It’s very easy to get excited about making a kegerator purchase. The very nature of the product brings thoughts and images of great get-togethers, joyous celebrations, and all-around good times. It’s certainly not like shopping for new windshield wipers, or perhaps, say, napkin rings (if those things excite you, there’s absolutely no judgment here). But beer is something that instills a certain sense of excitement simply because it reminds us of fun, and oh-so-delicious, times. Mmm, beer…
Wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves! It’s important to remember that there are many things to consider when making a kegerator purchase. Will you enlist it to serve up large amounts of libations regularly, or only break it out for special occasions? Will you use it inside, outside, or both? Do you want to install it in your home bar area, or will it stand uncovered on its own, to bask in all its glory? These are just some of the many important questions you should ask yourself when deciding which kegerator to outfit your space with. Remember, there are a lot of kegerator models out there to choose from, but the one you choose will most likely become an official member of your household, so choose wisely!
There are more types of kegerators than you might think. There are a wide variety or full-size home kegerators, commercial kegerators for restaurant and bar use, and even mini kegerators, designed specifically for use with 5-liter “mini kegs”. The following will detail the capabilities and drawbacks of each type of kegerator, and will ultimately help you decide which one is right for you.
Full Size Home Kegerators
These kegerators are designed for personal use in your home and come in a great number of styles to suit all sorts of applications. They are great for those that like to keep larger quantities of beer and/or entertain guests often and are capable of holding full-size half-barrel kegs.
First, choose a model based on whether or not you want to use it indoors or outdoors. If you plan on using your kegerator exclusively indoors, there’s no need to shell out the extra cash for outdoor capabilities that you do not need. Full-size indoor kegerators can either be designed for freestanding or built-in (under-counter) installation. Freestanding models are fully-finished, fully-enclosed units that can stand on their own.
Additionally, most models include casters that allow you to move the unit about easily (as seen on the underside of the EdgeStar kegerator above). Though, freestanding kegerators require at least 3-4 inches of space between the back of the unit and wall, as well as 2-3 inches on each side in order to properly ventilate. Because the compressor is located on the back of the unit, there must be a sufficient buffer that allows the hot air produced by the compressor to escape. Using a freestanding kegerator in a built-in application could cause overheating and will undoubtedly compromise the unit’s performance overall.
So, if you’re looking to install your kegerator under cabinetry or another type of enclosure, built-in models are for you. Kegerators that are capable of built-in installation will always highlight the ability as a feature due to the fact that it’s the sole differentiator from a freestanding unit. Otherwise, built-in models tend to look very similar, if not identical, to their freestanding cousins. You can also usually spot them out because they typically have cooling systems that ventilate out of the front of the unit.
This feature allows flush installation without a need for any extra space around the sides and back. Though some units on today’s market still vent from the back, but have an additional fan to help channel and force the hot air away from the cabinet. One downside of built-in kegerators is that they usually cost more due to a more complex cooling system design. Higher-end units are also completely enclosed, including the backside.
Now, if you want to use your kegerator outdoors full-time, say, in a patio entertainment area, or just want to have the ability to use it outside, say, for a backyard barbecue on the weekend, you should go with an outdoor kegerator.
These outdoor-specific units are different from those built for indoor use in that they have a weatherproof construction, made to outlast the elements. Additionally, they have increased insulation to keep your beer at the perfect temperature, and are also equipped with more powerful compressors that have greater cooling capabilities to combat extreme ambient temperatures. Keep in mind, outdoor kegerators will typically cost more than units made for indoor use due to these upgrades in design, functionality, and versatility.
Don’t have the space for a full-size kegerator or just don’t have a need for a full-size keg? Then your best bet is a mini kegerator, which is small enough to sit on your countertop while taking up minimal space. They are designed to store and dispense beer from 5-Liter Kegs, which come in a variety of offerings.
Mini-kegerators are perfect for people that prefer draft beer over bottled, but don’t like to commit to multiple gallons of a single beer. A mini-kegerator gives you the power to pour yourself a fresh pint as you would get at a bar, but from the comfort of your own home and without the premiums involved. Also, mini kegerators are great for European beer enthusiasts as many popular Eurobrews are sold in 5-liter kegs. These mini kegs can be tapped easily without having to purchase a European-specific coupler to fit the keg, as you would with a full-size keg.
It’s also important to be aware of the fact that mini kegs come in pressurized and non-pressurized varieties. Pressurized kegs come filled with the gas necessary to dispense the beer. All mini kegerators are able to dispense from pressurized kegs, making them the more convenient option. However, some of your favorite beers may only be offered in non-pressurized kegs, in which case you will need to make sure that your mini-kegerator has the ability to dispense from them. These mini kegerators will specify if they have the ability or will sometimes offer an additional kit that allows you to infuse gas directly into the keg. This gas cartridge system will add the perfect amount of gas to your keg on the spot, and will provide the pressure necessary to serve beer from the previously non-pressurized keg.
The biggest, and typically most expensive, breed of the bunch is the commercial kegerator. These are kegerators designed specifically for use in commercial settings, including bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. They are constructed of the highest quality materials and feature a sturdier design to withstand high usage levels.
Unlike many residential kegerators, commercial units often employ a different cooling method known as forced air cooling. Instead of using a cold plate within the refrigeration chamber to maintain internal temperatures, a fan forces cold air throughout the space. The result is a more evenly cooled space that allows all contents to reach and maintain the same temperature. With forced air cooling nothing within the kegerator can come in direct contact with cooling components. With cold plate cooling, you can get cold spots, where kegs that are closer to the plate will have a lower temperature.
Commercial kegerators are definitely not for everyone, as they carry a higher price tag, and can take up a lot more space. Additionally, larger commercial units are intended for a single point installation, and cannot be easily moved from place to place. However, they are ideal for businesses and even residential applications that demand the absolute best performance capabilities and durability.
While there are a tremendous amount of options and aspects to consider when picking your perfect kegerator, just remember that it’s a kegerator! I’m willing to bet that it’s one of the purchases in life you’ll be most excited to shop for. When you find the perfect fit and pour that first pint, be sure to raise it not only to your friends, but to your delicious draft beer-dispensing kegerator, too!