Have you ever been sitting in the bar and see one of your favorite beers on tap? The beer you keep stockpiled in your fridge whenever possible – that beer. You order it and take that first sip, pow! Instant flavor, amazing depth, everything you could ever want, and more. Way better than the bottle of the same beer you have at home, but why? Why does beer taste better on draft?
While bottled or canned beer may be convenient for home consumption, draft beer is the oldest and most favored method of storing and consuming beer because it simply tastes better. Temperature, guaranteed freshness, and control over light and CO2 concentrations all enhance beer’s flavor, ensuring its taste over bottled or canned packaging.
If you want to know more about these factors, as well as some of the history behind draft beer, keep reading!
Why does beer taste better on draft?
Before the invention of the modern kegs we see today, the first iteration of draft beer was stored in wooden barrels. These barrels were called “coopers” and were made by artisans for beer and wine.
It is believed that medieval monks in Europe were the first to store beer in these barrels were. These monks brewed large quantities of beer for their own personal usage and as a source of income for the temple.
Fun Fact: Before 1785, most kegs were drained using gravity and air. However, in 1785 a beer pump was invented in Europe, allowing kegs to be tapped and carrying beer through piping.
With a long and rich history, it’s no surprise people are accustomed to drinking their beer on draft. Beer has been recorded as being the preferred alcoholic drink in the US ahead of wine and spirits.
Here are some of the specific factors that differentiate draft beer from canned or bottled:
- Temperature control
- Controlled carbonation
- Protected from light
- Pouring technique
Cracking open a fresh cold one the same day you bought it always tastes better than a forgotten bottle found weeks later, right? It’s not just in your head. The fresher your beer is – in most cases – the better it will taste.
Draft beers are often cycled through at a faster pace than bottles or cans. This is due to their popularity and established presence in a bar or restaurant. Because of this fact and the airtight containment provided by modern kegs, beer on draft is more likely to be fresher than bottled or canned.
This is especially true for hoppy beers such as IPAs, which lose their flavor the longer they sit. The closer these types of beers are consumed to when they are brewed, the stronger the taste. Draft beer makes that possibility greater.
Note: This does not apply to beers that taste better with age, such as Belgian beers.
Another factor that contributes to draft beer’s superiority is the control it provides over temperature.
A majority of bars and restaurants keep their kegs at the consistent ideal temperature at all times. This is relatively easy to maintain with a keg and prevents the need to pasteurize the beer, negatively impacting the flavor. Because kegs are transported and stored below 50°F, no bacteria can form.
No pasteurization means no heating of the beer, which can help contribute to its preferable flavor. Draft beer being constantly cold is another reason why it tastes so crisp and fresh.
Draft beer’s carbonation is often more controlled and fine-tuned than bottle conditioning. Because brewers can input specific levels of CO2 into the keg, they can ensure the beer is perfectly carbonated. Additionally, modern kegs are airtight, preventing any of the CO2 from escaping.
Keg taps also help prevent CO2 from leaking. Modern keg taps are designed with carbonation in mind, producing a perfect head with every pour.
The most commonly used tap systems in the US and abroad are:
Protected from Light
Light is the enemy of beer. That is why beer bottles are never clear so that UV light cannot touch the beer. Draft beer is in the ideal storage container to prevent light from ever touching it.
Kegs are completely opaque, which prevents UV rays from touching the beer and destroying its flavor. From the time it’s brewed to the moment it’s poured into a pint glass, draft beer never sees the light of day. This is unlike bottled beer, which, despite its darker bottles, can be affected by the sun over time.
Keg taps have a distinct way of pouring compared to bottles or cans, and the method you pour can have a surprisingly dramatic impact on the taste of your beer.
Because beer passes through a line and exits out of a spigot before reaching the glass, a lot of CO2 is knocked out of the beer creating a smoother flavor. Compared to a bottle that has a more controlled and shorter pour, more CO2 remains, which can increase the bitter flavors.
If you prefer the bitterness of beer, this may be a reason for bottled or canned beer over draft. But for most people who want a smooth experience, draft is king.
Ultimately the type of beer you like all comes down to personal preference. Given its history as the oldest form of storing and consuming beer, it is no surprise that draft beer is many people’s favorite.