I’ve been brewing for years, and I still break out the beer bottles when it’s time to package my beers. Oh, I’ve thought many times about investing in a kegging setup, but I still can’t justify it to myself, either in terms of price or function. Just like most things in life, there are pros and cons when it comes to bottling vs kegging homebrew. When I balance them out from my personal point of view, the scales tip towards bottling, and here’s why.
First and foremost is the cost. For the amount of beer I brew, I’d need three or four kegs at a minimum. The cheapest I’ve seen for a set of four used kegs (without the related hardware) is $130. Yes, I might find a good deal on craigslist, but I live in Boulder County, Colorado, a home-brewing hotbed, and finding good used brewing items is very difficult. Of course, beyond the kegs themselves, I’d need the CO2 tank, regulator, hoses, etc. In the end, it would be several hundred dollars to get started. If you have the funds for a draft system, by all means go for it, for those of us on a tighter budget, kegging will just have to come later.
The other reason I don’t keg is lack of space. I have a “beer fridge” in my basement, so I suppose at worst I can commandeer half of that for kegs, but we actually use the beer fridge for food too, so I can’t use the whole fridge. I could probably find another fridge on craigslist for free, but I don’t really think I want three refrigerators in my house!
The big benefit of kegging, many people say, is the ease by which “bottling day” is reduced to just filling a keg and slapping it on a CO2 thank and that’s that. And, I know that works for a great many people, but to be honest, bottling never really seemed like that much of a chore to me. I generally rinse my bottles well after use, so on bottling day, I throw them in the dishwasher on “hot wash” with no soap, take them out, give them a shot of sanitizer with a bottle rinser, fill and cap. Bottling at batch of beer really only takes me about 90 minutes, and I realize kegging is quicker, but in the grand scheme of things, 90 minutes isn’t a huge deal for me.
Another benefit of bottling – beer bottles are essentially free. I still buy beer, and when I do, I re-use the bottles whenever possible. Also, I just picked up over 100 bottles off of craigslist for free because I am brewing a batch for a wedding, and didn’t want to lose 50 or so of my own bottles. Though in a pinch, or if you want a special kind of bottle, most homebrew shops do carry beer bottles.
Lastly, I know this doesn’t fit into most brewer’s pros and cons list for bottling vs kegging, but I like beer bottles. I like that I can grab a six-pack and take it to a friend’s house; I like that I can have several varieties in my beer fridge and grab whatever I am in the mood for; and finally, there’s just something inherently nostalgic about a bottle of beer that you don’t get with a keg hidden off in a fridge somewhere.
If you’ve been considering getting a kegging setup, but you have reservations about doing so, just know that there’s nothing inherently wrong with bottling your beer, and you’re no less of a brewer because of it. There are pros and cons to everything, and it is no different when it comes to bottling vs. kegging your homebrew.
John Torrance is a database developer, gadget lover, and avid home brewer living in Lafayette, Colorado. When he’s not actively brewing, he’s generally daydreaming about what he’s going to brew for his next batch. John also makes and sells brewing-related items, which are available at Fermentropy.com.