Like every other home brewer out there, I outgrew my taps. My 2-tap kegerator that I built about three years ago has served me very well, but I started to feel like a lot of my batches in the pipeline was getting backed up in the primary/secondary for way too long with nowhere to go. Cask-conditioning beers on the side alleviated some of the backlog, and aging some on oak and/or bacteria is good too, but the best way to enjoy more variety was either to start bottling or build more taps. More taps was the answer. So I embarked on the journey to build a 4-tap kegerator from a chest freezer. Spoiler alert, here’s the finished product:
I started out just looking around online at other people’s designs for inspiration. The common keezer design with a raised wooden collar is probably the most popular option for a more-than-two tap system, since chest freezers come in all different sizes and can fit lots of kegs. I’ve never been a fan of the way that they look, though. While very functional, they all seem to look way too box-y in the end, even when they’re nicely finished with either paint or wood paneling. Then I stumbled upon this design by Drew McDowell, and really dug his design. The weathered wood combined with pipe tap towers gives it an awesome mashup of rustic and industrial, and would look great on my porch that has a lot of exposed unfinished wood. His design has 3 taps and uses 2 towers, but I decided to do 4 taps each with their own tower. Let’s do it!
I wound up using my lagering chest freezer which is a 7.2 cubic ft Igloo brand (with an external temp regulator, of course). I started out just building a wooden frame around it out of 2×4’s and some plywood for the base, allowing about an inch of clearance on each side of the freezer between the frame. I added casters to make it easier to move around, since this thing is freakin’ heavy. The freezer extends about 1/2 inch taller than the frame while sitting inside, because we’ll be bolting the entire top to it later.
For the side panels, i found some reclaimed wood at a lumber yard near my house which worked perfectly. The boards were standard fir panels in their previous life, having a notch and tongue on opposite sides so that they could be easily interlocked. This was handy for stacking them up alongside the fridge for measurements, but certainly not necessary as I was going to screw them into the frame either way. The wood came in long pieces of probably 0.5″ x 6″ x 10′ and were in pretty bad shape (really dirty and dinged up), so I sought out to make them new again.
Gave each piece a good sanding with 120 grit sand paper, which removed nearly all the dirt and gave them a smooth consistent feel. After wiping them down good to remove the dust, applied a few generous coats of teak oil. This stuff was amazing. A friend recommended I check it out for bringing out character in wood without really changing the overall color. It seriously did just that – essentially acting like a sharpening filter, it brought out so much detail in the wood – all of the lines, grain, and knots really pop after using it. Let all the boards dry for a few days before screwing them into the frame shown below.
The top was the trickiest part. The original design by Drew used particle board covered in cement, but I’m not familiar with cement so I decided to stick with wood. I bought a few new 2×10 boards and cut them down to the length of the top of the chest freezer, plus about 8 inches on either side – came out to be 3 boards about 50″ in length. To glue them together along the long edges, i used this nifty technique by creating my own bar clamps out of some 2×4’s. This worked fairly well and was incredible cost effective considering real bar clamps are over $1oo each, but it took some finagling to get each of the clamp ends snug up against the wood to keep the planks tight together without any gaps. I glued all three together at the same time with two long clamps, but it might have been easier to just glue the first two together, then glue the third to that glued piece.
After the top boards were sealed and solid, I finished it by giving it a good sand (120 followed by 240 grit), rounded off any sharp edges, then applied 1 coat of pre-stain (to ensure an even stain and no blotches of what’s to follow), 2 coats of teak oil, and finally 3 coats of satin polyurethane. It came out beautiful, again with the teak oil really bringing out the natural character of the wood.
Putting the whole thing together was tricky and i wound up needing a buddy to hold things in place while drilling. The wood top is bolted directly to the chest freezer top and held in place with some carriage bolts. But, before you start drilling anything, my advice is to place the drip-tray (mine is 24″ long) first and measure out everything around that as a reference point. The drip tray is pretty much going to be in the center and is going to dictate where you’re placing the glass while pouring, and hence where the taps will sit behind to dispense beer. My drip tray wound up being pretty close to right in the middle. So I drilled the hole for that, then put the carriage bolts in and locked in the top.
Now for the taps. The taps are made from 1-1/4 inch black iron pipe, with reducers similar to Drew’s design. It was tricky trying to figure out how the beer lines would attach to the shank inside the pipe. It’s a tight fit, so the shank can’t be too long, but has to be long enough to screw onto the reducer with the beer nut. This one worked perfectly, just removed the metal spacer at the front of it and it had just enough room inside to attach the beer line with a hose clamp, and screw onto the reducer with the beer nut. Beware of any shanks that have the L-shaped barbed tail piece, typically used for tap towers. Since the reducer has to screw into the elbow joint, the L piece rotates with it and gets caught up against the top of the elbow. I initially bought some of these but returned them.
Finally, the kegs. Prepare for the the biggest Homer Simpson “DOHHH” moment on earth. By this time I’d built the entire kegerator – the top is bolted on, sides are screwed on, taps assembled, lines attached and ready to put the kegs inside and drink some beer. This is when I discovered that only 3 out of the 4 kegs fit inside. DOHHHHHHHH. It is SO. CLOSE. I needed only about 1/8″ extra clearance to fit the fourth one in, but the kegs just weren’t having it. I had measured out the space beforehand, but I guess I under estimated slightly – the rubber bottoms on the kegs do extend out a little further than I had originally measured. Also, the compressor ledge cuts down on the available floor space inside. Well, this is awesome. A 4-tap kegerator that only fits 3 kegs. Brilliant. The only alternative that made sense was to just go buy a 3 gallon keg that could sit up on the compressor ledge since it’s considerably shorter. So, that’s what I did. The 3-gallon keg and tap will have to be reserved for some small batches, which ultimately I’m more than OK with. All is well, and the fourth tap is back in action.
This was a pretty intense project that took me close to two months to finish, but I’m really happy with how it turned out. Having to return parts here and there when stuff didn’t quite fit was a pain but hopefully there’s enough detail in here for someone else to recreate it with less trouble. Prost!!!