Let’s not try to fool ourselves: BBQ is just better with beer. But beer needs to be cold, and when you’re throwing those big neighborhood cookouts, that means full refrigerators, trips to the store for ice, and lugging around huge ice chests to keep everyone satisfied. Or even worse — asking your guests to do the dirty work. Why put that burden on anyone when a single appliance can take care of it for you?
Kegerators, sometimes called beer dispensers, use carbon-dioxide compression to keep your beverage of choice cold and fresh. The “of choice” in the previous sentence is important because we also offer wine kegerators, which maintain slightly higher temperatures to keep your wine from prematurely spoiling or aging. And if you’re feeling particularly millennial, you can even grab a coffee kegerator for some cold brew at just the right temperature. No matter what you’re drinking, your outdoor kegerator dispenses it through a tap that turns your backyard into a private barroom.
Luckily for you, finding the right beer dispenser doesn’t have to be a challenge. There are only 5 main questions you need to ask yourself, and we’ll walk you through each one to help you make an informed decision. It’s about time you started treating that IPA as well as it treats you.
Indoor Kegerators vs. Outdoor Kegerators
Indoor bars can’t go without one of these beer dispensers, which can be built into an undercounter space with the tap installed directly in the countertop for easy pouring. Just make sure you select a front-venting unit for a built-in application so the kegerator can properly exhaust heat. The direction of venting won’t be as big of a concern for freestanding indoor kegerators, though you should still ensure it has enough space to properly vent (it’s nice to know humans aren’t the only things that feel the need to vent when there’s a little bit of booze inside us). These appliances come in compact, full-size, and mini-kegerator sizes, the latter of which fits mini (or bubba) kegs and usually sits on a countertop. This type of keg isn’t very common, so check that your favorite beer is available in this size. Half-barrel, meanwhile, is the most common keg size, so it would be wise to pick a kegerator that can handle half-barrels.
To be considered outdoor-rated, kegerators must pass a series of durability tests. While indoor refrigeration products stay within a comfortable temperature range, outdoor rated kegerators are exposed to everything from freezing conditions to heat waves topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Our beer dispensers have to keep your drinks cold anywhere within that spectrum. They’re usually freestanding on casters for mobility, but built-in options are great for entertainers who love to play bartender in their outdoor kitchen. As with the indoor models, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions concerning ventilation. An outdoor kegerator should always be placed out of direct sunlight, or else it’ll have to work overtime to maintain proper temperatures. Because of the greater temperature variables and exposure to the elements, many outdoor beer dispensers have an alarm to alert you when temperatures rise too high. Talk about a party-saver!
What Size Kegerator Do You Need?
Let’s answer that question with a few more questions: How much beer, wine, or coffee would you like to keep on hand, and what are the available keg sizes of your favorite beers? Once you get that sorted out, you’ll know exactly which size you need. Keep in mind that while kegs come in several different sizes, depending on the brewer, most beer is available in a full or half-barrel keg. Start by researching the keg sizes of your favorite brews, then match kegerator to keg.
Half Barrel Kegerators
- Also called a "full keg", the most common size of kegs used by American beer brewers
- Serves approximately 165 12-ounce beers or 105 16-ounce beers
- Kegerators can fit 1 half barrel, 2 quarter barrel, or 4 sixth barrel kegs
Quarter Barrel Kegerators
- Also called a "pony keg", commonly available size for most domestic beers
- Serves approximately 82 12-ounce beers or 62 16-ounce beers
- Quarter barrel kegs come in either a short ("pony") or tall, slim shape
Sixth Barrel Kegerators
- Also called a "torpedo keg", commonly used by American specialty or craft beer breweries
- Serves approximately 56 12-ounce beers or 42 16-ounce beers
- Great for indoor or outdoor bar island installations where space is limited
Side Note: A half barrel keg takes up the same space as 2 quarter barrels (sometimes called “pony”), or 4 sixth barrels ("torpedo") kegs. That means a larger kegerator can hold several smaller kegs, whereas a smaller kegerator can’t go up in keg size. Options are always great, especially when it comes to grillside drinking. (Sorry for the math homework).
Choose Your Kegerator’s Configuration
Built-In Beer Dispensers
Also referred to as undercounter kegerators, these units are inserted into a kitchen or bar island with the top-mounted tap sticking out of the countertop. As stated above, both indoor and outdoor built-in models must be front-venting so they can exhaust heat to keep your beer icy-cold. There are also size constraints, namely that built-in beer and wine dispensers are much smaller than freestanding units and won’t be able to hold as much fluid. Generally speaking, most undercounter models can hold 1 half-barrel keg, though some will be too small for even that. Make sure you purchase a unit that can fit the most common keg size from your favorite brewery.
Freestanding Beer Dispensers
This is the most common type of outdoor kegerator, great for garages, workshops, pool areas, or sitting at the end of an outdoor bar. Thanks to their huge capacity, freestanding beer and wine dispensers are the easiest and most cost-effective way to ensure drinks continue to flow at large outdoor gatherings. They fit any size keg, and some units even have removable shelves for storing additional cans or bottles (sometimes the keg itself just isn’t enough). Freestanding kegerators can vent from either the front or the rear, as long as there’s enough space for proper ventilation. Pro tip: a front-venting, freestanding model can be converted to built-in.
Single-Tap vs. Dual-Tap Kegerators
Part of the allure of an outdoor kegerator is pouring beer or wine (yes, or coffee) straight from the tap. But should you get a unit with 1 tap or 2? Does it matter? That all depends on your preferences and how big of a drink selection you plan to keep stored in your space.
This term describes beer and wine dispensers that have only 1 tap, or are designed to pour from only a single keg at a time. Naturally, these models are less expensive than dual-tap dispensers. They’re great for beer-lovers loyal to 1 brew and 1 brew only, not to mention that purchasing kegs instead of cases or 6-packs will reduce the cost of drinking over time. Additionally, the space saved by storing just 1 keg at a time can go toward stashing other bottles and cans to accommodate all tastes. Just don’t be fooled by the single tap — these units can still get the job done for large parties and catered events.
These outdoor kegerators have more than 1 tap on the tower, which is what we call the top part of the unit that actually dispenses beer. Though the most common setup comes with 2 taps, a few beer dispensers have towers with up to 3 taps. More taps means more kinds of beer, perfect for adventurous drinkers who like to try newly released IPAs and stouts. Remember that most craft beer is sold in sixth-barrels or torpedo kegs, an arrangement that usually works best in dual-tap beer dispensers. Some dual-tap units are large enough to hold multiple keg sizes at once for the ultimate at-home draft beer selection.
Which Class of Outdoor Kegerators is Right for You?
If you already know you prefer pilsners to stouts and sours, then you don’t have to waste time searching the entire beer aisle during trips to the grocery store. The same concept applies to our classification of outdoor kegerators — understanding which one works with your preferences saves a lot of time and effort. In this case, your choices are Luxury, Premium, and Standard. Each class represents a combination of quality, performance, and features, giving you an overview of what you can expect from specific groups of products. Speaking of overviews, we’ve put together a quick glance at all 3 classes to help guide you toward the perfect kegerator.
Luxury Outdoor Kegerators
- Beer is kept safe from the elements thanks to durable stainless steel exteriors
- Highest possible quality of materials is reflected in the longest warranties available
- Powerful compressors ensure your brews are held at the appropriate temperature
- Locking doors guard the keg, allowing you to sit back and enjoy your beer without worry
- Digital control centers put you in full command of how your keg is stored
Premium Outdoor Kegerators
- Most carry outdoor ratings to function properly even in hot environments
- Stainless steel bodies backed by good warranties provide outdoor longevity
- Installation is easy with undercounter, zero-clearance units that vent from the front
- Durable compressors and forced-air cooling technology won’t let you down
- Attractive handles make your kegerator much more than a place to store beer
Standard Outdoor Kegerators
- Many don’t carry outdoor ratings, so they can’t reliably be used in an outdoor kitchen
- Painted metal exteriors will struggle to last long in the elements
- Limited warranties reflect the lower-quality materials used throughout these units
- Some lack front vents and have clearance requirements, which limits installation options
- Cold-plate refrigeration can save money upfront compared with forced-air systems
Other Things to Think about When Buying a Kegerator
If you’re as serious as we are about beer, we understand that you might not be willing to entrust your beloved brews to a specific outdoor kegerator just yet. We studied the most common questions and provided a bit more information below to put your mind at ease (and, eventually, your beer on ice) when shopping for a beer or wine dispenser.
DIY Tap Kits for Beer Kegerators
Got an old compact refrigerator? The DIY builder in you just might have found a new project. You can convert a compact refrigerator into an outdoor kegerator, but be aware that many DIY tap kits are made to fit only certain models of refrigerators rather than working as a generic attachment. You also must be sure the fridge you want to use is appropriately sized for storing kegs and can maintain the ideal conditions for beer inside the unit (about 45 degrees). As with all DIY projects, this will be less expensive but require more effort.
How Long Will Beer Last in a Keg?
This heavily depends on the type of beer you’re storing and whether it was pasteurized. For example, non-pasteurized beer under the pressure of CO2 can last for up to 60 days, while pasteurized beer in the same conditions should stay good for anywhere from 90 to 120 days. Either option is far better than a keg tapped with a standard party-pump tap, which lasts no more than 8–12 hours.
Additional Outdoor Kegerator Features
Not all beers and wines are created equal, and the same goes for the appliances that dispense them. Many modern outdoor kegerators have additional features like locking doors, self-closing doors, and digital temperature control centers to enhance their convenience and luxury appeal. We don’t know about you, but we’d go to great lengths to protect our beer.
We’re off to enjoy a few refreshing drinks straight from the kegerator tap while Grill Master Randy does his thing, but our outdoor refrigeration experts are standing by at 1-877-743-2269 to answer any further questions you have. You might as well drop by our Free Outdoor Living Design Service, too — the folks there are very friendly and, as the name implies, very good at designing outdoor spaces. We also offer no interest financing that can help you build the outdoor bar of your dreams, beer dispenser included.