Almost every homebrewer, sooner or later, upgrades from bottling to kegging beer. We took that step a year ago and, although we bottle most of our beer, sometimes we keg some of our beers in corny kegs.
Once the beer is carbonated in the corny keg you have to choose one of the different alternatives to dispense the beer. For us, while the keg is at home and, since our beer consumption is not excessive, we usually dispense our beer from a chromed tap that can be attached to a keg disconnect. We keep the corny keg in a small fridge and when we want some beer is just as easy as attaching the tap and serve. Easy, fast and simple. The problem starts when you want to take your keg out for some event or reunion.
For these situations there are several options. You can go with draught beer coolers systems as PYGMY. These are beautiful and very appealing systems, but they also have some cons for the use we intend, mainly three. There are fairly heavy, what makes their transport difficult, they aren’t cheap and it takes some time to clean them well. There are a lot of homebrewers who used them, both at home and out, but their beer consumption is big enough for the beer to stay at its best condition. Because of all of the above, we decided a more affordable option, to build a jockey box.
As with all the DIY projects, there are thousands of alternatives to do it and one can do it as complicated as he/she can, as you can see in a lot of online videos. Being our first time, we decided to do a quite simple jockey box, with only one tap. First thing we had to do is get all the different parts to build it. You can check the following list with all the parts we used, with links for those who want more details.
- 24 liters portable cooler
- Stainless steel coil with 7×6 mm diameter and a length of 14.1 m (46.3 feet)
- Chrome tap with flow control and integrated 3/8” John Guest connector
- John Guest 1/2″ to 3/8” line adapter (x2)
- John Guest 1/4″ FFL Female to 3/8″ Line Adapter
- 1/2” bulkhead union
- 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) of 3/8” dispense tubing
Looking at the pics accompanying this post, you can get a picture of how to assembly everything, since using John Guest connectors is something quite easy. The biggest trouble we had to face was to drill holes in the cooler to pass through its wall the tap in the front and the bulkhead union in the back. To drill the holes the best option is to use either a step drill bit or a sheet metal punch. In our case, my brother was able to use a step drill bit in his workplace, but if you don’t have any of them, you should be able to borrow one from somebody. Another problem we had to face was to cut a fixed nut in the bulkhead union in order to be able to connect it to a 1/2” thread of the John Guest 1/2″ to 3/8” line adapter. A metal sawing machine should do the job.
Once these problems were solved, the rest was a piece of cake. We first put the tap in its place. Then we put the bulkhead union in the back, connecting to it both John Guest 1/2″ to 3/8” line adapters. Then we placed the stainless steel coil inside the cooler and we took two short pieces of tubing to connect the coil ends to the 3/8” John Guest connectors. Finally, we connected the dispensing tubing from the back of the cooler to the corny keg. The length of this tubing is something you should decide having into account the diameter and material of the tubing, since it will determine how the beer would be dispensed. There are several online sites where you can find instructions to calculate this length. For our jockey box, the tubing has a length of approximately 3.5 meters (11.5 feet). The connection of the tubing to the corny keg was done with the John Guest 1/4″ FFL female to 3/8″ line adapter, which fits the thread of a ball lock out disconnect. Below you can see the final setup.
When everything is in place, the only thing left is to fill the cooler with ice and connect a corny keg full of beer. Then a pressure must be applied in order to dispense beer, with a CO2 tank or portable CO2 cartridges. This pressure depends on the distance the beer has to travel from the keg to the tap, and also on the materials of the tubing and the coil. This pressure can be regulated as the beer is being dispensed, but a good starting point and something that works for us is approximately 1.5 bars (21.8 psi).
The first time we used this jockey box was with our first NEIPA, once we had done some tests with water to prove the system. We were very happy with the results, we could serve the entire corny keg at a perfect temperature by filling with ice only the inside part of the coil, without needing too much ice. In our opinion, a jockey box is an excellent (and relatively economical) option to enjoy beer on tap outside. For those of you who are planning on doing something similar we hope this post can help you do it. And, if you have any doubts, don’t hesitate to post them in the comments section, we will be glad to answer.