This Summer, Get a Keg of Beer

Having a few gallons of beer on tap sounds luxurious. In a summer of social distancing, it's necessary. So go ahead and order that keg.

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These are difficult days to drink draft beer. Bars, restaurants, and brewery taprooms are coming back from quarantine slowly — closed or operating at reduced capacity, placing cold pints farther than six feet from most fingertips. This will change throughout summer but for the foreseeable future, beer will primarily be consumed at home.

There’s a simple solution to this all: Order a keg of your favorite beer from a local brewery or distributor. It really is that simple. Most craft breweries package their beer in kegs, earmarked for serving at taprooms and retail accounts … that might not currently operate. Distributors, likewise, are overflowing with untapped kegs of the stuff that is usually swilled at a breakneck pace at your local dive bar.

In turn, breweries and distributors are increasingly offering kegs for at-home consumption, providing fresh beer at a fabulous value. Ever bought paper towels in bulk from Costco? Keg beer is similar. A log-shaped sixtel (one-sixth of a barrel of beer) contains approximately 5.2 gallons of beer, the equivalent of 41 pints of proper 16-ounce pours.

Expect to spend anywhere from $70 to $130 for the average sixtel, meaning you’ll pay just $2 or $3 per pint — endless happy hour! (Kegs also require a deposit.) The deal is sweet, but the path to your personal summertime keg is not exactly straightforward.

First of all, ice and a tap with a hand pump aren’t going to cut it. College-style drinking like this must be enjoyed within 12 hours. You see, the pump introduces oxygen into the keg, accelerating ruinous oxidation and the loss of carbonation. That means flat, stale beer the next day.

The idea is to offer you leisurely consumption. So, yes, you’re going to have to invest in a temperature-controlled kegerator. These keep beer cold and dispense it via carbon dioxide, meaning beer stays fresher for much, much longer. Stored and served properly, kegs of unpasteurized craft beer are good for up to two months, while kegs of pasteurized beer, including mass-produced domestic lagers, are good for more than four months.

Kegerators cost around $400 for an entry-level model. These models look fine — sleek and simple, with a tap handle, and temperature control. But given all the beer money you’re saving — $2 to $3 a pint; do the math! — it might make sense to get a kegerator model that looks, well, classy. You’re an adult after all. You don’t have a keg in your backyard — you have beer on draft. Models that go for upwards of $1,700 are weatherproof and can be installed with marble patio tops looking enough to actually add value to your house.

So the means are set — what about the beer? This is not your time to order strong double IPA or imperial stout. It’s tempting, but that’s so much boozy beer. Instead, seek out a crisp pilsner, tart and salty Gose, or aromatic pale ale, beers that offer moderate alcohol, huge refreshment, and flavor. You’re ordering 40 pints, so it would make sense to try the beer first. And if you aren’t very adventurous or just think it doesn’t get better than Miller HighLife — hey, that sweet, malty corn flavor is a favorite of many craft brewers! — go ahead and save yourself a few bucks.

It’s your yard. Bar none, it’s time to tap into summer.

How to Tap a Keg

After transporting a keg to your home, place the keg inside the fridge, and allow it to settle for a minimum of one hour. When you’re ready to imbibe, open the carbon dioxide tank, and adjust the pressure (start with 12 PSI), then attach the keg via the coupler. Open the tap and pour yourself a cold one, adjusting pressure as needed.

Get the Right Glass

If you’re planning on having a keg’s worth of fine craft beer, you need the glasses to match. There’s no way to go wrong with a set of Spiegelau, matched to the beer style, of course.

But if you have accepted that there are no parties this summer and this beer is yours to enjoy, you should get a viking horn just for you. Well, you and your wife, of course; you need to get two.

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