You don’t need a TrailKeg

Or, “ode to the carbonator cap.”

A homebrewer friend recently brought a $200 TrailKeg to a club meeting. It is shiny and cool and … a thneed.

Instead, you should use a carbonator cap ($8* as of this writing) and some 1 or 2-liter plastic bottles (free after you drink the seltzer water).  While TrailKeg claims superiority over the glass growler, the carbonator-cap-and-PET-bottle (PET = #1 plastic, i.e. a soda bottle) combo delivers in most of the same ways:

  • Unbreakable
  • Lightweight
  • Has CO2 input for carbing the beer and keeping/serving it under CO2.

Here’s where they differ:

Output: You can’t dispense the plastic bottle through a tap … but just unscrew the top, pour, and then replace the cap and reconnect the CO2 and it’s functionally the same (possibly better, as you won’t have foaming issues).

Input: the standard ball lock connection on the carbonator cap offers different options for CO2, including cartridges but also the CO2 tank from your kegerator and paintball setups for an in-between size.  TrailKeg has a proprietary regulator that only works with cartridges.  Less flexible.

The plastic bottle also wins for quantities of beer that don’t fill the vessel.  With a plastic PET bottle, you can squeeze the sides until all the air is out, then screw on the cap and hit it with CO2, re-inflating the bottle.  This is a great trick for preserving the rest of a growler – or a bomber – that was brought to a homebrew meeting and left unfinished.  Since you can’t squeeze the stainless, you’d need to repeatedly flush the headspace to remove oxygen.

A plastic bottle is not vacuum insulated and won’t keep the beer cold – so put it in a cooler with ice, where you’re keeping your food cold if you’re camping.  The majority of the time, when you’re not camping, a 2L bottle will fit in a fridge easier than a TrailKeg.  Backpacking?  Bring bourbon, not beer.

And if you’re taking a 2L bottle of beer to a party with this system, you can just leave the bottle and its beer behind if you have to leave early, or recycle the bottle when empty and stick the cap in your pocket.  No need to schlep home an empty TrailKeg or worry about retrieving your $200 investment later – or looking like a tightwad taking home your unfinished beer when you leave.

Lastly, the environmental footprint of a carbonator cap and used 2L plastic bottle is virtually nil.

I expect to see more TrailKegs in the future – homebrewers love shiny gadgets – but I’m sticking with my plastic bottles and carbonator caps.

to make the price comparison apples-to-apples, you’d need 2 carbonator caps to go on two 2L bottles to match the volume of the $200 TrailKeg.  So $16.  And you should get two; you never know when you’ll rack to a keg or carboy and run out of headspace.  Should that happen, put the extra in a 2L bottle, carb it, and drink!

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