How to Make a Portable 3 Gallon Beer Dispensing Cooler

A portable beer dispensing cooler is the next best thing to a draft beer dispenser when it comes to dispensing homebrew, beer at tailgate parties, camping, and other beer-on-the-go situations. Depending on just how much beer you want to dispense, you can make a small cooler with up to two taps, or a large one with up to four. Here, we will look at how to build your own portable three-gallon beer-dispensing cooler at a budget price.

Beer Dispensing Cooler
A five-gallon cooler converted into a beer-cooling dispenser.

Sometimes, lugging around a full-on kegerator can be too much effort. Yet setting up a keg in a trashcan or washtub with ice may not get you the best pour. A three-gallon cooler can be converted into a beer-cooling dispenser, or a 5-gallon igloo into a beer dispenser. These units can provide you with a quality, portable pour with a minimum tote weight.

You will need the following tools in order to build either of these designs:

  • a drill with a ⅝" to ¾" bit
  • screwdrivers
  • shank wrench
  • beer faucet with shank
  • five feet of beer line
  • hose clamps
  • proper keg fittings
  • Co2 tank and regulator

Making your own portable beer-dispensing cooler can be done in a few different ways. You can either have it all contained in the cooler, or you can make the cooler into a dispenser, and have the chilled keg of beer in a tub next to the cooler. Either way, you will need to supply the CO2 tank from the outside of the cooler, unless you have a Cornelius Keg Portable Co2 Charger. First, we'll look at the inclusive unit. This design can be used only with a three gallon Cornelius keg. Your shell is a five-gallon igloo cooler.

This is the type usually used to serve water on job sites. This unit is very close to the right size to fit the three-gallon soda keg, but you may have to build a collar or a wooden box on top of the lid on some models to house the shank end of the beer faucet and excess beer line. This is because different igloos have different lids - some are screw on, which gives you a little more room on the inside, and some are built like corks, and just push in from the top.

Beer Dispensing Coolers
3 gallon keg and co2 canister converts this 5 gallon cooler into a portable draft beer dispenser.

Once you determine how much room you have inside the igloo, you need to drill a hole into either the lid for a tower version or into the side for the mounting of a beer faucet shank. Once the beer faucet tower/shank is installed, you will need to drill a hole for your CO2 gas line unless you have a portable CO2 charger like you see in our pictures.

The other design utilizes the igloo or any three to five gallon cooler to house a thermal cooling coil in ice to cool your beer. The installation into the cooler is very similar to the internally stored igloo design, but you will need to pipe in your beer line instead of CO2 line in the extra hole. You will also need a copper coil, for which a wort chiller will work nicely, or even a 15-foot length of beer line. Your keg and CO2 will then be stored outside the beer cooler/dispenser. The advantage to this design is that any size of keg can be attached, and you can easily upgrade to a bigger cooler and re-use all on the materials you used in a smaller beer cooler. For this design, you will need to have enough ice on hand to fill the cooler and also to chill the beer keg in a keg or wash tub.

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