The fact of the matter is, washing bottles isn't any fun. Filling them isn't a whole heck of a of fun either. The good news is that kegs are a lot of fun. The problem with kegs is that they're really big and that makes them difficult to fit into the refridgerator. Therefore we need to take extreme measures.
The requirements that I have for whatever solution I come up with are:
In the end, I decided that the best way to meet these needs was with a chest freezer with a wooden collar at the top. The basic idea is to put a small strip of wood between the top of the chest freezer and the lid. Then I can drill holes through this for the faucets to go out of and the gas lines to go into.
After shopping around a bit, I found a Frigidaire chest freezer at Sears. It met all of my requirements, the inside measures about 22" deep on the bottom, the outside is about 26" so it fit down the stairs (though the delivery men did need to remove the hinges) and it came in at about $300. That was a little more than I was hoping to spend, so I had to wait for my tax refund to have a little extra cash make the purchase. Overall, it turned out to meet my needs very nicely. The freezer even holds 6 corny kegs which is even more than I was hoping for.
The problem with using a freezer to store beer should seem immediately obvious to anyone who is paying attention. Freezers tend to freeze things and beer is best when it is a liquid. To get around this problem, I have a temperature controller. The particular model I'm using is a digital model made by Ranco, but there are other brands that do the same thing. The temperature controller plugs into the outlet in the wall (or ceiling in my case, basement has some odd wiring) and the freezer plugs into the temperature controller. The temperature controller has a probe that goes into the freezer so that the controller can turn off power to the freezer when it gets too cold. This means that I can keep my beer at a nice and liquid 42°F.
The next issue to address is how to get the beer out of the freezer. One option is to open the lid and use a faucet mounted inside the near the kegs. This isn't very cool looking or convenient, so I scrapped that idea outright. Another option would be to drill holes in the sides of the freezer, some people have reported successfully doing this, but it carries the risk of ruining the freezer if you hit a coolant line. I rejected this idea on the grounds that my wife would be most unhappy about having a $300 non-working chest freezer in the basement. A third option would be to cut a hole in the lid of the freezer and mount a shiny draft tower on the top. This is a tempting idea, but has some drawbacks. Shiny chrome draft towers are very expensive, and the tower/driptray arrangement on the lid makes it difficult to open the lid to add and remove kegs. Therefore I decided to go with the collar approach. This involves putting some wood inbetween the top of the freezer chest and the lid so that holes can be safely drilled for the faucets without risking damage to the freezer.
When installing a collar, the most important thing that needs to be addressed is keeping the hinges for the lid working correctly. The two options in this area are to build a wedge shaped collar that leaves the lid at an angle with the hinges left in place at the back, or to attach the hinges to the collar and left the whole lid up. Given my inability to cut in a straight line, I decided that cutting at an angle to make the sides of the wedge seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. That left me to come up with a way to remove the hinges from the freezer and attach them to the collar. Further investigation showed that each of the two hinges were attached to the freezer body with four screws, two near the top of the freezer body and two 7-1/2 inches below. Lucky for me, 7-1/2 inches is about the size of a 2x8 board. Therefore, I decided that I would build the collar from 2x8s and attach the bottom holes in the hinges to the top holes in the freezer and the top holes in the hinges to the collar.
With a plan for the lid and hinges in place I needed a way to make sure that the collar didn't slip side to side. After looking at pictures of other people's kegerators on the internet I decided that the best way would be to use a board slightly larger than the 2x8 the collar itself is made of to extend down the side of the freezer chest. 1x10 seemed like an obvious choice for this. Thinking a little more I realized that this sort of arrangement would give me a place to mount drip trays, but 10" to accomodate a faucet, drip tray and leave room to fit a pitcher in there, wasn't ment to be. So, I decided to use 1x16 for the front. No need to do that on the sides really, it would just make the project a lot more expensive.
Finally, I needed a way to hold all the parts together. I decided on angle irons and carriage bolts. It works ok, but if I were going to do it over again I think I would just use screws. I ended up with something like this for my plan.
When it was all said and done, it didn't end up as neat and straight as I would have liked, but I filled in the gaps with caulk and covered up all the blemishes with lots of paint. Then I started mounting my faucets and drip trays. Getting 6 faucets and drip trays to go with them is a bit of an expensive project, so I'm taking that 1 faucet at a time. Here are a few more pictures of how it finished up.
Update -- July 2005: I apparently didn't put enough caulk around the bottom of the freezer so I got a few rust spots. I turned off the fridge for a few days and let it all dry out. Then I put on another layer of caulk. Hopefully this helps the problem.
Update -- October 2005:Shelley got me two more shanks and faucets for my birthday bringing me up to 4 installed now. I'll update pictures to show the new setup.
Update -- Christmas 2005:Dave and Peg gave me another faucet and shank for Christmas. That brings me up to five installed now. I'm almost done. The picture below shows all five installed with my custom tap handles and my stainless steel mud pan drip trays.
Update -- August 2006:Finally finished getting all the equipment. I now have six functioning taps on my beer fridge.