My friend Nate and I are home brewers. It's a great hobby that results in a product you can share with friends and family. If you haven't tried brewing your own beer I strongly recommend you give it a shot.
Recently we decided that we were tired of bottle conditioning our beer ( a 1 to 2 week process that gets you carbonated beer) it's long and boring and we were sick of it. The solution? KEG IT! Kegging your beer means that instead of cleaning 36-50 bottles you clean a single keg and your liquid lines. Commercial kegs are great and all, but they are not easily re-fillable at home with your own stock. Home brewers solve this problem with Cornelius kegs. The great thing about these is their ease of use, and that their tall instead of fat. A mini-fridge used as a kegerator can often hold 2 Cornelius Kegs where it could only hold a single quarter barrel commercial keg. You end up with 2 types of beer, more volume of beer, and it tastes better too.
The downside? Pain to the pocket book. If you buy everything new your looking at between $450 and $600.
Oh ya'... you'll also be needing 10 gallons of beer =)
Step 1: Get Your Stuff Together:
There's tons of information out there as to how to modify various mini-fridges. We're going to cover one specific fridge. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Sanyo 4912 M. We got ours at best buy, but look around and you can likely find it elsewhere also. The Key to the fridge is it's height and it's total lack of a freezer. Most mini fridges use a freezer as part of the cooling system, and if you get one with a freezer you'll likely have to bend it out of the way which may damage the cooling system and render your investment useless. Corny kegs are 25" tall and 8" in diameter (You'll need at least another 2 inches of height for disconnects and hoses), so if you can't find this mini-fridge you'll have an idea of what to look for.
Basically the plan is to remove the plastic top, reinforce the area under the plastic lid with a board to make sure the tap has a nice solid base it's on top of. And then we drill a 2 1/2 inch hole right in the center of the top (Yes towards the back is nicer, don't do it I'll get into that later). Our hole is going to go through the plastic lid, our support board, the metal top of the fridge, the foam insulation, and the plastic interior.
So total what you need:
Sanyo 4912 M Mini-fridge (the 491x line all should work)
4x 10-24 2.5" Machine screws.
4x 10-24 acorn nuts.
4x washers that are as wide as possible.
2.5" hole saw that is rated for soft metal (don't just get a wood one)
2 tap 3" diameter chrome tower with faucets.
2x 5 gallon ball lock cornelius kegs
2x liquid ball lock disconnects (barbed or threaded, threaded will be easier to clean, but also means get extra stuff to hook your lines up)
2x gas ball lock disconnects(barbed or threaded, threaded will be easier to clean, but also means get extra stuff to hook your lines up)
5 lb CO2 tank
Dual Gage CO2 regulator
Wye splitter with 2 gas shut off valves
Lines to connect regulator to the disconnects
2x tap handles
2x ear clamps for the beer lines (depends on the hose size that comes with the tower, call the shop your ordering from for details).
All of the stuff in the 2nd group is typically found in a 2 keg refrigerator conversion kit. You can get these from multiple online suppliers. Do yourself a favor and don't order off their website. Give them a call on the phone. Most of these online suppliers are regular stores that just have a nice website to go with it. When you call you should easily be able to get a person on the phone. The 2 keg fridge conversion kits come out a lot cheaper than buying everything in parts. Call them on the phone and have them remove the shanks (these are tubes meant to go through the fridge door and connect a faucet too) and faucets. In their place have them add the chrome tower which comes with it's own faucets. Doing it this way will likely save you something between $40 and $60. Midwest Supplies did this for us and I've heard of other places doing this sort of thing for other people as well.
Step 2: Remove the Plastic Top
First real step is to remove the plastic lid of the mini-fridge. Grab a phillips head screw driver and go after the 3 screws on the back and the 4 screws under the rim of the door.
Step 3: Remove Plastic Fins Under the Lid.
Next grab a utility knife and remove plastic fins from the bottom of the lid. We're looking to remove all the fins that create X patterns in the center of the lid, as well as the rectangular ones to the front and rear of that area. This should be an 8" by 11" area. We want the side fins left in place to help hold the board we'll be using in position under the plastic lid. We're removing the sections to the front and rear in order to use a longer board so that when we pull or push on the tap handles there's more working against the leverage. The idea is that we'll get a better more stable feel out of the tower during use if we don't have plastic flexing underneath it but instead have a solid board thats sealed and screwed into place.
Step 4: Find the Cooling Line.
The reason we're going to be going right down the center of the top is because there's a cooling line running from one side of the right to left sides of the fridge along the top. This line is inside the foam insulation and if we just drill our hole to pass the beer lines anywhere we feel like we are at a high risk of hitting the line and making the fridge useless.
To easily find the line sprinkle (or spray if you've got a spritz bottle of some sort) water onto the exposed metal top of the fridge, plug it in and turn it on full blast. You'll see a section of the fridge will dry fast than the rest, and amazingly it should be a single line running parallel to the back of the fridge about 8 inches away from the edge. I took a photo of this, but it didn't come out very well. Try it and you'll see what I mean though. Worst case scenario, you know why not to drill at the rear of the fridge, and you can draw a line 9 inches (give yourself some room please) from the back of the fridge and make sure your drilled holes don't cross this line.
Step 5: Hole Time.
Next you'll be sliding the board into place. I had to tape it into position first to make sure it wouldn't drop out of position while I was flipping the plastic lid over again and putting it back into place on the fridge. Either have someone hold the lid in place, or screw it back in to make sure it doesn't move. Then use a 3/16th inch drill bit to make yourself a whole right down the center of the top. Most hole saws have a center bit to them, and we can use this whole as an initial gide for that bit to make sure we're centered properly.
Now hook up your 2.5 inch hole saw and set it into position and cut through the plastic lid, pull the circle you just cut out off the top, and do the same for the wooden board underneath. After pulling out the wooden circle we'll be on the metal top of the fridge. This is why you want to make sure your hole saw is rated for metal, the wooden ones wont cut it worth a dang, and you'll warp the metal from all the heat it'll generate as you waste your time grinding into the surface.
Before you try and cut through the metal of the top it's a good idea to remove the plastic top and the wooden board again to give the saw some room. The hole saw will have left a small hole you can use as a guide in the top of the metal when you cut through the wood all the way. After cutting through the metal top, pull that circle away and then you can drill all the way through the foam insulation and the plastic interior of the fridge. If you finish the cut and don't see anything that looks like a pipe split or cracked in the foam, then your set and the fridge will still work when we put it all together.
Step 6: More Drilling...
Yes I know I stuck this first image on the last step as well. Deal.
The tap tower comes with a rubber gasket that is used to insulate the area around the base of the tower as it presses into the top of the fridge (or counter for some home installs). The great thing about this is that the holes in this gasket are already in position for the screws, which means we can use it as a guide for figuring out where to drill next.
Start out by placing the gasket down and carefully positioning it so that the holes are lined up so that their parallel to the sides of the fridge. If their not aligned properly the tap tower will be on crooked when we put everything together. I strongly recommend taking Norm's advice and measure twice before drilling.
Congrats, you're now done with all the hard stuff. That's right, this is seriously that easy to do.
Step 7: Glue and Screw.
Glue down the wooden board with the sealant making sure that it's lined up properly with the holes we've drilled., then go ahead and put the lid and board back onto the fridge and pass the 10-24 screws through the entire thing and make sure everything fits fine.
Next we'll pass the screws up through the fridge with a washer in place to make sure we don't overly damage the plastic, up through the top and we can then set the tower in place. Go ahead and pass the tubes from the tower down into the fridge and then attach the tower to the screws using the acorn nuts. Happily the screws are just the right length with the nuts to make a nice clean finished look.
Step 8: Cut the Lines.
That's right, we're cutting the lines. The tap tower's end with hook ups for commercial kegs. Which while nice wont even fit into this fridge. Seriously if you wanted to use those you should have bought a different fridge. This bad boy is designed to hold home brew!
So cut the ends off the lines and then attach liquid ball lock disconnects. This amounts to shoving the line onto the barb and crimping it in place. If your using threaded connectors you'll need to attach the beer lines to the barb on the end of that and then screw those into the disconnects. A lot of the time I hear about people's threaded connectors leaking. This is simply because they don't have the things screwed into the disconnects tightly enough. So if your using MFL threaded connectors grab a wrnech and tighten them up well.
Don't bother buying a crimper for this sort of thing, you can use a set of wire cutters and it works perfectly.
Step 9: A Small Problem...
So by now I'm sure you've tried setting everything into the fridge and found a problem... The door wont close! It's actually a very easy fix. First off a lot of people try to fit the CO2 tank into the back directly behind one of the kegs. This wont work. You need to position it between the two kegs with the regulator set up so the adjustment screw is coming straight out at you and is essentially "upside down" (Seriously see the picture bellow or it'll just sound crazy. This way everything will fit in there just fine. The adjustment screw will fit just fine resting on top of one of the kegs. The height of the thing comes out just right so that the bottom of the CO2 tank will be resting on the small ledge in the back of the fridge, the canister will be held in place by the sides of the two kegs, and the regulator's adjustment screw will be just fine and shouldn't be damaged at all.
That solves half the problem, but the door still wont close. Turns out that the only problem is the bottom shelf on the door. The other shelves are no problem and I use them to hold my yeast and hops for brewing, and the pop (Yes it's Pop, I'm from Michigan damn-it) dispenser holds some Pepsi or Coke for my friends when we don't feel like a brewski. Simply pull out the bottom shelf that runs the length of the fridge and the door will close just fine.
Alternatively you can turn the shelf sideways so that it's flush with the black plastic of the door and it'll fit just fine. I just have mine shoved in there like that to hold some micro-brewed beers. A few other people have drilled holes for the stubs of the shelf to grip into the door properly and you wont have to worry about it falling out.
Step 10: Brew Some Beer.
If for some reason you haven't already done it and have a set of 2 batches waiting, go brew two batches of beer. If you don't know how to brew beer, go search the Internet there's tons of information on it out there, and while the initial equipment cost is kinda' high, a normal batch for me comes out to around $0.50 to $0.75 a glass. Compare that to the cost of most 6 packs and realize that what your making with home brew is typically higher quality, and is going to taste better than most store bought beer and it's a clear win. Plus it's great bragging rights when someone comes over and is enjoying a glass and wants to know where you bought it. Plus if you're on Instuctables I kinda' figure you for a do-it-yourself-er anyway.
Normally when home brewing you go from the primary or secondary fermenter to a bottling bucket with some priming sugar in it to get the beer carbonated over the a 1-2 week period. With a keg system you can instead just transfer the beer to the keg, force carbonate and enjoy.
Step 11: Using the Kegerator
Once you transfer the beer into the keg you'll want to make sure to get all the oxygen out of the top of the keg. If you don't the beer will Oxidize and taste nasty and skunky in less than a day. To do this grab your CO2 tank and set it to around 30-40 PSI. Hook the tank up to the keg's gas in post and open up the valve. You'll hear the gas moving into the keg easily, when it stops close the valve, and pull the pressure release valve on the top of the keg. Close the pressure release valve and re-fill the top of the keg with CO2 again, repeat this process 4-5 times to get all of the oxygen out. CO2 is a denser gas than O2 and will push it all out of the valve with no problem. We're using the 30-40 PSI range on the regulator for 2 reasons: 1) This will fill up the top of the tank faster and I'm lazy and don't like waiting a long time. And 2) The higher pressure will also force the lid of the corny keg up and give it a nice tight seal. If your still hearing gas escape after it gets a blast of CO2 at that pressure then you'll have to release the pressure in the keg and re-close the lid to try and get a better seal on it.
After the keg is sealed, and the O2 is out of the system stick it in the fridge. To cool down to serving temp (I use the warmest setting on my fridge which is about right for most ales). Now there's only one problem and that's that our beer isn't carbonated yet. When bottling home brew, brewers normally add some sugar for the yeast to eat up in the bottle, since the bottle is capped the CO2 the yeast produce can't escpae or do anything but get absorbed into the beer, presto you've got foamy beer. With this keg system we've expressly NOT done this. The priming sugar process is often inconsistent, so we'll be "Force Carbonating" the beer.
There's 2 methods for this. One is fast and a big cheat (That I highly support). And the other is much more correct, but takes almost as long as bottle conditioning.
The slow method is simply finding out what how many volumes of CO2 you need (Depends on the style of beer, though for most it's 2.5) and setting the Pressure of the keg correctly. For instance 2.5 volumes of CO2 at 40 degrees F is a pressure setting of bout 11 PSI there's all sorts of charts and calculators for this online, I use this one. Once the pressure is set just set the kegs in the fridge and leave them alone for a week or so, the beer will naturally absorb the gas with no problem.
The fast method is to first get your beer cold, so get it into the keg, and then shove it in the fridge over night without gas hooked up. The next day when your beer is cold hook the gas up at 40 PSI and wait until you stop hearing it fill the tank. Disconnect the gas, DO NOT LEAVE IT HOOKED UP, leaving the gas line connected after we've filled the tank to 40 PSI is dangerous and should not be done. With the gas line disconnected roll and shake the entire keg for at least 45 seconds to dissolve the gas into the beer. Re-connect the gas line and repeat the process twice, being sure to disconnect the gas line before shaking the keg. This should get you to right about 2.4-2.6 volumes of CO2 depending on how well you shook the keg. You can now set the CO2 tank to the correct PSI (as from the slow method) and hook everything up and in your fridge. Give the beer at least 30 main to settle down before dispensing your first glass.
To clean the kegerator there's several specialty cleaners you can use, I prefer just using PBW (which you can get from most brew supply shops and websites) making about 2 gallons of it and putting it into a keg. Seal the keg and give it a good shake for a few minutes (a good seal is important or you'll get PBW everywhere) and then I hook that keg up to the fridge and I use the faucets to empty it. This way PBW cleans the inside of my beer lines for me. Lastly I take the faucets off the kegerator and take them apart to soak in some PBW and I use a small brush to scrub them down.
The specialty cleaners work great but most sanitizers will work fine, but be sure of a few things 1) Some sanitizers need a rinse after being used and are otherwise poisonous. 2) Some sanitizers are not for use on metal, for instance bleach will corrode the inside of the keg and damage the faucets. So be sure to follow all instructions for what your using and talk to your home brew supply shop about what should work for you.
Step 12: Enjoy!
You've got a kegerator, and you've got beer, and now you know how to combine the two... why are you still reading this? Go relax and have a home brew!