Whereas bottling beer could easily be used as a method of torture, a Cornelius Keg, aka a Cornie, is a wonderful piece of kit that any homebrewer will love and cherish until the end of his days. Why? Because it makes dispensing beer so easy and carefree compared to bottling.
You will need to sterilise a siphon tube, a fermentation bin and of course your Cornie Keg, including the detachable part of the top, including the rubber ’O’ ring and not forgetting the sparkler attachment that screws on to the end of the tap.
How to sterilise a Cornie Keg? Fill the keg with sterilising solution and ‘gas up’ the keg. Open the tap for a few seconds so sterilising solution runs through the pipes and is sitting in the dispensing tube. When the solution has soaked for the recommended time (instructions on packet) drop the detachable part of the top, including the ’O’ ring, into the fermentation bin you are sterilising when it’s full of steriliser and allow to soak. Do the same with the sprinkler attachment on the tap. To rinse, simply pour away the steriliser solution, fill with cold water, rinse the detachable part of the top in cold water and re-attach, ‘gas up’ the keg and blow cold water through the system.
Just as you would when bottling, you will find there is a thin layer of trub at the bottom of the bin at the end of secondary fermentation and you don’t want that stuff in your keg. To avoid this, always siphon off the beer into a sterilised bin, just as we did at the end of primary fermentation. At this stage, if you want to know your final gravity reading, you should take a sample for your hydrometer.
Now, there are two ways we can carbonate the beer. The first, the slowest method, is to add priming sugar just like you did when bottling. Then siphon off the beer from the new clean bin into the Cornie Keg and put the top on. To try to make the seal as airtight as possible some brewers put a thin coating of petroleum jelly on the rubber 'O' ring. This can be tricky because if the jelly comes into contact with your beer it will kill any chance of you getting a head on your pint. Then ‘purge’ your Cornie Keg of oxygen. This is done by gassing up the Cornie Keg with CO2 then release the safety valve. Do this a couple of times just to be sure you’ve got most or all of the oxygen out. Finally gas up with some more CO2 then leave for 2 – 3 weeks while the beer is carbonated by the priming sugar.
The second method allows you to drink the beer within about an hour of getting it in the keg, it’s a process known as ‘force carbonating’. There are various ways of doing this and if you wish to find out about them, YouTube is your friend. As above, fill the keg, put the top on and purge. Then gas up the keg until the safety valve releases a little, telling you the keg is full, then agitate the keg for five minutes. You can do this by rolling it back and forth along the floor under your foot, or putting it on your lap and raising each knee alternately so you get a rocking motion. Let the keg stand for 20-30 minutes then try pouring a sample to check the level of carbonation. I strongly suggest you do this outside as beer could spray all over the place! Repeat the process of gassing up and agitating if the beer isn’t carbonated enough for your taste.
You could always experiment with these two methods to find out which one is for you, but I've heard some real nightmare stories about force carbonating along the lines of beer spraying walls, windows, ceilings, wives...
A Cornie keg is convenient and is quite portable; a welcome addition to any barbecue – as long as you don’t forget to take along the gas!