Sunday, July 20, 2014

Building A Jockey-Box!

Time for a bit of a different post... but in order to serve beer at the wedding I decided to turn an old Schlitz keg that my grandma had from years past into a nice new jockey-box.  For those who don't know, a jockey-box is a device to serve beer using heat transfer to rapidly chill the beer so that the kegs don't need to be on ice.  If you've ever been to a beer festival and see people pouring from taps on the side of an ice chest, that's a jockey-box.  

The Process:

For this project I started with an old Schlitz keg... my grandma had two of them in her backyard forever, and at one point they made their way to my possession.  The first one I cut in half and am currently using as planters for herbs that will find their way into the brewing process eventually.  The second one I decided would be the perfect jockey-box.  The first step was to cut the top off, so I used a hand file to get a groove going along the red line, then took a reciprocating saw and a 10" blade to get the cut going.  Once I had cut through the shell I switched to a smaller 6" blade for easier control and kept on going until I had the circle complete.  One thing I would do differently is notch the keg somewhere other than what ended up being the front. There are scratches from the blade and you can tell the cut wasn't perfect and I'd rather that imperfection be on the back, but oh well!  

After I had it cut I cleaned out the inside the best I could, and removed the handle and cleaned out an old 5-gallon bucket that was going to serve as the inner liner.  I was pretty concerned that if I just used the keg shell by itself then condensation on the outside was going to get really bad, plus there would be no insulation to keep the ice cold on a hot summer day. Yes, I made sure that the 4-port cold plate would fit fine inside the bucket! 

While the keg and bucket dried out, I installed all the barbs on the cold plate, with rubber washers and plumbing tape to keep them from leaking.  I also cut 4 long pieces of tubing (about 6' each) and fitted one end of each one with a FFL fitting and a hose clamp.  In addition, the setup needed 4 short pieces of tubing (about 18" each) to go from the cold plate output to the faucet shanks, so I got those ready to go.  As I attached them all to the cold plate I made sure to number the end of each line so I wouldn't get things crossed up.  The cold plate fortunately came pre-numbered, so no confusion there!  

Once the keg was dry, it was time to fill the bottom with spray-foam insulation and set the bucket liner in.  This wasn't really a hard process, using a few large beer bottles to weight it down as I then filled the perimeter with spray-foam insulation as well.  It took several cans, but eventually I was able to fill it up to the rim of the bucket with insulation, essentially creating my own ice chest out of the keg shell.  I took special care to avoid spraying around the existing bung hole though, as I had plans to use that existing hole to run the beer supply lines.  

Once the foam set (it took a little while, and I had to wipe excess foam off a few times) it was time to drill the holes for the faucet shanks.  I measured and marked each location with a sharpie, then used a hole punch to get a mark started, and drilled a small (3/16" or so) pilot hole.  Once that was done I used a 1" spade bit to drill out the full holes.  I think a 1" step bit would work just as well here, if not better, but mine only went up to 7/8".  You can force a faucet shaft through a 7/8" hole in a plastic ice chest or through a fridge, but with the threads on the shank and the curve of the keg I decided to go one bigger. It helps too that the shanks are above the bucket, so I didn't have any worries about leaking as they would be out of the ice water.

After all the holes were drilled, it was time to install the faucet shanks, which was one of the easier parts of the process.  Once they were all run through and tightened, I dropped the cold plate complete with hosing into the jockey-box, and started the process of attaching the output lines to the faucets.  This is where the numbering came in handy, so I knew which one went where without having to trace the line back to the jockey-box and try to read the number.  There wasn't a lot of room to work (be sure to put your hose clamp on BEFORE you work the line onto the barb!) but eventually I was able to get all four lines connected and tightened.  

Almost done now... I decided that the best way to let people know what was on tap would be to use chalkboard paint on the middle band of the keg.  A lot of painters tape and magazine pages later, I had it covered and ready to paint.  Two coats of chalkboard paint later, it was done! I really think this came out nice, and in all reality it wasn't an extremely difficult project. The hardest part of the labor was cutting the top off of the keg, once that was done nothing was terrible time consuming or hard on the hands.  The bulk of the project took about 7-8 hours one Saturday, and I painted it on a later afternoon, although it could have easily been done on the same day.

If you have any questions on how the process went, shoot me an e-mail (contact tab up above) or leave a comment!

Parts Required:

This was the tricky part... prices change, shipping rates fluctuate, availability changes, etc. I spent several hours on a few different websites before placing three orders for all the parts. I got some of the parts from Micromatic, some from Midwest Supplies, and some from Amazon.  Most of this stuff is available at Austin Homebrew as well if you prefer them. It will also vary greatly on what quality you go with.  I bought everything other than the taps in stainless, and eventually I'm going to upgrade to Perlick stainless taps as well.  There are all sorts of combination purchases, kits, etc., so I can't give you a straight shopping list, but below is most likely what you're going to need, and links to places to get it! So some e-shopping, find the best deals, and get what you need.  A lot of this can probably also be found at a homebrew store if you have a good one nearby.

Schlitz Keg (you could probably make this work with any 15.5 gallon keg)
4-Port Cold Plate (the most expensive part of the project, I only found it available at Micromatic)
8 Cold Plate Compression Gaskets (AKA flared washers)
4 Faucets (quality is your choice... I'd say the Perlick stainless faucets are the best, but Perlick Chrome works too)
4 Tap Handles (standard black ones sometimes come with the faucets, but if you want something fancier, go for it!)
4 Neoprene Washers (3/4" to 7/8" in diameter, goes between the end of the shank and the tail piece)
4 Barbed Swivel Nuts (FFL Fitting, 1/4" Barb)
4 MFL Liquid Ball-Lock Disconnects (or pin-lock depending on your kegs)
25' Roll Of 3/16" Interior Diameter Clear Vinyl Hose
Spray-Foam Insulation (it took 4 cans, more than I expected, these are far cheaper on Amazon than Home Depot, trust me!)

Tools Used:

I had all of this stuff already, except the right sized step bit, and the spraypaint of course, and chances are you do too, but here's what I used:

Ryobi 18V Cordless Reciprocating Saw (an angle grinder would probably also work, or of course a plasma cutter!)
10" & 6" Metal Blades
Ryobi 18V Cordless Drill (cordless or not, either should work fine for you)
1" Spade Bit or Step Bit
Various Wrenches and Screwdrivers (For attaching the nipples, hose clamps, shanks, hex nuts, and disconnects)
Faucet Wrench (specialized wrench for beer faucets)
Painter's Tape
Chalkboard Spraypaint