make sure the wine has less than 25ppm free SO2.  Do NOT add potassium sorbate. 

 

Step 4: Add pre-measured invert sugar to the keg and stir.  

 

Step 5: Add yeast starter and close keg lid.  You can purge with a little CO2 at this point in case the fermentation is sluggish to start

 

Step 6: Place wine in a 65-70° location and shake daily for one week

 

Step 7: Leave wine for 3 months to 1 year in the keg.  Give the keg a little shake once to twice a month.   TIP: A spunding valve mounted to the out valve of the keg helps for monitoring the fermentation and controlling the pressure

 

Step 8:  Attach a CO2 tank and serve or transfer to champagne bottles.  TIP: A counter pressure bottle filler helps maintain carbonation.  Champagne bottles can be stoppered by hand with plastic stoppers and wire retainers. 

 

Using Kegs for Wine on Tap (Not Carbonated)

This is the easiest of all methods and allows you as the home winemaker to have wine on tap!  To serve wine on tap, you will need a different tank and regulator.  An inert gas tank allows you to fill with argon or nitrogen.  These gasses will not dissolve into the wine, like CO2 and they will protect the wine from oxidation.  When buying a regulator, be sure to choose one with two pressures rather than a pressure and flow regulator.  

 

Step 1: Rack your finished wine into the keg and sulfite appropriately (Just like bottling).  Secure the lid on the keg.  

 

Step 2: Set your Argon/Nitrogen regulator to 5-10psi and connect to the "IN" fitting on the keg.  

 

Step 3: "Burp" the keg with the pressure relief valve until you are confident that all the airspace has been replaced with inert gas. 

 

Step 4: Attach tap fitting to the "OUT" and serve!  Because foaming is not a concern, a short tap line can be used.  

 

 

If you have any wine kegging tips, tricks, or questions, please post in the comments section below!  

 

My Preferred Kegging Equipment with Links:

 

2.5 Gallon Kegging System (CO2): https://www.morebeer.com/products/torpedo-homebrew-kegging-kit.html?a_aid=wine20

 

Nitrogen Regulator:  https://www.morebeer.com/products/nitrogen-regulator-dual-gauge.html?a_aid=wine20

 

Nitrogen Tank: https://www.morebeer.com/products/nitrogen-argon-tank-aluminum-20-cu-ft.html?a_aid=wine20

 

Counter Pressure Bottle Filler: https://www.morebeer.com/products/counter-pressure-bottle-filler.html?a_aid=wine20

 

Champagne Stoppers: https://www.morebeer.com/products/champagne-stoppers-white-plastic-pack-100.html?a_aid=wine20

 

Champagne Retainers:  https://www.morebeer.com/products/champagne-wire-retainer.html?a_aid=wine20

 

Spunding Valve for Traditional Method: https://www.morebeer.com/products/spunding-valve-gauge-ball-lock.html?a_aid=wine20

 

 

For more winemaking information, checkout The Home Winemaking Channel on YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCukfI_LTN8MqOLZq96ACbjA

 

Read Next: Step by Step Guide to Making Red Wine from Grapes

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