The Ultimate Guide to Beer Kegs (FAQs)
Common keg sizes, dimensions, types, kegerators, and how many draft beers are in each keg, by gallon and liter.
First, you have your standard keg, like the durable half barrel. Then, you have a variety of divisible amounts that increase portability as the size goes down. For instance, the party-popular pony keg, otherwise known as the quarter barrel. Then, oyu have home brew kegs like the Corny and Sixth, kegs that have become popular with the craft beer explosion.
In the old(er) days keg sales from independent brewers were all but non-existent. This has changed over the last 20 years, with microbreweries possessing not only the bandwidth, but, more importantly for distribution, the popularity to sell in large volume. Brewers like 1st Republic Brewing Company in Essex Junction, VT, have a keg program. So dope.
Who sells kegs?
A variety of establishments and businesses in beer distribution, ranging from liquor/package stores, to breweries themselves, to online, beer delivery services like Drizly. National beer, wine, and liquor retailer Total Wine sells kegs, offering over 1,700 different half barrel kegs, 380 quarter barrel kegs, and 3,500+ sixth barrel kegs.
That's a lot of suds!
Types of Kegs
The types of keg you can get varies depending on the size of the brewery and its Nationality. Breweres in the United States rely on Sixth, Quarter, and Half Barrel kegs to distribute their beer to restaurants, pubs, and you, the consumer. In Europe, the 20, 30, and 50 litre keg is common.
Mini Keg (Bubba)
Although we do not endorse doing so, the Mini Keg is the only (realistic) keg that a human can consume in one sitting, unless you're Andre the Giant or Wade Boggs. A step up from 64oz growlers, the Mini Keg holds about 10 pints, which is more than plenty enough to get sauced.
If you like Heineken, a Bubba might be your jam.
Cornelius Keg (Corny Keg)
4 times the size of a Mini Keg is the Cornelius Keg, which holds about 40 pints, great for a backyard bbq among friends. As with all good brand fights, the Corny Keg can be divided up by pin lock and ball lock, or, Coke vs Pepsi. Corny kegs were originally used for soda fountains, and Coke's featured pin locks, while Pepsi's featured ball locks. That's the story in summary. These kegs are no longer used by the soda industry, and as such, have become available to Homebrewers. Their size and portability make them a great choice for the craft beer lover turned brewer who wants to share some with their friends.
Sixth Barrel (1/6 bbl)
The liquid difference between the Cornelius Keg and 1/6th Barrel is about a beer, which is negligible. It's the structure of the tap/line connection (coupler) that separates the Corny Kegs from the Sixtel logs, one that aligns with the larger keg sizes, including the quarter and half barrels.
A home brewer, turned commercial Massachusetts Brewer, once brought a few Sixth Barrel Kegs to a wedding of a friend we had in common. WAY better than a wedding filled with buckets of Bud Light.
Quarter Barrel (1/4 bbl)
There are two types of Quarter Barrel Keg, the regular Quarter Barrel, also referred to as a Pony Keg or Stubby Quarter, and the Slim Quarter Keg. The difference is all in the dimensions.
The regular Quarter barrel has the width of the Half, with a reduced height. The Slim Quarter has the height of the Half Barrel, with a reduced width. Same 30 liters of beer inside, just a different shape.
With nearly 8 gallons of beer inside, the Quarter Barrel Pony Keg will net you 60+ pints. So will the Tall Quarter, go figure. Math!
50 Litre Keg
Litre? Is Europe even still a country!?
We joke, we love Europe and their European barrels. And, the metric system makes so much more sense. This import keg shares far more in common with the Half Barrel than the Quarter, with several European brands shipping them over to the states.
The 50 Litre Keg will net you ~100 pints. That's easy to remember.
Half Barrel (1/2 bbl)
The name is a bit misleading, as it is considered to be a full size keg today. I assume no one could pick up a full barrel back in the day (the 1980s), and henceforth, the half barrel keg became defacto.
However, the guy from Game of Thrones just deadlifted 1,100 pounds, so anything is possible these days. Let's see the Mountain do a keg toss with a full barrel of beer!
The Half Barrel is a 15.5 gallon keg. It is the standard size full keg that college parties are built on. Accounting for spillage and tap mishandling, the 1/2 bbl will fill up over 160+ red solo cups with 12oz beers from its tap before it kicks.
What is amazing to us is that craft beer breweries even offer half barrels, like Hobbs Tavern Brewing in West Ossipee, New Hampshire.
Cask firkins, pins, and kilderkins are also types of beer kegs. These are for cask conditioned beer, and come in approximately at the 5.5, 11, and 22 gallon marks.
Literally the worst type of keg. An empty keg is a type of keg that holds no beer. An empty keg makes everyone sad.
Nothing says fresh beer at home like the tap of a kegerator. A portmanteau of keg and refrigerator, this stainless steel wonder of modern technology is the darling of college kids, post-grads, and Super Bowl party hosting folks alike.
How long do kegs last?
Not that it will take that long to finish, but a kegerator will keep your beer fresh for 1-2 months. Plenty of time to dismantle your neighbors in friendly games of beer pong. Plenty of time to watch ESPN's 30/30 series.
Shopping for a kegerator
Unless you're ballin', a commercial kegerator is beyond your scope. That leaves the full-size home and full-size outdoor models that you want to target. When shopping for one, make sure you check the dimensions and specs to ensure that you have the proper equipment, especially if you're opting for a dual tap kegerator. A dual tap gives you the flexibility to serve one full size keg of standard commercial brew, or, two of your favorite local breweries using Slim Quarters during your next pool party. If you're ordering a kegerator from Home Depot, they will give you a comparison chart for compatible keg sizes.
You could build our own kegerator, and that level of DIY is cool for some of you, but you're probably better off buying one from the store. Or, head on down to Allston Christmas (Boston) for the great college student move out and grab a used one from the side of the road. YMMV.
What comes with a kegerator?
In general, a tap kit that includes the beer tower/faucet, hoses, CO2 tank, regulator, coupler, handles, and more. Check to make sure your coupler is an American Sankey D-system, that model is the most prevalent here in the United States. You will also want to fill up your CO2 tank, as they only last for a run through a full-size keg or so.
Beyond refilling the CO2 tank as needed, you will want to clean the unit and draft lines often, usually after a half barrel's worth of beer has been finished, perhaps a bit more. Don't go too long without flushing the lines though, it's just not good.
Also, like craft beer brewers name their beers, it is important that you name your kegerator. We still pour one out for our buddy's R2-Beer2, and, our own Tyrion Cannister. You are missed.