Just Chillin’

1 Jun

Since we got our new kegerator back in January there has been one main problem with it… FOAM!

Every time you would pour the first beer it would be more than half foam, the second pour would be fine, but if you waited more than 5-10 minutes you’d be back to foam. A little research supported what I felt might be the problem; the tower is  not refrigerated. More technically the tower and faucet were pretty much reaching close to room temperature, and therefor the beer in the line to the faucet was quickly warming up. Once keg beer gets above 42 degrees or so the CO2 can begin to separate from the liquid, and indeed, you could watch the bubbles forming if you looked at the tubing, naturally the bubbles would rise to the highest point, and that’s why the first pour would be nearly all foam. If the beer is held at warmer temperatures for a long time other nasty stuff can happen like secondary fermentation, which is why we had a glycol-cooled trunk line for our dual remote keg system at our old house. So far we have resisted going that nuts, but I wouldn’t say I’d never do it again.

It turns out that this is actually a well known issue for this kind of “home use” kegerator and therefor there are a few well documented home brew (excuse the pun) solutions to the problem. The afore-mentioned glycol system is a liquid cooled system, this time we are using an air-cooled system because the distance from fridge to faucet is only about 16 inches, so liquid cooling would be unnecessarily complicated (did those words just come from my keyboard?) There is a well known modification appropriately dubbed the “PC fan mod” where a 12volt computer fan is used to build a blower that forces cold air into the draft tower. The Danby/ Vissani/ Magic Chef etc. kegerators and any other sub $1000 keg fridges can usually benefit from the addition of a tower cooler. The page I followed most closely was this one, as I already had a few of the parts  available. My total cost was probably about $25 because the key components, the fan and the power supply were destined for the garbage at work. All I had to buy was the tubing, a couple electrical connectors and I had the project box, which is normally about $5 at radio shack.

The first step was to find a fan, I found several in the pile of junk computers at work. I chose the one that was smallest and had the more powerful feel to it, I believe it was from a Pentium 4 processor, plus it had a cool name. It was time to cut a hole for the fan to draw air in through so I got out a hole saw and drilled a hole in the box.

Next I got my hands on some 7/8″ outside diameter tubing, and inserted a block of wood I cut to fit tightly in the the end of the box, and drilled a 7/8″ hole through the side of the box and the wood block. I then stuck the end of the hose through the hole and siliconed the whole thing in place. As it turned out the silicone really didn’t do much for holding the tube in place so I wound up slitting the tubing and driving a small screw through it into the block of wood so it wouldn’t pull out.

Once the silicone was all dry I bolted the fan into the box and put the aluminum cover on the open side of the box. They provide both a plastic and aluminum cover, but I figured aluminum would be better since it is a conductor or cold while plastic is an insulator, and the cover would be right against the cooling plate in the fridge. The fan pulls the cold air from the bottom of the fridge and pushes it into the tube which runs up into the top of the tower to cool it down.

I found an old power supply from a long gone netgear router that would provide the needed 12volt DC power for the fan. 12volt power supplies are a little hard to come by, as 5Volt supplies seem to be much more common. This one is a bit on the large side, and it has about 3 times the capacity that the fan requires, so it is pretty heavy as well, but it is certainly up to the task. I cut off its plug and fed it through the hole that the CO2 line comes in through on the back of the fridge.

My initial plan to mount the cooling box was to use rare-earth magnets to stick it to the back of the fridge, but when I tested out how strong they were it turned out the cooling plate must be aluminum, and therefor magnet proof so I used a little double stick foam tape instead. It almost stays in place on its own, but the hose is a little stiff so the tape helps anchor it against the back wall better. I also made the electrical connections and zip tied them up so they wouldn’t get caught on anything.

Getting the tub into the tower was actually quite a battle, as it has a lot of grip and it barely fit in the hole. After I had it all through I realized that it had pulled about 18 inches of beer line into the tower with it, and that was all coiled around inside and kinked up so I had to pull it out again and start all over. It was also tricky not to push the insulation of tower up while pushing the hose up. Finally, though, I got it into position and cut the top of the tube at an angle. The little space left around the beer tube and the cooling tube is enough for the airflow to return to the main compartment of the fridge.

So, the real question is, did it work?

When I got home today there was a good bit of condensation beading up on the cap of the tower, a good sign for sure, but even a 50 degree tower might form condensation, so further tests were in order. I got out the instant read thermometer and stuck it in the tower and sealed it up with a dish towel, after about 30 seconds it was down well below the crucial 40 degree range all the way to 33.5, that’s cold, baby!

Now the true test. My theory was that the cause of the foam was the warm tower, so therefor a cold tower, which we clearly have now, should eliminate the foam. The faucet had sat unused for at least 18 hours, and when I poured a glass it came out as nice clean liquid beer, not the glass full of foam that we have become accustomed to! Success! Now we can enjoy our new keg of Blue Point Summer Ale in style!

I will probably add a little insulation to the top of lid of the tower to try to reduce the condensation because, even though it’s nice to see it and know that it’s cold, it will actually start dripping down and cause a puddle around the base of the tower, which could be a whole new problem. For now I am pretty happy with our kegerator tower cooling modification, and I think it will help us stop pouring foam down the drain and drinking beer that isn’t as cold as it should be. Plus, it’s just uncivilized to have our guests witness a sub-par pour!

For anyone who has come to this page trying to deal with issues concerning these kegerators, I am posting this link to a .pdf from Home Depot, which I think is made for service technicians because it repeatedly says stuff like “tell the customer”. The .pdf has all kinds of solutions to common issues with these fridges that the manual doesn’t necessarily address. Certainly worth a look if you’re having trouble with your Danby, Vissani or Magic Chef kegerator.

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