DIY Jockey Box! (Beer Tap/cooler)




A Jockey Box is a simple way to drop the temperature of keg beer down to a more palatable temperature, ideally 38°F.

I'll show you a fairly simple way to put one together out of easy to use plumbing parts.

Step 1: Assemble Parts and Yer Tools!

First off, gather up all the materials and tools you'll be using. Follow along in the pictures.

- A medium sized cooler, say 30 quart or so, it doesn't need to be huge.

- At least 20' of copper tubing. I used 1/4" ID. I would not go any larger than that. The outlet tubes in the Pepsi type kegs that this is for are about 1/4" ID, and you don't really want to be larger than that if you can help it. Being larger in diameter would give the beer time to expand on its way to your glass, resulting in a glass of foam. Boo.

- Tap w/ 4" shank. The length of the shank doesn't really matter so much, so long as it fits through the wall of the cooler.

- A short length of think-walled vinyl tubing to go from the fitting on the back of the tap to the copper tubing.

- Fittings to adapt the vinyl tubing to the copper tubing. For the copper tube fittings, I chose compression type fittings for their ease of use.

- Pipe seal (Teflon) tape.

- Not pictured: wrenches of various sizes for tightening the fittings together.

- Adapter from garden hose to nipple, same size as all the others.

- Cheap vinyl tube to fit the nipples from garden hose to inlet, for leak-testing and cleaning. The stuff I got is rated to 45psi.

- Step drill bits, or standard drill bits, in the sizes you'll need to put the holes in the cooler.

- Sharpie.

- One cat, preferably white.

- Zip ties. Lots and lots of zip ties!

I've been purposely vague on the sizes of the fittings, and the sizes of wrenches and tools for the simple reason that you may not be able to get the exact same sizes of adapters that I did.

All of the fittings were purchased at Homebrew Heaven, in Everett WA. The copper pipe was picked up at my local Lowe's, which I paid too much for, but I wanted to get all the parts all on one trip.

Step 2: Drill Out the Cooler for the Tap.

This step is pretty self explanatory. My tap came with a nice beauty ring to go on the front, so i used that for the guide of where to put the hole. You could just as easily use the nut for tightening it down as a size guide.

Drill out the hole with your drill bit, step bit, whatever. If you use a step bit, be sure not to go too wide on the front side, and drill again from the inside of the cooler to make the diameter the same all the way through.

Do a quick test fit to make sure that the holes are the right size.

Step 3: Drill Out the Cooler for the Inlet.

Same as the last step, only this time on the back of the cooler, using the tubing adapters for copper tubing on the inside, and vinyl tubing on the outside.

Once you get it drilled, do a quick test fit to make sure it fits in nice and easy.

Step 4: Form the Coil.

Now comes the fun part.

This step involves making a tighter coil out of the copper tubing, one that is as large as possible, yet still just able to fit in to the dimensions of the cooler.

I chose a coffee can to use as a form, it seemed like a pretty close fit.

Start by unwinding several feet from the coil, and holding the end next to your form, slowly start shaping the tubing around it. Be very careful and take your time, if you kink the tubing, it's done, there's no un-kinking it.

Leave several inches un-coiled on both ends, as you're use this length to attach to the inlet and tap sides.

When you get it all nice and wound up, you may want to attach Zip-ties every turn or so to have a little bit of preformed space between the coil. This should expose a little more surface area to coldness and help out a bit. Completely optional step.

Step 5: Quick Dry Run and Coil End Shaping.

Alright, it's time to start making this thing look like a jockey box.

Set the coil in the cooler, and bend the tubing around to fit the inlet and to a convenient place to attach the vinyl tubing from the tap.

When you bend the copper tubing this time, use something like a hairspray can for the form. Otherwise, you really, really, really need to be careful, as you're probably going to be making tighter bends that before.

Step 6: Fitting and Sealing It All Together.

Now it's time to put all the plumbing together. And make it not leak.

First off, take the pieces that are going to go through the back of the cooler for the inlet, and give them a good stiff rubbing of cat.

Wait. No.

That's not right at all.

Use the pipe sealing tape, that should much better.

Give it a couple full turns of the sealing tape and thread them together through the cooler.

When you get it tight, make sure that it's really tight. Not to the point of stripping the threads, or giving yourself a hernia, but really tight.

Next, assemble the fittings for the tap side in the same fashion, but don't put the compression fitting on the copper tubing just yet.

Push the vinyl tubing on to the nipple of the adapter and the tap, making sure to get them on as far as possible, at least past the third rib on both.

Now for the compression fittings.

You'll find a nut, a sleeve, and the piece that they both fit into. Slide the nut on the tubing, the sleeve after that, and then slip the tubing into the threaded piece. Slide up the sleeve, the nut, and hand tighten the nut.

With the nut hand tightened, take a wrench and tighten it down some more, about a full turn or so.

Grab your wrenches, garden hose adapter and cheap vinyl tubing, and go outside and lead test it!

Step 7: Leak Testing.

So, now that you've got everything all sealed up, it's time for the ultimate test. Will it leak?

Hook it up to your garden hose, open the tap, and barely, just barely turn the water on. I'm talking less than a tenth of a turn. Just barely. That's more than enough pressure. You only want to give it a couple psi for now.

Start looking over your fittings and make sure they're still dry.

If any of the fittings leak, crank 'em down until they stop. But, with the compression fittings, be a little careful with them. You can over-tighten them and split the copper. Just tighten those down about a quarter turn at a time.

To give the system a little more pressure to deal with, close the tap for a few seconds at a time to let it build up some. Don't leave it closed too long though, you can get well over 50psi of pressure off city pressurized water.

Once everything's good and tight, let the water run through for a while to clean it out.

You want to run through a good cleaner that is safe for food apparatus. Check with a homebrew store in your area for the best way to do, as there are more than one.

Last step, pack that sucker up full with ice and just a little water, and run your beer through!

As for how to attach it to your keg, match the type of fitting on the keg and use some thick wall vinyl tubing to connect them together. Most pepsi type kegs use a ball-lock type connection.

You'll have to fiddle with how much pressure to give the beer, try 11-15 psi to start. Different beer types and keg temps will take different temps to get the pour with the right amount of head for your taste.

And, don't forget to clean it after you use it!

There you go, happy beer drinking!



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    16 Discussions


    3 years ago

    One comment refers to a really BAD video. THey use stainless tubing but then use zinc plated fittings and brass. The lead he talks about is in the Brass, copper doesn't have lead in it. Copper is used a bunch in the home brewing world and for the length of exposure in a Jockey Box you are not going to have much of an issue. Most tap fittings are chromed brass, wort chillers are almost all brass and or copper. The beer making steps posted by one are not correct etc. So take people comments with some salt, including mine.

    I personally would not sweat the copper. Very little homebrew is that acidic and it won't be sitting in the copper for any length of time. Probably 60% of the Jockey Boxes out there use copper coils.

    BUT Stainless will last longer and you won't have to worry about copper issues. You are not going to clean this with an "industrial strength" cleaner, if you do that with the stainless you will need to "pacify" it or you will pick up metallic flavors. Stainless and copper sell for about the same so really not a lot of reason to go copper unless you can get a deal or already have it.

    The use of copper, aluminum, and various plastics in brewing has been discussed a lot and a very good place to reference would be the Basic Brewing Radio podcast. They have had a toxicologist on a few times to answer these questions. Generally speaking if something is safe to hold cold water it's safe for cold beer. And the same applies for hot water and hot wort. There is not enough alcohol to significantly change the leaching properties and that is also true generally with acidity. Soft drinks BTW are considerably more acidic than most beer.

    As to 25PSI... That is carbonating pressure, you don't use that high a pressure to serve. Adding the hose just lowered the pressure so you could have done that at the regulator.

    Beer is not going to cause oxidation, because it doesn't have any free oxygen. If it did the beer would Oxidate and taste like cardboard. You may get oxidation on the outside but you shouldn't get any on the inside.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Not to rain on this design but you do not want to use copper on fermented wort (otherwise called beer). Go with stainless in anything that comes in contact with beer. It does not contribute metallic off-flavors to your beer and can be thoroughly cleaned with industrial-strength solutions; unlike copper.

    Made one of these this weekend. Decided I wasn't going to worry about the copper and just try not to leave beer sitting in the lines for more than a couple days, store it with the lines filled with Idophor (sanitizer solution that doesn't react with copper), and pour out the first couple drafts if beer has been sitting in it for a while. If I still get copper poisoning I'll be sure to report back.

    I did mine very similar. Used 20' of 3/16" ID copper and 5' of 3/16 ID vinyl tubing for the beer line

    I did some experimenting and found the keg needs to be chilled (~50 F or less) for it to not pour foamy. I was hoping this could serve cold beer from a room temp keg (wouldn't have to ice the keg), but that will get you nothing but foam. Maybe everyone already knew this, but I sure didn't. For the beer to remain properly carbonated at 70 F the CO2 will need to be set around 25 PSI. This jockey box does not have enough resistance in the lines to get a good pour with the system set at 25 PSI so I added 30' of 3/16 ID vinyl tubing to the system. After adding that I could get 70F beer chilled to ~45F and not pour foamy.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Copper seems attractive for it's ability to transfer the temp- make the brew cold.

    Has anyone considered Food grade plastic tubing/fittings?


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Great instructable! Thx for sharing - but where do i put the cat? ;)


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Your instructable is great, but I need address the copper and tubing to use: This jockey box video explains it the best but you can soak copper peices to remove lead and you can use draft tubing instead of copper. -James


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Nice instructable! glubash was on point when said that it should be used for a weekend trip or a day-out and not long term. You should always flush your lines before and after usage with a sanitizer. Personally, I would use SS tube in place of the copper.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    4-101.14 Copper, Use Limitation.* High concentrations of copper are poisonous and have caused foodborne illness. When copper and copper alloy surfaces contact acidic foods, copper may be leached into the food. Carbon dioxide may be released into a water supply because of an ineffective or nonexistent backflow prevention device between a carbonator and copper plumbing components. The acid that results from mixing water and carbon dioxide leaches copper from the plumbing components and the leachate is then transferred to beverages, causing copper poisoning. Backflow prevention devices constructed of copper and copper alloys can cause, and have resulted in, the leaching of both copper and lead into carbonated beverages. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc and contains lead which is used to combine the two elements. Historically, brass has been used for items such as pumps, pipe fitting, and goblets. All 3 constituents are subject to leaching when they contact acidic foods, and food poisoning has resulted from such contact. The steps in beer brewing include malting, mashing, fermentation, separation of the alcoholic beverage from the mash, and rectification. During mashing, it is essential to lower the pH from its normal 5.8 in order to optimize enzymatic activity. The pH is commonly lowered to 5.1-5.2, but may be adjusted to as low as 3.2. The soluble extract of the mash (wort) is boiled with hops for 1 to 2½ hours or more. After boiling, the wort is cooled, inoculated with brewers yeast, and fermented. The use of copper equipment during the prefermentation and fermentation steps typically result in some leaching of copper. Because copper is an essential nutrient for yeast growth, low levels of copper are metabolized by the yeast during fermentation. However, studies have shown that copper levels above 0.2 mg/L are toxic or lethal to the yeast. In addition, copper levels as low as 3.5 mg/L have been reported to cause symptoms of copper poisoning in humans. Therefore, the levels of copper necessary for successful beer fermentation (i.e., below 0.2 mg/L) do not reach a level that would be toxic to humans. Today, domestic beer brewers typically endeavor to use only stainless steel or stainless steel-lined copper equipment (piping, fermenters, filters, holding tanks, bottling machines, keys, etc.) in contact with beer following the hot brewing steps in the beer making process. Some also use pitch-coated oak vats or glass-lined steel vats following the hot brewing steps. Where copper equipment is not used in beer brewing, it is common practice to add copper (along with zinc) to provide the nutrients essential to the yeast for successful fermentation.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I love this idea. However I do have a question. Wont beer sitting in the copper pipe cause oxidation (patina) and cause the beer to taste very bad? Not to mention patina is toxic.

    3 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Copper kettles have been used historically (and currently with the microbrewing revolution) for years. Copper is a common component in brewing equipment and in the industry.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Yes that is true, but no one uses copper in the post fermentation process. The low PH of beer will react with the copper. FDA Regulation 4.101.14 prohibits serving beer, wine, seltzer and soda to the public with any copper or brass component in the storage or delivery system.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I would say that in general, a jockey box isn't for long term usage but more for a weekend fishing expedition, picnic, or party (I'm sure there are exceptions). If long term use is what you have in mind, you may want to substitute Stainless Steel for the copper pipe to avoid potential issues. Good write up!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Dude Nice! I love Instructables dedicated to beer.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    combine this with the best method for cooling beer cans (ice+salt+water) and you'd get awesome cold beer! good 'ible. makes me want to go get a keg just to have an excuse to make one!