When appraising the factors that have all contributed to the existence of the kegerator, as we know it today, we cannot forget that it is the revival of home brewing in the early 80's that brought it all together. Historically speaking, this synchronicity has produced a unique experience in beer drinking history, which has to do with taste and pasteurization. The technology to make kegerators for the home had been in existence since just before the turn of the 19th century. But various social issues, including prohibition, war, economic depression, and the civil rights movement hindered advancement in such, shall we say, frivolous fields.
Although American prohibition ended in 1933, home brewing beer wasn't made legal until 1978 by an act of Congress. Although the law didn't stop many rural folks from making their own home brew, the legalization of home brewing stimulated a new industry in the United States which is still going strong today, and it is likely that the first kegerators for the home were made commercially available soon after the change in the law. Although home brewers are limited to 200 gallons per household per year in the United States, in the United Kingdom there is no limit on quantity. Both countries, however, forbid home brewers outright to sell or distill their products.
One of the most useful applications of the kegerator to the home brewer has always been as a lagering unit. Lager yeast is a bottom fermenting yeast, and typically ferments in the initial phase at 7-12°C (45-55°F), and is then racked and fermented in a secondary fermentation vessel at 0-4°C (30-40°F). This is called the lagering phase, during which the lager clears and mellows - but that's not all! The best quality lagers are then stored at a low temperature, sometimes as low as 0°C (32°F), for several months. This allows them to clear even more and to carbonate well. These fermenting temperatures are considered to inhibit the production undesirable byproducts, such as esters, and the process results in the distinctively crisper taste, which is the trademark of the lager.
As you might imagine, it can be difficult for home brewers to sustain these conditions for the long periods required to lager a beer. For this reason, kegerators are immensely useful for the home brewer who wishes to produce their own lager beer. As lager beer was and is the predominant beer of the land in the United States (although this is rapidly changing), the rise of the kegerator for home brewers was likely an early occurrence in the home brewing revival of the 1980's.
The kegerator, as we know it, provides a perfect draught ale experience at home. There are a lot of beer fans out there that want yet more. Some beer traditionalists would rather have a naturally carbonated beer than a pub draught, and these beer traditionalists are still going strong with CAMRA, the CAMpaign for Real Ale. An organization now with over 84,000 members in the United Kingdom, this group holds high standards for what it considers "Real Ale". The strictest standards, from a commercial point of view, are that CAMRA's Real Ales must not be pasteurized or force carbonated. All pasteurized ales are force carbonated, as the pasteurization process eliminates the natural carbonation of ales, so it is the pasteurization that is the crux of the U.K's real ale movement.
Pasteurization is a method that is usually used only in a high volume commercial setting. The tooling involved in the process is very advanced, and pasteurization is a very important aspect of canned or bottled food production of all sorts. Almost all commercially produced ales are pasteurized, which, according to CAMRA, changes the flavor of an ale substantially - adding a caramelized flavor to the beer. One curious historical note about the rise of the kegerator system when used for home brew is that it is the first time that non-pasteurized ales that have been force carbonated have been enjoyed by beer enthusiasts.
Continue to Part Nine: The Modern Kegerator