I missed posting last week, but with good reason. Beth and I threw our yearly Oktoberfest bash this last weekend, so I'd been a bit busy preparing for the party to get a post up.
Preparing for the party has brought a topic to mind that I've been thinking about posting for a while though, so here we go.
Bottling vs. Kegging
Almost all new homebrewers start out by bottling their beer. It's inexpensive to do, and requires very little skill to do properly, and if you do screw something up, it'll only be a few bottles at most, so you'll have the majority of the batch of beer that's still drinkable.
To get into bottling, you need a wing capper like this one, a bottling bucket, a bottling wand, bottle caps
and a bunch of bottles. You can get the bottles for free by either drinking beer, getting your friends to drink beer, or picking them up off Craigslist. For only about $40, you've got the equipment you need to start bottling. If you need to buy bottles, you can get enough for an entire batch of beer for about $20.
Kegging on the other hand, is pretty expensive, and does require a bit more skill to get right.
To get started in kegging, you need kegs, and even used kegs start around $50 each these days (it was about $20/keg when I got into kegging). You also need a CO2 tank, regulators, faucets, tubing and a whole lot of other little odds and ends. I'm not even going to bother trying to link to the individual components, and instead link to this kegging system, which runs about $300 on it's own, and just included picnic taps instead of real faucets, and only supports 2 kegs (although, you can expand it, but not cheaply).
Oh, and remember how I said it takes more skill? Well, you need to be able to get hose lengths correct so you can have the beer properly carbonated, but not come out as all foam. I've got my system fairly well dialed in, but some of my taps actually run a bit too slowly. You also need to be able to diagnose problems with the kegs, and fix them. As an example, your keg may leak CO2, or even worse, leak beer.
So given all that, why would anyone switch to kegging from bottling?
Well, the big one for me was that bottling is a lot of work, and takes a lot of time. You need to clean and sanitize ~50 bottles per batch of beer, and fill them all. I would say that this took about 4 hours per batch of beer. For kegging, I clean and sanitize one keg, and then fill it, for each batch of beer. If I'm only doing a single batch of beer, this all takes an hour or less, and a I actually have a couple of extra kegs on hand, so I wait until I have at least 3 kegs to clean, because each subsequent keg takes about 1/3 the time to clean after the first one. The time difference really starts to show when you've got 3, 4, 5 batches of beer that need to go into bottles or kegs. 3 batches of beer in bottles, 12 hours. 3 batches of beer in kegs, an hour and a half or so.
Another reason is that it's pretty impressive to say "yeah, I've got 7 kegs of beer on tap at home".
There is one downside to kegging that I didn't think about before I made the leap, which is that it's a lot harder to share my beer with friends. I used to give out six packs of my homebrew to friends and family, but I can't do that anymore. I can, and do give away growlers of beer, but the beer doesn't last nearly as long in a growler. You really need to drink it within a day or two.
The Party Pig System
One thing that I tried as sort of an intermediate step between bottling and kegging was the Party Pig. Each Party Pig holds 2.5 gallons of beer. You still need to sugar condition the beer, because the Party Pig doesn't carbonate the beer on its own, but it has a pressurized pouch in the Party Pig that keeps the pressure constant after you've carbonated the beer.
It's definitely more convenient than bottling, but it has the down side of needing a place in the refrigerator. I also had an issue with the faucet in the Party Pig sticking from the dried beer, and dripping a little beer in the fridge every time I would pour a glass of beer.
In hind sight, I would say don't bother with the Party Pig. If you really don't want to spend the money on a full kegging system, there are also smaller pony kegging systems. I've got friends that are perfectly happy with the smaller 5 liter kegs.