Your average kegerator is not a complicated machine. Dialing your kegerator in to produce perfect pints is easy if you are familiar with the parts that comprise your kegerator - and, of course, the beer your are dispensing. By becoming familiar with the appropriate pressure settings for your kegerator, you can ensure that each pint is being served at its optimum pressure and temperature. Here we will look at the different parts involved in dispensing beer from a kegerator, and how to dial them in effectively.
CO2 tank & Regulator
We will follow the flow of beer from its' origin in this kegerator parts overview. First, the beer is pushed by CO2 gas. This gas comes from the CO2 tank or canister, and is controlled by a single or double gauge CO2 regulator. Sometimes, people have a bank of modular regulators in order to send out different pressures to different kegs. To determine the proper pressure for your beer, reference the kind of beer with the temperature of your kegerator on my CO2 Carbonation Pressure Table Chart. CO2 canisters come in a variety of sizes, and for kegerator use, most fall between five and 20 pounds capacity. The CO2 flows down the gas line, sometimes through a CO2 inline filter, and into the keg. These gas lines are usually 5/16" clear food-grade surgical tubing.
Kegerators can be adapted to use any kind of beer keg, whether standard or Cornelius (soda) keg. On a standard keg, the CO2 next flows into the keg tap. On a Cornelius keg, the CO2 enters via a ball or pin lock fitting. Ball lock fittings are designed so that the CO2 fitting fits only on the CO2, or "in" side, and the beer line fitting fits only onto the beer, or "out" side. Pin lock fittings are aligned according to how many pins fit in the appropriate fitting: the"CO2-in" has two pins, and the "beer-out" has three. These make it so that you can't accidentally hook up the hoses backwards.
Once I had a problem where a used keg I bought had these two fittings switched, and this made life difficult for me when it came time to dispense the beer. It was Mardi Gras, and I was in Berkeley, CA, part of the annual parade of that city incited by the Church of the Great Green Frog (Hop-a-loo-ya!). The crowd gathered was thirsty after their morning breakfast of "space waffles". I had cleverly disguised my mobile beer dispenser as a bicycle-hauled "Crypt-thing" themed float, so people had to find the beer spigot hidden in numerous tentacles protruding from the back of the crypt. It was a ball-lock keg, fortunately, so I was able to force the CO2 fitting onto the "gas-in" port that had the wrong fitting on the keg, but the hassle could have been avoided by double-checking before I put the beer in the keg.
You can use the same 5/16" food-grade surgical tubing for your beer lines, but kegerator hobbyists are finding that smaller tubes eliminate a lot of problems with over foaming beers. 3/16" tubing will help you with this, but you may have to soak the tubing in hot water to get it to expand over the nipples of the fittings on either end.
Beer Line, Shank, & Faucet
Next, your beer travels through your beer lines and through the beer shank. The beer shank is mounted through the door of your kegerator. The beer shank is the mounting mechanism for your beer faucet or draft tower. Some people use certain faucets for certain kinds of beer, but the most important beer to have its' own style of faucet is stout, as it is dispensed at a slower rate than other beers. Another customization that you can add to this area of your kegerator is a "European" style faucet. These faucets have longer spouts to prevent foaming problems. Each faucet must have a tap handle, of course, to ensure that you know what beer you are pouring. Next, the beer flows from your beer faucet into a glass, but usually there is some spillage, either from foaming or inebriation. And so, the spill tray, which should be mounted under the beer faucet, whether tower style or side mounted. The beer now finishes its journey, either in your gullet or down the spill tray tube and down the drain.