Homebrew enthusiasts often seek ways to enhance the quality of their beer and make their hobby more efficient. Upgrading from bottling homebrew batches to kegging them is a game-changing option that many eventually consider. However, it’s crucial to weigh the pros and cons of both kegging and bottling when deciding on the best way to package your homebrew.
Let’s take a closer look at the advantages of bottling:
Advantages of Bottling
Bottles have a certain iconic charm — the sound of a freshly opened bottle and the clinking of glass create a unique experience.
Bottling homebrew only requires basic equipment that you likely already have from your initial brewing kit. If you recycle bottles, they’re essentially free. The only real cost comes from cleaning and sanitizing products and a small amount of sugar.
Improved flavor & character
Many brewers have conducted side-by-side comparisons of kegged and bottle-conditioned beers. Bottle-conditioned versions are often said to have a fuller body and better head retention due to the additional yeast in suspension. However, whether the taste is better depends on the style of beer.
Easier to share
It’s undeniably easier to transport a six-pack of bottles compared to a keg. Bottled homebrew can be easily shared as gifts or at social events.
Easier to store long-term
A case of bottled beer can be stored and forgotten about for months or even years. On the other hand, a keg would be out of commission, limiting your brewing frequency unless you have surplus kegs.
ACE bottles filling and capping machine
Disadvantages of Bottling
Despite the advantages, there are some downsides to bottling that lead many brewers to switch to kegging:
Washing, sanitizing, filling, and capping dozens of bottles takes much longer than doing the same for a single keg. A keg can be carbonated and ready to drink within a day, while bottle conditioning typically takes at least 2 weeks.
Greater risk of mistakes
Bottling offers less control over carbonation levels. Even with precise sugar measurements, various factors affect the conversion to CO2. Too much sugar can cause bottle explosions, while too little leaves the beer flat. Oxidation risk also increases during bottling.
Takes up space
If you brew regularly, you’ll need plenty of bottles, which can occupy a significant amount of space. You’ll also need room to dry washed bottles, store conditioning bottles, and keep ready-to-drink bottles in the fridge.
Kegging can elevate your beer enjoyment. Having beer on tap at home is a unique pleasure, and it’s not as challenging as it may seem.
Advantages of Kegging
Time savings are an obvious advantage of kegging over bottling, but there are additional benefits to this storage and dispensing method:
In today’s fast-paced world, few have the time to wash, sanitize, rinse, fill, and cap endless bottles. It’s more convenient to use a single larger vessel, significantly reducing the time required.
Fill the keg, cold crash it, and then carbonate it. Depending on your method, a keg can be fully carbonated and ready to drink in under an hour, a few days, or a week.
You can still bottle if desired
With kegging, you can still bottle your homebrew. In fact, this often results in a stable, clear product ideal for friends unaccustomed to sediment in their beer. With a keg, you have the best of both worlds — great parties and the ability to bring bottles elsewhere!
You can referment in the keg
Bottle conditioning is known to enhance the flavor and characteristics of beer, but you can achieve similar results by conditioning in a keg. Simply add priming sugar to the keg and leave it for a couple of weeks.
Force carbonation allows for more consistent CO2 levels, resulting in a more uniform product. You can easily adjust carbonation levels, adding more CO2 if it’s too flat and reducing it if it’s overcarbonated.
Less risk of oxidation
When kegging, you can eliminate oxygen exposure by performing a closed transfer. Purge the keg with CO2, remove any oxygen, and then fill the sealed keg using pressure release to allow the beer to flow in.
ACE high-quality beer kegs
Disadvantages of Kegging
Although kegging has numerous advantages, there are some downsides that deter people from choosing it initially. Let’s explore these disadvantages:
Compared to bottling, which is nearly free, kegging requires a significant investment. The upfront cost depends on the scale, but typically includes at least one keg, a CO2 canister, beer lines, a tap, keg connectors, and a dedicated beer fridge. Additionally, you’ll need to periodically replenish your gas supply.
Takes up space
If you opt for kegging, you might need to purchase a separate fridge. Not everyone has the space for this, but when you consider how much space eight cases of bottles would occupy, it’s a similar requirement. Alternatively, you can explore smaller keg sizes (2, 4, 5, and 10 liters) that fit inside a regular fridge or a cooler box.
Beer is consumed more quickly
When beer is on tap, it tends to be consumed more rapidly because it’s easier to pour from a tap than to open another bottle.
The Best Choice For You?
In the ongoing debate between bottling and kegging homebrew, there are no definitive winners or losers. Ultimately, the choice depends on your specific circumstances. If you have the space and resources to invest in kegging equipment and are tired of dealing with countless bottles, go for it!
Generally, the advantages of kegging outweigh the disadvantages. The convenience, time savings, and ease of use make kegging a preferable choice. Some benefits of bottling can still be realized with kegging, particularly through keg conditioning for those who prefer bottle-conditioned beer.