Nick Carr on January 31, 2020 0 Comments Imagine a beautiful summer day at your local ballpark or picnic area. Birds are chirping. Insects drone. The sky is blue and clear. The sun is bright, inviting, and the air is warm. It’s a perfect day. You unload the cooler full of hamburger patties and hot dogs. The portable grill is quickly setup, and soon a happy flame licks at a mound of coals. Next comes a cooler already loaded with ice, two taps poking out its side; a small CO2 tank; air lines and beer lines. It only takes you a moment to hook everything up and beer begins to flow. The party is officially open for business. Imagine another day. A friend’s wedding. You, being a homebrewer, and most excellent friend that you are, have offered to supply the beer. You pull forth your four kegs of homebrew. An American IPA (for the hop heads), a German Weissbier (you know your friend loves a good German Weissbier), an American Lager (for the “just beer” drinkers), and an Irish Stout (for those looking for something dark and smooth). Two Coolers make their appearance, two taps in each. You attach tap handles with the name of each beer written in neat marker. Each cooler gets a box cover you made for just this occasion, a celebratory message painted on each for the happy couple. Soon your beer flows in celebration of your friend’s happy union…and the compliments flow in celebration of your awesome beer. Would You Like To Be Draft Mobile? Being able to pour draft anywhere opens up many possibilities. Whether camping or tailgating, pouring for a local charity or a backyard barbeque, hosting a homebrew tasting or helping with a homebrew competition, being able to offer draft beer on-the-go is closer than you might think. All you need is a Jockey Box. What Is A Jockey Box? A jockey box is simply an insulated container of some kind outfitted to dispense beer from a keg through a tap. Most are made from standard picnic coolers. A coil chiller or cold plate is used to quickly cool the beer to between 36oF and 38oF on its way to the tap and, ultimately, your glass. Beyond being mobile, a jockey box uses all the same parts as any draft system. This includes beer lines, air lines, a keg coupler, CO2 tank, and regulator. Do You Need A Jockey Box? The jockey box isn’t a good fit for everyone. If most of your get-togethers happen at your house and you want a more refined and gentlemanly option, you may be in the market for a home Kegerator. Kegerators look a little sleeker, more like a permanent appliance or piece of furniture. However, kegerators do not have the same mobility as a jockey box, so if you barbeque often, help with events like weddings or similar celebrations, camp often, or happen to be a diehard sports fan who loves a good tailgate party, a jockey box could be your new best friend (and your old best friend’s new best friend for that matter). Some things to consider when thinking about buying a jockey box: First question you need to ask yourself is how often do you find yourself in a place where beer in larger quantities and the convenience of its mobility intersect? Are you a sports fanatic, throwing tailgate parties every other weekend? Do you have a big event on the horizon? A family reunion? A wedding? A sports event? A jockey box can also simplify clean-up after the celebrations are over. Think about it. If the beer is available in bottles or cans each time a person goes for a “refill” they are increasing the packaging waste. But if the beer is kegged, each person (for the most part) will use the same glass or cup throughout the celebration. This not only cuts down on the stray bottles and cans that need to be hunted down and rounded up at the end, but it also reduces the amount of recyclables needing to be taken care of by more than half. If you happen to be a homebrewer you’ve likely realized that kegging your beer is (or would be) much easier and far less time consuming than bottling. Think about kegging your own beer and then being able to share it with friends and family, on draft, wherever the mood strikes. You can’t forget the “cool” factor of serving from taps. It doesn’t matter if the venue is a camping trip, park barbecue, wedding celebration, or neighborhood block party, there’s nothing quite like being able to jockey that tap handle and watch that bright liquid fall into your glass then the nonchalant flip of the wrist to cut the stream. Let’s be honest, a keg in an ice bucket and a party pump just doesn’t have the same class as bright faucets, possibly topped with unique tap handles. I’m Buying A Jockey Box, What Do I Need To Know? You made it this far and decided that a jockey box might be a worthwhile investment. Now we need to get into the nitty-gritty. Which jockey box is right for you? You need to answer questions like: How many taps do I need? Would one with chilling coils or a cold plate be better? Speaking of coils, what length of coil should I get? And what’s with those square coils? Are they better than the round coils? How Many Taps? The number of taps you’ll need will be based on the number of beers you plan to offer and the size of the events you have in mind. Will the jockey box only be used at bigger events with a larger number of people? Or do you like the idea of serving from a keg when you camp or while enjoying a game at your local ballpark? Are you a homebrewer planning to serve multiple styles at your next hometown beer festival? All of these questions play into the number of taps you’ll want in your jockey box. Tip: If you’re not sure which size fits your needs best, try getting one single or double tap cooler. See how it works for you. If you often find yourself wishing you had an extra tap or two you can always buy a second cooler. This way you end up with either 3 taps or 4, but still have the option to use just a single cooler for those smaller events like camping trips and family get-togethers. Cool Coil or a Chillin’ Plate? Let’s take a quick look at how each of these works first. In a cold plate jockey box, beer runs through an aluminum plate. The plate is cooled with ice (not an ice bath) and the beer, on its way to the tap, in turn, is cooled. In a coil jockey box, your beer runs through a long length of stainless steel tubing coiled into the shape of a cylinder or square. The coil is submerged in ice water within the cooler. As the beer travels to the tap it is cooled through contact with the cold tubing. The Cold Plate Advantages of a cold plate The aluminum of the plate gets colder quicker than stainless steel tubing. Plates come in one, two, three, and four line configurations, giving you the ability to run multiple beers through the same cold plate. Disadvantages of a cold plate The length of run is a lot shorter in a cold plate when compared to even the shortest coil (generally 12 or 18 feet in a plate, as compared to 50 feet at a coils shortest length). This translates to less time and contact for the beer to cool. Because of this shorter cooling time, a cold plate is recommended only when serving a keg with an internal temperature cooler than 55oF. This means you’ll have to find a way to keep the keg cool. Time for a bucket of ice. The shorter run length may also become a problem at larger gatherings where a lot of back-to-back pours are being done. The beer may not have enough time in contact with the cold to cool down sufficiently. However, this should be mostly solved by keeping the internal keg temperature below 55oF. With cold plates, you use ice only. This can potentially create a situation where you have less than perfect surface contact with the ice. You must leave the cooler drain open and allow the ice water to drain off. Losing the ice-cold water decreases your cooling efficiency. Tip: If using a cold plate it’s a good idea to check and shake your ice every so often, so it is always settled onto the plate. The Coil Chiller Advantages of a Coil Chiller With a coil chiller the beer has more time in contact with the cold tubing. Coil chillers come in different sizes (50, 70, 100, 120 foot lengths). The longer the length the more contact time your beer has with the cold. Because of the longer contact time, you can serve from a room temperature keg and still get cold beer if your coil is long enough. Also, a long coil means less worrying about the frequency of pouring catching up with the beer’s ability to cool down. Disadvantages of the Coil Chiller Takes up more space. If using coils you’ll only have room for two taps in a standard-sized cooler. Only one beer can be used per coil. Square Coils There are a couple of small advantages to the square coils. They fit slightly more efficiently within a square cooler. Because scaffolding is used to hold the square structure and keep the tubing from settling, one coil on top of the next, ice water can completely surround the tubing. The scaffolding also holds the coil off the bottom of the cooler allowing ice water to get underneath the coil. What Length Should My Coil Be? The longer the coil the more contact the beer has with the cold. The warmer the internal temperature of your keg the longer your coil should be. The more back-to-back pouring you’ll be doing the longer the coil should be. If you plan to be using your jockey box outside regularly and you live in an area where it is frequently hot, think about getting a longer coil. … Again the “Cool” Factor A beer pump and keg in a bucket of ice might be okay for the occasional college party or serve in a pinch at that next tailgate party. But let’s be honest, it’s not a very elegant answer to the quest for draft mobility. And it definitely should not be the go-to draft setup at any occasion requiring some class. If you’re a discerning homebrewer who loves to share your creations, but wants a dispensing system that better matches the pride you take in those creations (while staying mobile of course) or you’re headed to a beer festival and don’t want the hassle of the beer pump, the jockey box makes up that sweet center between draft pouring, mobility, and a bit of class. Tip: If you or a friend have some DIY skills it’s easy to build a classy wooden box-cover for your jockey box. This of course, up’s the class to the next level, giving it more of a bar feel. You can also decorate the cover with anything from a homebrewing logo to a sports team emblem to a congratulatory message. Well there you have it, all you need to know to make an informed decision about whether a jockey box is right for you. Cheers!