Steel-Belted Jockey Box Build

>> Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Back in June my club had a booth at the Mountain Brewers Festival in Idaho Falls, Idaho. All proceeds from this event go to supporting local charities in Idaho. We had about ten club members donate batches of homebrew which were poured right alongside commercial beers. This was the first time we'd ever done an event like this and it turned out to be a lot of fun. We had all 10 beers going from the start of the festival; four on tap on a borrowed jockey box (thanks Lauter Day Brewers!) and the rest using cobra taps. The cobra taps worked fine but they ended up turning into a sticky mess. The jockey box worked awesome, so it got me to thinking that I should start collecting parts in order to build one.

If you're not familiar with jockey boxes, they're essentially a portable kegerators. Rather than keeping kegs at serving temp, room temp beer is chilled on the fly as it's poured. This is accomplished by passing the beer through a cold plate or stainless coil packed in ice. It's basically a heat exchanger, pulling heat out of the beer as it passes through the cold plate.

Fast forward a few months and I finally have my hands on everything needed to complete my build. I wanted something more interesting than you're standard plastic ice chest, so I kept my eyes open for a vintage metal cooler.  I finally got my hands on a nice vintage Coleman cooler a couple weeks ago. This cooler is from the 70's, so it's not 100% metal, but I dig it. It definitely has more character than an all plastic cooler.

As for faucets, I found a member selling brand new ones on homebrewtalk a while back. These are standard chrome rear sealing faucets. I wouldn't recommend these on a home kegerator because they tend to dry out and stick between uses. However, they should work fine on a jockey box where they won't have time to dry out between pours.

For chilling I'm using a seven circuit cold plate. Since we have seven circuits and only four taps, three of the taps are plumbed to do a double pass through the cold plate, and one tap will do a single pass. The single pass tap will be used for beers that will benefit from a slightly warmer serving temp.

Cooler wall cross-section
The build is pretty straightforward; make holes for taps and supply lines then make all the connections. For the taps, I drilled pilot holes all the way through the cooler wall then used a holesaw to cut the interior plastic and my Greenlee punch to make a hole in the outer metal layer. I cut the interior hole big enough to fit a PVC plug that I'd drilled so the tap shank could pass through. The plan is to sandwich the fitting between the metal layer and the nut on the shank. This will allow me to really snug down the shank for a solid mount without worrying about crushing the inner and outer wall. The plug was epoxied to the interior surface of the metal layer and the joint between the PVC fitting and the interior plastic was sealed up with some silicone caulking.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the best solution for the supply lines. I wanted a clean look, but didn't want to break the bank. I ended up going with stainless panel mount 1/4" MFL union/bulkheads. I'm really happy with the way these turned out, and they can even be disassembled fairly easily for cleaning, replacing lines, etc.

It's said the cold plates perform better when they're kept out of the water from the melting ice. You can buy cold plate holders, but I figured I could make a rust-proof holder out of PVC for cheap. I attached the holder to the cold plate using zip ties (not pictured).

That's about all there is to it. I just barely finished it so I haven't had a chance to test it out yet. I imagine I'll have to do a little fine tuning so I'll post an update once I have everything dialed in. In the meantime, here are a few pics of my build. Hopefully anyone planning a similar project will find them helpful.


Interior shank mounting
1/4" MFL bulkheads, exterior
Cold plate stand