How to Prime Your Kegged Homebrew

Chances are good that when you learned how to homebrew beer, you bottled your ales & lagers. You mixed them with some priming sugar, kept them warm for a couple weeks, and voila! Carbonated homebrew. But maybe you got tired of bottling. Maybe you got corny kegs and a kegerator. Life was good. Homebrew in one big bottle. Until you couldn’t get CO2.

Rumors of CO2 shortages, stories about breweries losing sources of CO2. Seemed like another pandemic supply chain story. But the shortage is real. Luckily, homebrewers don’t need CO2 or can make CO2 tanks last much longer.

You can still bottle your homebrew. You probably still have your capper and bottling bucket. Bottles are still readily available, but they cost more than you remember.

You can prime your kegged beer. I have this conversation with homebrewers and I am still surprised by how many never realized that this is an option. You will still need CO2 to purge and seal your keg. But if you are only using CO2 to push your beer up 4 feet of tubing your gas usage will be dramatically reduced. I can’t remember the last time I force carbonated a beer. I like to brew and I rarely need to tap a keg days after it’s been filled. So priming the kegs has been easy and saves me the hassle of swapping CO2 tanks more than once a year. We drink homebrew every night. I’m going to outline the steps here. Just for the record, I am assuming that your homebrew is 5 gallons, fully fermented, nicely settled out and completely de-gassed. Basically, all the reasons why I do a secondary.

  • I recommend doing a secondary. I like a very clear beer going into the keg. Priming adds sediment so I always secondary a minimum of 2 weeks.

  • Do your usual keg break down and sanitizing routine.

  • Boil your priming sugar & water. Pour into an empty keg. For American style ales and anything I want to be well carbonated, I use ½ cup of dextrose. For English ales I would cut that back to ⅓ cup. You will want to record what you use until you get a feel for what different amounts do.

  • If your homebrew is less than 60F you should let it warm up. I would not cold crash a homebrew that I want to prime. You want the yeast ready & able to do one more thing. If you have any doubts about yeast viability, you can pitch some fresh yeast too. Just make sure not to kill it with a freshly boiled priming solution.

  • Rack your homebrew into the keg. You still should have a couple inches of space between the bottom of the gas dip tube and the surface of the beer.

  • If you think you might overfill the keg have a couple sanitized howlers/growlers ready. You can prime them individually.

  • Put on dry lid. Purge the oxygen out of the headspace and dial up the pressure to seal the keg. Same as you usually do.

  • Keep the keg at room temperature.

  • Check the pressure relief the next morning to make sure its holding pressure.

  • Wait 2 weeks. May I suggest brewing again?

  • When its time to tap the keg put it into kegerator the day before to chill the homebrew. Warm beer pours foamy, we don’t want that.

  • Hook up the beverage out. Leave the gas side alone.

  • Your first pour will have more pressure than you want. There is also going to be about a pint of very yeasty beer.

  • You can keep pouring the beer, but it will be overcarbonated at first, until you need the gas. I call this free gas. I use a pitcher for the first few pours. The beer settles down pretty fast. I only hook up the gas when I need it.

  • You can vent the pressure relief before you hook up the gas to calm it down. This might be a good idea if you have others pouring for you and you don’t want to explain all this.

  • I bring my lagers up from the cellar and let them carbonate at room temperature. I usually keep them at room temp until there is room in the kegerator.

I hope this explanation helps you when and if you find yourself low on CO2. Priming kegs will let you use your gas for what you really want: sealing & pouring homebrew.

Cheers, Anne