Tiny Ball Lock Keg–Product Review
By Calvin Perilloux
Is this the smallest ball-lock beer keg on the market? Probably so. Is this the most convenient draft beer container for parties? Maybe. Is this really a great little keg? Well…
This year there have been some new entrants to the ball lock keg market from China, competing with the old Cornelius kegs and the newer Italian-made kegs from AEB. It was surely only a matter of time before this happened, and the Chinese have graced us with their usual engineering and craftsmanship at a low price. One of these new kegs is an unbranded 1.75 gallon keg that is available from at least one mail order homebrew shop. (Several vendors have the very similar 2.5 gallon versions available.)
This is advertised as a 1.75 gallon keg, but you can fit up to 2 gallons in it if you fill nearly to the gas-in dip tube. That’s a good size for bringing beer to a party, and the keg is light and portable and easily fits into a lot of medium sized coolers. Combine this with a compact CO2-cartridge dispense system, and the gadgets and the polished sheen on it will draw homebrewers over to it like flies to… you know.
And so we get to the down side of this keg. I can only speculate about the metal quality, but they do claim it to be 304 stainless, which is fine if true, and it might be. (Why do I not trust Chinese metal products? Perhaps it’s the rust on my “stainless steel” grill?) The welding is a bit sloppy, but only a bit. Call it “hurried”, perhaps, with cosmetic flaws scratched down from the welder’s cleanup. No matter what the metal truly is, there’s no worry about corrosion during shipping or storage while on way to you because the keg arrives covered with dust imbedded in a protective oily grime. The lid fits well, but the feet on the clamp/latch (bale) are not quite properly positioned, so there is a tendency for the lid to spring open if the keg is jarred. Fortunately, if there’s pressure in the keg, that pressure keeps the lid on even if the wire bale springs loose. I’ll eventually need to bend the feet on the bale to a better angle, but bending that heavy stainless is not as easy as I thought.
The pressure relief valve is different from the ones we are used to, and it probably (hopefully!) will release at a lower pressure than those on typical ball lock kegs. Not having tested it, and having little desire to pressure test a cheap Chinese container with no maximum pressure rating stamped on it, I dug around and found that these kegs are rated to 60 psi, which is why I’d guess and hope that the pressure relief valve is set lower than normal. The hiss you get out of it is different as well, so those of us experienced enough to release pressure on a keg down to, say, 5 psi by sound pitch alone will find that the skill doesn’t work on this keg!
The gas and liquid posts appear to be conventional ball lock style and thus replaceable if required. A problematic item with my keg is that the O-rings on the posts are hard and undersized just a bit, and this led to some very obvious CO2 gas leakage, even with Keg Lube™. Perhaps newer versions have better O-rings, but be ready to replace these O-rings with thicker ones or risk losing a tank full of CO2 if you leave it on this keg. The poppet springs are very strong, so you’ll have a hard time releasing gas with just a fingernail on the poppet, but rest assured that that seal is tight, tight, tight.
Internally, the welding looks “good enough”, and the dip tubes are fine – kind of. The design has the dip tube angling down to the bottom, but not to the lowest point in the keg, so this reduces sediment pickup as long as your keg and the yeast has settled down for a while. This will leave three ounces of your beer in there when the keg is finished, which is not a bad price to pay for clearer beer. This also means that if you purge your kegs after cleaning like I do by filling them with Starsan first and then pushing that out with CO2, you’ll end up with about three ounces of Starsan in the bottom. You have to get it out by turning the keg upside down and using the pressure release valve.
The version of this keg that I bought was not stackable, but newer ones are, via a pair of heavy wire supports extending upwards to match the bottom of a similar keg, and it appears that you can even have beer connections in place while they are stacked, so this is a nice bonus for those with small fridges who want several kegs tapped at once in a tight space.
Overall, I’m pleased to have one of these kegs. Just one. If the construction and design were better, I might be interested in using the newer ones for the stackabilitywhile-serving feature, but outside of that, the Italianmade 2.5 gallon kegs are better designed and far, far better built, and I would rather pay nearly double for the better Italian ones built by AEB. If you want portability at a cheap price, though, this one is good to have.
Brand Name: None!
Capacity: 1.75 to 2 gallons
Tare (empty) weight: 4 lb 4 oz
Diameter: 8½ inches
Height: 11¼ inches (top of bale bracket; note that new stackable models will be taller)
Height when tapped: 125/8 inches (top of typical beer or gas fitting)