So you’re starting to get sick of bottling and want to switch to kegs, but have come to realize they come in all shapes and sizes and you’re not sure which is right for you? Some homebrewers have no preference between ball lock kegs vs. pin lock kegs - while for others it’s as much of a preference as Coke vs. Pepsi. Let’s dive into your options.
A Little Keg History
Before homebrewed beer, these kegs actually were used by Coke and Pepsi. The two soda companies used different styles for their pre-mix (before switching to bags); Pepsi used ball lock and Coke used the pin lock “corny” kegs (originally made by Cornelius, Inc). When the soda companies stopped using cornelius kegs Coke seems to have recycled or destroyed most of their kegs, whereas Pepsi does not seem to have made an effort to destroy them. Over the years the local Pepsi distributors sold their old keg inventory to homebrew supplies when they came calling, which is why for years most homebrewers used exclusively Pepsi’s ball lock kegs.
What’s in a Name?
Okay, but why do we call them ball lock or pin lock kegs? Ball lock kegs use a ring of ball bearings to secure gas and liquid connections to the keg, while pin lock kegs use pins on the keg fittings to secure the gas and liquid line fittings to the kegs (two pins for gas-in, three pins for liquid-out).
The Main Differences Between the Kegs
Both kegs come in various sizes (1.75, 2.5, 3, 5, & 10 gallon), but most homebrewers use the 5 gallon kegs, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on.
Pin lock kegs are shorter and wider, while ball lock kegs are taller and skinnier. For some, this difference may be completely irrelevant, while for others - it can mean fitting another keg into the kegerator. So be sure to measure your keg storage space and understand the kegs size implications before choosing between ball lock or pin lock kegs.
A ball lock keg dimensions are approximately 25” tall x 8.5” in diameter, while pin lock kegs are approx 22” tall x 9” in diameter. Both will hold 5 gallons, or about 40 pints of your favorite homebrew.
Another difference is that ball lock kegs have a pressure relief valve (PRV) on the keg lid, while pin lock kegs typically do not. Pin lock kegs must instead be depressurized by pressing down on the center of the gas connection keg post. This is usually not an issue, but some homebrewers find it troublesome.
Decision Time: Both Keg Styles Get the Job Done, So Which Should You Choose?
Ball lock and pin lock kegs are actually more similar than not - both have gas and liquid dip tubes, both will keep your beer carbonated, both save you from bottling, and make your brew cave look extra legit. Most homebrewers will tell you that neither is necessarily better, but there are some reasons to choose one over the other.
All or at least most newly manufactured kegs are ball lock kegs, which makes it easier to find parts. On the other hand pin lock kegs are great because you always know which connection post is which - two pins for “gas-in” and three pins for “liquid out”. Ball locks can be a little more expensive, but also easier to find as most brewing equipment has traditionally been designed for ball lock kegs. There are pin-to-ball conversion kits, but not really the other way around.
Which Type of Keg is For You?
If you’re still wondering, “okay, so which one should I get?” We can’t exactly tell you which homebrew keg is better as they both have pros and cons. It mostly comes down to the space you have in your kegerator/keezer, the cost, and which is easier for you to find.
If you do need new keg parts, our guide on How to Choose the Right Keg Parts will come in handy.
Ready to start kegging your homebrew? Check out our video course Kegging 101: Introduction to Kegging.
Read More About Kegging and Bottling Beer:
How to Carbonate Beer - An overview on carbonating beer in bottles and kegs
View our Priming Sugar Calculator for bottling homebrew.