Draft Beer 101

Under Pressure: A Guide to CO2 and Nitrogen Beer Regulators

Whether you are pouring draft beer at home by way of a kegerator or in a commercial setting using a more complex setup, a beer regulator is a crucial piece of dispensing equipment.

What Are Draft Beer Regulators?

The contents of gas tanks are under extremely high pressure. The main function of any regulator is to lower that pressure to a safer, more usable level before the gas reaches the keg. The regulator is also responsible for maintaining the optimal carbonation level of the beer being dispensed.

beer regulators diagram

Types of Draft Beer Regulators

A primary CO2 regulator hooks up to your CO2 tank. In simple draft configurations, air line then runs from the regulator to the keg coupler. If you are dispensing multiple kegs from one tank of gas, the airline might pass through a gas blender or secondary regulator before reaching the coupler.  

If you want to dispense Guinness or any other nitro beer, you’ll need a primary Nitrogen regulator. Like a primary CO2 regulator, it connects directly to the gas tank (a.k.a., cylinder) to moderate its pressure. Unlike a CO2 regulator, it attaches to the tank by way of a female stem piece. A CO2 regulator will not properly attach to a Nitrogen tank. If you want to dispense a nitro beer without investing in a Nitrogen regulator, you can purchase a nitrogen converter piece instead.

Whether you are talking Nitrogen or CO2, primary regulators come in single-gauge and double-gauge models. Single-gauge regulators only have a low-pressure gauge, which measures from 0  to 60 PSI the output pressure of the gas being dispensed into the keg. Double-gauge regulators (shown above) have both a low-pressure gauge and a high pressure gauge, which measures from 0 to 3000 PSI the amount of CO2 or Nitrogen left in the tank. A high-pressure gauge is extremely helpful but not essential to draft beer dispensing.

If you are dispensing two or more kegs from a single gas source, a secondary beer regulator may be required. That’s because different beers often call for different dispensing pressures to maintain the carbonation level prescribed by the brewer. Failure to adhere to the brewer’s recommendation is to risk changing the appearance, mouthfeel, and taste of a beer.

To dispense multiple kegs all at the same pressure, you‘ll need a distribution bar, which is basically a large splitter. The primary regulator determines the pressure of gas flowing through a distributor. A distribution bar does not allow you to adjust the pressure for each keg.

Troubleshooting Improper Dispensing Pressure

Most beers are dispensed somewhere in the range of 10 to 15 PSI. If you are pouring a nitro beer, that range increases to 30 to 40 PSI.

Want to check the PSI range for your favorite style? We have a handy chart for that.

A dispensing pressure that’s too low will result in excessive foam as the gas dissolved in the beer comes out of solution. Eventually, the keg will dispense flat beer.

To correct the problem, make sure your regulator is set to the proper PSI. If it isn’t, turn the adjustment screw clockwise to raise the pressure to the prescribed level. Otherwise, you should make sure that your CO2 tank is on and not empty, and that the the air line is not obstructed. If all of those things check out and you are still getting foamy to flat beer, you may need to replace your regulator or gauge. Regulators do wear down with time and use. You will generally need to replace them every four to six years.

A too-high dispensing pressure will force additional gas into the beer, leaving you with foamy beer that comes quickly out of the faucet. If your beer is over-carbonated, the foam will appear tight with large bubbles.

If you encounter this problem, it’s easy to fix. Turn the adjustment screw counterclockwise to lower the pressure to the proper level and then draw a few foamy pitchers. You can also use your coupler’s relief valve to bleed out the extra pressure. These measures will force your system to balance itself out again.

For more solutions to common draft dispensing problems, check out our Draft Beer Troubleshooting Guide.

Regulators might seem intimidating, but they are actually simple to use and completely essential to draft beer dispensing systems. With just a little know-how, you’ll be well on your way to pouring perfect pints.

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