If you have ever thought kegging your homebrew was a complicated affair, you are both right and wrong. It seems complicated at first, but once you do it the first time, you will ask yourself why you waited so long to get into this. My friend Jason told me recently that he thinks most homebrewers give up on the hobby because the process of bottling is such a pain in the tuchus. Wash the bottles, rinse them, sanitize them, sanitize the caps, fill the bottles, cap them. That is way too many steps for it to be fun. Rewarding? Sure, after the beer is carbonated, about two weeks later, but definitely a barrier to enjoying the fruits of your labor.
A keg is like one giant bottle. More than once, while bottling, I have knocked over a bottle by mistake and had others fall down like dominoes. It really isn't very fun. That never happens with kegs. It is one giant stainless steel bottle. There is a little more work to preparing for kegging, but not a lot. You have to disassemble the keg and wash all the parts. If you need new seals, install them, and then reassemble the whole thing. Cleaning a keg takes about ten minutes if you keep them in good general condition anyway. Then you sanitize the thing and you are ready to fill it.
Are you convinced now that kegging really is simpler overall than bottling? Good.
The big barrier to entry in kegging is cost. Admittedly, this is not a cheap endeavor. Cheap kegs run about $35-40 each. The upside is that they are reusable and virtually indestructible. You can buy a homebrew kegging system for a couple hundred dollars, including a keg, tank for carbon dioxide, regulator, and all the tubes and hoses you need. That is what I got over the winter, along with an extra keg, for a total of close to $250. It was wonderful, but I knew I would want another component after a while. The winter weather was great at keeping my beer cool, but now that spring is here and the temperature is rising, I decided to get a chest freezer. Andy had given me a temperature controller last year, so I will be able to keep my brew a nice, cool, steady temperature. I will also be able to make lagers.
Between those two purchases – the freezer and the initial kegging kit – I am around $500 into this. I think I have pretty much everything I want. I might add some real beer faucets to the freezer but not for a while, but the picnic taps are nicely coiled inside the freezer and work perfectly fine. Anything else at this point would be because I am a nerd when it comes to this stuff and love everything about it. I have also purchased some extra kegs, and am up to seven at this point, so I can make beers for my homebrewing club and leave the kegs at the clubhouse until they are empty. Sharing means caring.
All in all, I am happy that I went to kegging. It beats the heck out of handling all those bottles and caps, that's for sure. The start-up cost is pretty high, but I think the ease of operation that this type of system allows makes the hobby of homebrewing much more enjoyable. In the end, this hobby is about making beer you like to drink. If bottling stands in the way of you enjoying your beer, it is a good step to remove.