Outdoor parties and special events just aren't the same without a nice cold beer, but for beer lovers used to pouring their brew straight from the keg using a kegerator, dispensing beer from a keg using a typical party pump can often be a disappointing experience. In most cases, the beer just doesn't stay cold enough, and whatever remains in the keg will spoil by the end of the day.
Luckily, you don't need to haul your kegerator to the beach, park, or backyard patio in order to enjoy refreshing cold draft beer straight from the keg. A jockey box is the perfect portable solution!
What is a Jockey Box?
A jockey box is an insulated container (usually a picnic cooler or an ice chest) that has been converted into a keg dispenser using a cold plate or a cooling coil, which acts as a flash chiller to quickly cool down your beer as you pour. Jockey boxes use all of the same draft dispense components as a full-size kegerator (including faucets, keg couplers, beer line, air line, and a CO2 tank and regulator), but their compact size makes them more economical and more easily portable.
Cold Plate or Coils
Jockey boxes generally use one of two cooling methods: a cold plate or a cooling coil. With either method, cubed ice is used to cool your beer, which is dispensed using CO2.
Coil jockey boxes use an ice water mixture to completely immerse the stainless steel coils. The beer is cooled as it passes through the coil and out through the faucet into your glass. Cooling coils are superior to cold plates for event dispensing because they feature a greater surface area that allows beer more time to become cold. The longer the coil, the cooler the beer will be after it passes through the coil, so a 120' coil will allow you to pour one beer after another at the right temperature. Shorter coils will slow down this efficiency.
Cold plate jockey boxes use ice only, which must be in contact with the cold plate at all times to maintain temperature. The beer is cooled as it passes through the tubing inside of the cold plate. The advantage to a cold plate is that you can run multiple beers through one cold plate, allowing you to serve a wider variety of beers from one jockey box. Cold plate jockey boxes are only recommended for use in applications where the internal keg temperature can be kept colder than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The cold plate is constructed of aluminum, which gets colder than stainless steel for rapid cooldown, but the beer has less contact with the cold plate so if you are pouring one beer after another, it may not have enough time in the cold plate to reach the proper temperature.
Using your Jockey Box
You should always chill your keg if possible to avoid serving foamy beer. Many people use a large trash can filled with ice to keep their kegs cool when refrigeration isn't available. A keg jacket or blanket can also be used to help avoid temperature fluctuation and keep the keg as cold as possible. Make sure to keep the keg out of direct sunlight.
Once the jockey box has been connected to your direct draw system, tap the keg and dispense a small amount of beer before adding ice or ice water to the jockey box. If the ice or ice water is added before filling the coil with beer, any water or cleaning chemicals remaining in the coils can freeze and prevent your beer from being dispensed properly.
What to look out for
When using a coil jockey box, fill the cooler with cubed or crushed ice and then add water until the coils are completely submerged. Add additional ice as needed to maintain temperature. Make sure not to use an ice pick to break up ice in the cooler, as you may accidentally pierce the coils.
When using a cold plate jockey box, it is important that the cold plate remains in contact with the ice at all times in order to stay cold. You will need to continuously drain melted ice water from the cooler or the ice will float on the surface of the water and not keep the plate as cold as possible.
If your keg has not been sufficiently chilled or the beer does not spend enough time in the jockey box to cool down adequately, your beer may come out foamy. You will need to increase the regulator pressure in order to accommodate for the warmer beer temperature or take more time between pours to allow the beer to reach the proper temperature before being dispensed.
Cleaning your Jockey Box
As with any kegerator or draft beer dispenser, cleaning your jockey box is a vital part of the keg dispensing process. Make sure to always flush any remaining beer from the beer lines and clean the entire dispense system after use.
Jockey box dispense systems can be easily cleaned using a pressurized cleaning kit or hand pump cleaning kit along with a cleaning chemical specially designed for use by the beer industry. You should also use a faucet wrench to remove the beer faucets and clean them.
After you've cleaned the dispense system with the cleaning solution, thoroughly rinse it with water. Again, be sure to always run a small amount of beer through the dispense system before adding ice to prevent any remaining rinse water from freezing up.
Get ready to party!
Depending on your DIY skill level, Beverage Factory carries both preassembled jockey boxes and jockey box conversion kits that will have you dispensing delicious cold draft beer at your next tailgate, barbeque, or camping trip in no time. Jockey box conversion kits are a great choice for both thrifty beer lovers that want to convert their own ice chest and creative beer lovers that want to design their own showstopping keg dispenser, while our preassembled jockey boxes have been specially designed and built by the draft dispense experts at the Beverage Factory to provide reliable performance pour after pour.