How to Tap a Keg
Labor Day weekend is coming up and you or someone you know is throwing a party. So while everyone else is figuring out how to buy the perfect ratio of hot dogs to buns, one-up them and bring the keg. Besides, nothing screams “Back to School” like a keg party. But merely showing up with a keg won’t warrant undying love from your friends, you’ll actually have to get the beer into their cups.
If you’ve never tapped a keg before, follow these tips. You’ll be everyone’s hero.
What You Need:
• The keg of beer
• A tap system (make sure you have the right one, different kegs may require different taps, so double check here)
Step 1: Ice Your Brew
One of the most common causes of excessive foam is warm beer. The exact ideal temperature varies from beer to beer, but your standard American macrobrew will be tastiest around 35˚F. This means you’ll want the beer chilling at least two hours ahead of time, and ideally four to five hours. Whoever designed the typical keg bucket made it only about half as tall as a standard keg. So in order to ensure that the entire surface area of the keg is cooled (not just the bottom half) place a plastic garbage bag in the bucket, and then put down a thin layer of ice before dropping in the keg itself. Continue to pack ice inside the garbage bag until you cover the top of the keg. Check periodically and add ice as needed.
Tip: Cool down the tap too. The amount of carbonation the beer holds goes down as temperature increases, so letting cold beer hit a warm tube will guarantee an avalanche of foam. Fortunately, the solution is pretty easy: Just leave the tap on ice with the keg an hour or so before you decide to tap.
Step 2: Tap That Sucker
Most taps have a handle that pushes down to lock the tap onto the keg, while others have dual-flanges that you twist about a quarter-turn. In either case, make sure that the handle or flanges are not in the engaged position. If they are, beer will spray out as soon as you put the tap on the keg.
Seat the party pump on top of the keg, making sure not to push down on the spring-loaded ball valve (another way to spray beer in your face). Lock the pump onto the keg by rotating it clockwise, then engage the tap by pulling the handle out then pushing it down, or by twisting the flanges. If you see bubbles or foam forming around the tap, something’s not seated correctly, so disengage the pump, take it off, and try again.
Step 3: Master Your Pour
No matter how carefully you’ve followed these steps, the first glass of beer out of a keg will always be foamy. Pour foam into a spare glass until beer starts flowing. Foam begets foam, so you’ll waste more than you’ll drink if you try to pour beer into a foamy glass. Also, you don’t have to pump before the first pour, since the keg is already under a great deal of pressure.
A pour from a keg that’s too fast or slow will create foam. You can regulate the speed by how much you pump. It should take 10 to 15 seconds to pour a pint with an inch of foam.
For the first few pints (when the keg is still under pressure), you may want to slow down the flow of the beer. You can do this by elevating the tap and glass above your head. Then, if you want the flow to speed up, start pumping more. Some taps also have a small pressure release valve, which you can open by pulling the metal ring attached to it.
Since there’s no rule of thumb for the proper number of pumps per pint, it’s easiest to do this with a friend rather than alone. One person should hold the glass at a 45-degree angle and point the spigot toward the side of the glass. While the pint is filling up, gradually turn the glass vertical to avoid spilling. The other person should give the keg a few pumps anytime the glass starts to get too foamy. Just don’t overdo it, too many pumps will—you guessed it—create foam as well.
This How-To was originally written by WIRED contributor Brook Wilkinson. It was originally published on a wiki, so it contains edits and additions from WIRED readers.
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