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Kegging vs Bottling and Forced Carbonation vs Natural Carbonation - Challenging The Accepted Beliefs


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As I said in my initial post in this forum, I am new to Coopers kits, but not to brewing as I have always brewed all-grain beers in the past. Two things you read a lot about in researching beer making are:

  1. kegging vs bottling - which is best? the general consensus is that kegging is easier, quicker, and has a number of other advantages
  2. carbonation: natural carbonation vs forced carbonation - the majority opinion seems to favour forced carbonation

Kegging vs Bottling

Most home brewers will say that kegging is quicker, easier, and less messy than bottling beer, and this is true at the time when fermentation stops.  Simply rack off your fermented wort into a keg, with or without sugar, and you're done! However, at the other end, after the kegs cough, you need to:

  • clean the lines
  • dismantle and clean the beer taps
  • wash out the kegs, sanitise, and dry them

which is wetter, messier and heavier work than simply discarding the bottles, or rinsing and storing them. Bottling takes a little longer than simply running beer into a keg, but once done, it's done and all that remains is to flip the bottle top off and enjoy a perfect craft beer. I can tell you that kegerator and keezer taps do not always pour to satisfactory levels when a new keg is added to them.

Forced Carbonation vs Natural Carbonation

For readers who are not brewers, "forced carbonation" means attaching a gas line to a keg of fermented wort and forcing CO2 into the beer until it is carbonated to the degree of supporting a good head, having bubbles, and nice mouthfeel.

"Natural carbonation" means adding sugar (not really recommended) or glucose to bottles or kegs of newly fermented beer and sealing them so that secondary fermentation can carbonate your beer naturally.  There are formulas to help you work out how much sugar to add.

Most beer aficionados will confidently tell you that forced carbonation is best:

  1. you don't have to wait weeks for secondary fermentation to carbonate your beer - it's pretty much ready to go in a couple of days
  2. keg beer tastes better (!?)

However in my early experience with forced carbonation of my kegs (you cannot really do bottles easily at home) I was getting a froth bomb out of some taps and flat beer out of others.  In my first attempt in my 5-tap keezer I had 55 litres of beer and had to drink 45 litres before I got it to pour just right, then,  when I was really enjoying the fruits of my labours, the kegs started to cough, one after the other! 😞 . If you do everything right when bottling or kegging beer with just the right amount of priming sugar, natural carbonation rarely lets you down, and I would recommend it for beginners.

As far as time saving goes, I asked a very experienced, all-grain, forced carbonation brewer how long he allowed his beer to "condition" in the keg after gassing it with CO2. The answer was "6 weeks!  you can drink it after three or four, but six is better."

It is recommended that one leaves naturally carbonated kegs or bottles for four to six weeks before tapping the keg or opening the bottle - so, where is the advantage in forced carbonation? If you want to drink your latest brew young and unconditioned, say, in a week's time, go for forced, including rocking the kegs around, otherwise you can do it either way in six weeks.

  • When you gas up beer with CO2 under pressure you are doing what the mass producers of beer do.
  • When you naturally carbonate you are doing what a lot of craft brewers do.

I have settled on natural carbonation for both my kegs and bottles. I'm sure a lot of you will disagree and say that forced carbonation is best, and you may well be right, but a bit of debate is nearly always healthy, is it not?

I'll be interested in your comments.

Kind regards, Jim

@JimInCollie

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PS:  Oh, and I forgot to mention one thing:

 

  • Forced carbonation can use a lot of CO2, especially if you have a gas leak in your system, even a minor leak, and re-filling gas bottles is not a cheap thing to do.
  • Natural carbonation is cheap, because sugar and glucose are cheap, and you don't use much for secondary fermentation.

@JimInCollie

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Thanks Jim, a really detailed post. If I may I will add some of my thoughts.

Kegging v Bottling

  • I love kegging v bottling as I find it much easier and quicker. Beer taps I have cleaned after more than 6 months and when they were dismantled I found that they were absolutely spotless, so they really did not even need to be cleaned. Kegs are pretty simple to clean, when I have an empty keg I just give it a rinse with some hot water and then a soak with some hot PBW solution which I also run through the beer lines and tap that the empty keg came off and then give both the keg and the lines and tap a rinse with hot water. Job done. Others say that you do not even need to bother doing the beer lines and taps so regularly?
  • I found bottles to be a pain in the a... to clean and sanitise, a very time consuming process compared to cleaning a keg, beer lines and taps.
  • When it is time to keg I just put some sanitiser in the cleaned keg and then run that through the beer line and tap that the full keg will be connected to.

As far as forced carbonation v naturally carbonated kegs, I must admit I just force carbonate as it is simple and I achieve consistent results. I do not do any rocking or rolling of the keg, I just hook the keg up, add 40psi for 18 - 24 hours and all done. Doesn't seem to use much CO2 as a 6kg bottle last me months and at about $50 to refill I find it quite cheap. Compared to bottles I also find that beer in a keg conditions much faster than the equivalent beer in a bottle so for me conditioning is never a problem.

Everyone has different experiences, but for me kegging is a no brainer.

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I've had kegs nearly 7 years now, personally I think the method of carbonation that's best is whatever you like best. I use a cylinder, but whether I just let them sit for a week on serving pressure or use a higher pressure to do it quicker it's still forced. One method I don't use is the rocking the keg, unless it's my soda water keg. Too little margin for error with that. That it's the same as what mass producers do is of no concern to me.  The cylinder usually lasts about 10-11 months and swaps are around the $50-60 range. 

Generally I don't leave them conditioning for weeks unless it's a lager, or porter/stout that I have a keg set aside for so it can sit for months. However, I don't drink a lot these days either so they get a fair bit of time conditioning while on tap as well. They also condition quicker than bottles. I used to make batches large enough to fill about a dozen stubbies as well as the keg, and I found the keg beer always tasted better earlier than the bottles did. 

As for cleaning I find it much quicker and easier than bottles. The taps I have don't need to be dismantled to be cleaned properly, I've done it once to check inside about 2 years after I installed them and they were spotless. It's just a matter of rinsing the dregs out, putting some cleaning stuff in, shaking or rolling it around for a few minutes then running it through the tap. Rinse with hot water and run that through as well. If I'm not filling them with beer again straight away I just store them pressurised with CO2. Today I cleaned and filled two kegs which are just carbonating on serving pressure, all up the time taken was little more than an hour. If it was bottles, taking into account the cleaning it would have been at least triple that time. 

Might not be the "textbook" method of cleaning but it's never caused me any problems with infected beers or whatever. I enjoy having beers on tap, and also the option to quickly gas them up if I need to. Overall I've found it not just a time saver but a space saver as well since I don't have to have piles of bottles all over the house. 

Edited by Otto Von Blotto
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forced carbonation  is alot different to what  @JimInCollieis really mentioning

alot of you do understand it and do the practice

forced carbing a beer is when you set your psi  to 30-40  for 24 hours then burping the keg and then  pouring a beer

where as there is a set and forget method  

eg to get a carb level of 2.5volumes of co2 you may set your co2 at 10-12psi  for 5-7 days even longer if you wanted to at 2°c


force carbonation is not  set and forget with co2




 

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20 minutes ago, ozdevil said:

forced carbonation  is alot different to what  @JimInCollieis really mentioning

alot of you do understand it and do the practice

forced carbing a beer is when you set your psi  to 30-40  for 24 hours then burping the keg and then  pouring a beer

where as there is a set and forget method  

eg to get a carb level of 2.5volumes of co2 you may set your co2 at 10-12psi  for 5-7 days even longer if you wanted to at 2°c


force carbonation is not  set and forget with co2




 

It doesn't matter what the pressure is or how long it takes, it's still forcing CO2 into the beer, therefore it's still forced carbonation. The only difference with set and forget is that it takes longer to get to the same level. 

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Does anyone else have problems with the Forum algorithm blocking words in what you are posting? Tonight it would not let me post a...r...s...e but previously I have had someone call me a mangy c...........t and it allowed that. Maybe the algorithim has been changed?

Edited by kmar92
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9 hours ago, kmar92 said:

Does anyone else have problems with the Forum algorithm blocking words in what you are posting? Tonight it would not let me post a...r...s...e but previously I have had someone call me a mangy c...........t and it allowed that. Maybe the algorithim has been changed?

Maybe the algorithm only allows facts to be written.

Just kidding, champion. 🤣

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9 hours ago, kmar92 said:

Does anyone else have problems with the Forum algorithm blocking words in what you are posting? Tonight it would not let me post a...r...s...e but previously I have had someone call me a mangy c...........t and it allowed that. Maybe the algorithim has been changed?

I know what you mean sometimes when we try to get to descriptive or cross the line it throws up a stop sign, I generally try to be a good boy 😇 but I am surprised to see some of the content that get's through.

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To me kegging is the easier and quicker way, even in the long run.

Bottling involved getting the bottles, soaking them in a sodium percarbonate solution for a couple of hours, rinsing them and putting them on the bottle tree to drip dry, then sanitising them and back up on the bottle tree to drip dry again and then another 45 minutes to fill, cap and tag the bottles before carting them off to the cupboard where they were kept. 

Kegging is a lot easier in every respect. When the keg blows, it gets rinsed out well, filled with sodium carbonate and left over night. then it gets emptied, rinsed, sanitised and put aside for when it is needed. TO clean the taps, I briefly run some of the sodium percarbonate solution in the keg through the beer lines and tap, then leave it sit in the lines over night as well. When the kegs are being sanitised, I also run tome of it through the tap to push the SP solution out and sanitise the lines and tap. 

As for carbonation, I haven't naturally carbed a beer in a keg yet. Depending on stocks, I leave them on serving pressure for a week and they're fine. If I just need to carb up a full keg for storage because the kegerator is full, I fast carb it over night in a ferment fridge, then put it aside. No dramas here.

Just a side on the fella maturing his beer for 6 weeks. That is fine for poerters/stouts/similar and lagers too but anything full of hop flavours will suffer due to hop fade. Plus I don't have the patience. It's hard enough not to touch a lager too much while it is lagering 🙂 

 

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For gassing, I have a line with a liquid disconnect on it - attach to manifold & liquid post and listen to the gurgles. Every so often I'll open the fridge and PRV it. Only takes a couple of days and it's headable. 

That doesn't mean it's at its best as far as drinkable goes - I find kegs improve (even hoppy ones) for maybe 2 weeks till they plateau. (IMO)

I did a side-by-side of force-carb and natural kegs, exact same brew.  Didn't touch either for 2 weeks then chilled the natural keg and start doing taste tests. The natural carb was a clearly better beer and that lasted for about 2 weeks - it was only in week 3 I had trouble picking which was which. And it was deinitely the force-carb beer improved to match the natural car one.

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Thanks guys for your interest and replies. I feel I have learned something - not so much on the technical side as we all seem to know what's what in that regard - but I am pleased to know what you all do, and to get some tips from you. I suppose a motive of mine in writing the original post was to get feedback, and that certainly happened, so, thank you!

I will just clarify one thing and that is that I do do both from time to time: natural and forced carbonation; and sometimes both at the same time. For example, if I brew a Coopers Lager and end up with around 23 litres of beer I'll put 9.5L in a small Corny keg and bottle the rest, or maybe most of it in a 19.5L keg.  As I said in my original post, my first attempts at kegging all-grain beer were less than perfect with some kegs being froth bombs, some kegs delivering flat beer, and occasionally one perfect keg. But from day#1 my bottled beer was perfect, and that is why I recommend to newbie brewers to start with bottling to have a better chance at a successful and encouraging result.

Back to forced carbonation, I also eventually found I had a slight leak in my keg king MK3 CO2 regulator, and, just as a dripping garden tap can put your water bill right up, so too did my CO2 bill go up - AND - I was prompted to buy additional gas cylinders to make sure I always had backup when using my keezer for parties. I ran out of gas at one family gathering and vowed that would never happen again.

I agree that kegs and lines are not really difficult to clean. When a keg coughs I disconnect the beer line and attach the disconnect to a device screwed onto the top of a 1.25L Coke bottle full of dilute phosphoric acid.  I then open the beer tap and use the built in hand-pump to pump the sanitiser through the disconnect, the line, and the tap - job done! I then remove the empty keg from the keezer, hose it out, clean it, and then add a weak solution of phosphoric acid sanitizer, and shake it all about. I fit the lid and attach the gas line to the "IN" pillar, and a liquid disconnect to the "OUT" pillar and push sanitiser through the internal spear and then, leaving about 100ml of phosphoric acid sanitiser in the unopened keg (which is good for the stainless steel) I remove the disconnects and store the keg.

I actually don't find cleaning bottles to be an arduous job.  As I finish each stubby of beer I rinse the bottle out under the tap in the kitchen sink. Visual inspection shows there is no need for a bottle brush. I then immerse the bottle in a Coopers Lager tin full of water to soak off the label - yes, I label all of my beers (sample below), tastes better that way 🙂. I then empty the bottle(s) and store them upside down in a lidded plastic storage container bought from Red Dot or Bunnings. I have a clean towel in the bottom of the box to catch any drips.  On the next bottling day I stand them upright, fill them with weak phosphoric acid sanitiser solution, tip them out one at a time as i fill them with beer. Any traces of phosphoric acid left in the bottle serves as an excellent yeast nutrient (at the very low concentration after beer is added). So, in summary I drink and rinse, and later on rinse and fill... not hard and the result is predictable, plus you have a nice product to give as a gift or share with friends.

@JimInCollie

57889880_20220213_1229101.thumb.jpg.5f6d302dea663a7b72c541448471e57d.jpg

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19 hours ago, kmar92 said:

Thanks Jim, a really detailed post. If I may I will add some of my thoughts.

Kegging v Bottling

  • I love kegging v bottling as I find it much easier and quicker. Beer taps I have cleaned after more than 6 months and when they were dismantled I found that they were absolutely spotless, so they really did not even need to be cleaned.  Others say that you do not even need to bother doing the beer lines and taps so regularly?

 

Hi @kmar92

Thanks for that information about your spotless beer taps.  I have been agonising over whether to dismantle my own beer taps, even though I have cleaned and sanitised the lines and taps after each keg. You have put my mind at rest on that matter. Check them now and again, maybe once a year? - is that the go?

@JimInCollie

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19 hours ago, Otto Von Blotto said:

The cylinder usually lasts about 10-11 months and swaps are around the $50-60 range.

Hi @Otto Von Blotto

I need to buy a new regulator!

I've tested every connection in my keezer: gas lines, connectors, disconnects, manifold connections, kegs, etc.; and everything holds pressure except the low pressure side of the regulator, even when the gas-out port of the regulator is capped off. The gas release valve on the regulator has a hair trigger and I suspect that the slow leak is coming from there.  My regulator is a Keg King MK3.  I've taken it to our local Keg King distributor for testing and he came to the same conclusion.  I would be delighted if my gas lasted 10-11 months, like yours.  If I leave the gas on at 12 psi to naturally carbonate a keg over a week or so, or crank it up to 30-40psi for 48 hours, either way I will empty my gas bottle, as happened once when I had the family staying over.

Can you, or anyone else reading this post, suggest a reliable regulator make and model? I'm not keen to replace a faulty Keg King one with another Keg King one.

Many thanks,

@JimInCollie

Edited by JimInCollie
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46 minutes ago, JimInCollie said:

Can you, or anyone else reading this post, suggest a reliable regulator make and model? I'm not keen to replace a faulty Keg King one with another Keg King one.

Best is Harris 601 reg. When I started a couple of years back a fridgey on here (& a couple of others) recommended it and it's a smooth ride on setting pressure and I trust it totally.

Also, been doing this for coming up on 2 years (for kegs) and I think I'm getting close to my 2nd refill of the 6kg bottle. I have a 2.6kg one that went on for a couple of days till I could get to Adelaide for a refil but basically in all that time I haven't yet got to 2 complete bottles used - and I have 4 taps on my fridge that (mostly) have all been in action.

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@JimInCollie as far as taps go yes I reckon that once a year check would be good, you might still be surprised how clean they are even after a year.

As to regulators yes as @Journeyman says a Harris, or I have a Micro Matic and it has been very good in the year or so that I have been using it. As above I have been kegging for about 2 years and I have used 1 x 6kg, 1 x 2.6kg and now using the 2nd 6kg bottle of CO2.

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2 hours ago, JimInCollie said:

Hi @Otto Von Blotto

I need to buy a new regulator!

I've tested every connection in my keezer: gas lines, connectors, disconnects, manifold connections, kegs, etc.; and everything holds pressure except the low pressure side of the regulator, even when the gas-out port of the regulator is capped off. The gas release valve on the regulator has a hair trigger and I suspect that the slow leak is coming from there.  My regulator is a Keg King MK3.  I've taken it to our local Keg King distributor for testing and he came to the same conclusion.  I would be delighted if my gas lasted 10-11 months, like yours.  If I leave the gas on at 12 psi to naturally carbonate a keg over a week or so, or crank it up to 30-40psi for 48 hours, either way I will empty my gas bottle, as happened once when I had the family staying over.

Can you, or anyone else reading this post, suggest a reliable regulator make and model? I'm not keen to replace a faulty Keg King one with another Keg King one.

Many thanks,

@JimInCollie

Harris are generally regarded as the best I believe, I have a Micromatic that I've had since I started which are also decent, hasn't had any issues so far. I do have a keg king one as well that came with a new kegerator I bought a couple of years ago, I just keep it there as a spare in case the other one kaks itself. 

I only have three kegs going at any one time, which probably helps to prolong the time it takes to empty the cylinder. For a while I've only had the soda water on as I've been a bit slack with the brewing but starting to ramp it up more now. 

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On 2/13/2022 at 3:16 PM, JimInCollie said:

I need to buy a new regulator!

 

I have a Harris 601 on the big 6kg gas bottle and it is faultless. Apparently, Harris are the Mercedes among the regulators. I also have a Kegland Mk4 on the little gas bottle but it appears to have an issue. When fast carbing, I cannot go past 30psi or it will audibly leak gas through the PRV.  Quite a pain in the backside as I use this bottle to fast carb overnight as the window for using the ferment fridge is usually just 24hrs (keg one batch on Sat and brew a fresh one on Sun). That's the difference between a $40 Kegland and a $170 Harris I suppose.

Edited by Aussiekraut
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44 minutes ago, Aussiekraut said:

I have a Harris 601 on the big 6kg gas bottle and it is faultless. Apparently, Harris are the Mercedes among the regulators. I also have a Kegland Mk4 on the little gas bottle but it appears to have an issue. When fast carbing, I cannot go past 30psi or it will audibly leak gas through the PRV.  Quite a pain in the backside as I use this bottle to fast carb overnight as the window for using the ferment fridge is usually just 24hrs (keg one batch on Sat and brew a fresh one on Sun). That's the difference between a $40 Kegland and a $170 Harris I suppose.

just for argument sakes when the harris is not in use    take the prv out of the harris and try in the mk4
when you put the presure to 40 psi   does the valvle pop up?

is yours the green prv  that should be rated to 65 psi?

it may be just swapping out the prv for a new prv

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28 minutes ago, ozdevil said:

just for argument sakes when the harris is not in use    take the prv out of the harris and try in the mk4
when you put the presure to 40 psi   does the valvle pop up?

is yours the green prv  that should be rated to 65 psi?

it may be just swapping out the prv for a new prv

The Harris doesn't have a PRV. You reckon the PRV in the Kegland regulator can be replaced? Yes, it is a green one. It was all good in the past but last time I gave it a little pressure, it just went boo hiss. Especially the hiss part.

 

 

Edited by Aussiekraut
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16 minutes ago, Aussiekraut said:

The Harris doesn't have a PRV. You reckon the PRV in the Kegland regulator can be replaced? Yes, it is a green one. It was all good in the past but last time I gave it a little pressure, it just went boo hiss. Especially the hiss part.

 

 

yes you can buy spare PRVs   for kegs and regulators from kegland  

if you unscrew the Green Prv all the way out there should be a small black o-ring on the end of the poppet of the PRV
check that if it hasnt worn or become brittle   as that may just need replacing

https://www.kegland.com.au/cornelius-type-pressure-relief-valve-prv-for-keg-lids-or-mk4-regulator-green-65-psi-4-5bar.html

 

Edited by ozdevil
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Personally I was never happy with the Mk 4 that I have. I keep it as a spare but unless my Micromatic causes problems I wouldn't bother with it again. It is the old adage I guess - "you only get what you pay for".

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2 minutes ago, kmar92 said:

Personally I was never happy with the Mk 4 that I have. I keep it as a spare but unless my Micromatic causes problems I wouldn't bother with it again. It is the old adage I guess - "you only get what you pay for".

never had issues  i have 2 mk4's from kegland

not sure how i obtained 2 of them but did.

I wouldnt say they are  in the streets of a micromatic or a harris   but they do the job

mind you i very rarely put my psi's above 12-15psi anyway as i dont  fasat carb to drink in 24hours lol

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@ozdevil my issue with the Mk 4 was that it didn't do what it's name is - regulator. It always seemed to fluctuate with the low pressure side that it was delivering to kegs and I was always adjusting it. Whether that was caused by the actual gauge not reading correctly or the diaphragm not being up to the job I do not know. I didn't ever have any leaks from it.

The Micromatic is just set and forget as it just maintains the pressure on the LP side perfectly, I run 12psi to my kegs and I never have to adjust the regulator unless I am doing a quick carb. The only problem I have had with it is that all the fittings are assembled with a heavy duty Loktite (to prevent leaks) so I was unable to change the barbed tail on the delivery side and had to use clamps - I use Duotights on the rest of the plumbing.

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4 minutes ago, kmar92 said:

@ozdevil my issue with the Mk 4 was that it didn't do what it's name is - regulator. It always seemed to fluctuate with the low pressure side that it was delivering to kegs and I was always adjusting it. Whether that was caused by the actual gauge not reading correctly or the diaphragm not being up to the job I do not know. I didn't ever have any leaks from it.

The Micromatic is just set and forget as it just maintains the pressure on the LP side perfectly, I run 12psi to my kegs and I never have to adjust the regulator unless I am doing a quick carb. The only problem I have had with it is that all the fittings are assembled with a heavy duty Loktite (to prevent leaks) so I was unable to change the barbed tail on the delivery side and had to use clamps - I use Duotights on the rest of the plumbing.

I have  heard similar issues    mk 4   and i probably dont notice to much  of the low pressure side as much as i have never worked them hard

i have a few big ticket items coming up in the next 6 months  but a Harris regulator is on the cards for me at some point 

as i am  going to get a stainless steel fermenter
1x35l gen4 +65l gen4
5 filter  commercial  ro water system
harris reg

and toying up wether to get a rapt fridge or the  rapt temp controller

 

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