If you are that person who hangs out in a decent bar, without fail, every Friday night, it is almost impossible to not know about draft beer. This is common knowledge for many, a tangential thought for some. But even knowing what draft beer is, you may still not know its difference when compared to bottled and canned.
This article will give an in-depth talk about draft beer – its history, characteristics, and awesomeness. It will answer questions such as whether draft is better than those in the bottle; or when it the best time to order draft; or what is the best draft beer out there. Ultimately, it will convince you to try a draft beer the next time you visit a bar.
History of Draft Beer
Draft beer (also spelled as draught beer) is a type of beer served directly from a cask or a keg. Unlike your usual beer in bottles and cans, draft beer is tapped from a keg using a lever. Today, draft beer is mostly stored in a pressurized container to preserve its smooth and silky texture and foamy appearance (though there are still excellent beers based on traditional cask storage system).
If you are in a restaurant that serves draft, you’ll easily notice a couple of labeled levers at the back of their bar. Most likely, that will be your draft beer. It is filtered and it comes in pasteurized and unpasteurized form.
It was in 1691 when an inventor named John Lofting coincidentally created a rather mechanical and bulky fire engine that can also store/draw beer and other spirit liquors.
Even though it did not serve its original purpose, the patent was extensively developed for decades to store beer (and cater a whole system of liquor management). But it was only in the early parts of the 20th century when people started using pressurized keg containers to preserve the quality of the fresh beer.
In 1936, artificial carbonation was introduced in the UK together with the then-experimental pasteurized beer. After few years of tech development, it became the favored system for the larger part of Europe. In the 1970s, the technology spread around the world and became known as draught beer (draft beer).
Are Canned Drafts Legit?
Yes, and no. Technically, you can only call it “draft” if it is out of a cask or keg. But the fundamental principle is very much the same. Just like draft beer, canned draft uses a widget to keep the pressure inside. As such, your beer will maintain its foamy texture and crisp flavor. This technology is an attempt to bring draft beer to our houses.
Characteristics of Draft Beer
The brew of draft beer and bottled beer are technically the same. That is a matter of fact. However, there are noticeable differences that separate the two – especially when it comes to shelf-life, exposure to pressure, and stability of storage temperature. Interestingly, the differences are not limited to the beer itself but also to the establishment that offers the product. We will talk about this later on. For now, we will focus on the three elements that separate draft from those in the bottle.
Have you ever wondered why manufacturers usually put beer in dark bottles (e.g. dim green, hazel brown, matte black)? This is to protect the alcohol from light. Long exposure to sunlight results to unwanted chemical reaction to alcohol’s measured composition. Light affects the taste, smell, and overall character of your spirit drink. The dark-colored bottles are intended so that the beer can travel as far as possible and can remain fresh as long as possible.
In contrast to draft, the beer is less-exposed to light inside the metal keg. Its production volume is also relatively smaller compared to its bottled or canned counterpart. As such, its faster consumption ensures newer/fresher products. This is the reason why many people would argue that draft beer is fresher.
However, once the keg is opened, the beer should be consumed within two to three days to ensure freshness (especially if the beer is unpasteurized). Due to this nature, draft beers are usually newer because bars are necessitated to replace it as soon as possible. A respectable bar with a good number of customers will drain their keg in no time.
Modern draft systems have mastered this feature. As CO2 keeps the pressure at the headspace of the keg, carbonation in your beer is maintained. As a result, a clean draft system will always pour a beer that is smooth on the palate and foamy in appearance that a bottle can lack.
But here’s the catch. Since the serving quality of draft beer heavily depends on the existing keg system, a poorly maintained line will turn an excellent beer into a bad one. The line system should always be maintained to avoid any bacterial contamination that will ruin the taste and aroma of the beer.
That is why I will always highlight the need to visit a bar known for their draft. In the long run, you’ll need to build a rapport if you want to enjoy it. Know the bartender, always ask what’s fresh, tell them if something is off, and build a relationship with the bar. In this way, you’ll be proactive in ensuring the quality of your drink.
Modern draft systems offer easier temperature customization. Most distributors and bar owners ensure that their kegs are cold all the time. They are usually stored at the cellar temperature of 12 degrees Celsius. In terms of taste, consistency of temperature will always be a big advantage because it will limit the changes in the chemical composition of the brew.
As repeatedly pointed out, a well-kept beer preserves the very essence of the drink. This is also the reason why draft beer seems special for many people. Bottled beer production is somewhat impersonal in relation to the consumers. Draft beer, on the other hand, will give you an insight into the commitment of the bar and the brewer into their costumers. Bars will always need to maintain the quality of their keg lines, to observe the condition of their drink, and to get the trust of their customers. It thrives on a very personal level. Even the customer’s trust on his/her bartender (esp. on what draft is best to order) seems very intimate. It’s as if the poured beer is just for you.
Is Draft Beer Better than Bottled Beer?
Not necessarily. As mentioned, it is very easy to ruin a good draft beer. A dirty line will easily cause a stink on your glass. Thus, it is almost impossible to create a list of top draft beer since the retailer holds much power.
In addition, the draft is ideal for beer types that are best for fresh consumption such as hoppy beers and light lagers. Not all beer types share this character since some enjoy the certain aging time.
For such reasons, it would better for you to know when to order a draft beer.
- Popular bars are popular for a reason. When customers are raving about the excellent quality of a draft, you should give it a shot. After all, an average draft is still better than your average bottle.
- Excellent bars pride themselves on regular line cleaning. Line maintenance is not cheap and easy, to begin with. Based on experience, most of these bars offer more than 10 different taps of the draft. If such is the case, having a glass of draft would be a good option.
- Some beers need to age while others are meant to be consumed fresh. If a beer is strong and needs some maturation period, the bottle would be the better option. But if it is meant to be consumed immediately (e.g. dry-hopped pale ale), it’d be better out of a keg. That is why you all need to understand what you want to order.
- When the place only serves beer in clear bottle and you believe that their storage is pretty questionable, it’d be better to order a draft.
When Not to Order a Draft Beer?
- After trying three or four glasses of different draft beer and you still think that the taste is off, just stop it. Maybe it’s not about your taste. Most likely, the suspect is their unmaintained keg system.
- When there are more people in your house that the bar, it is likely that their draft beer has already gone stale. You don’t want that in your glass.
- When you feel that the bar or the bartender is just plain shady. Just don’t.
Summary: What is a Draft Beer?
Draft beer is a type of beer served directly from a cask or a keg. Modern draft systems use pressurized containers with easy-to-customize temperature control in order to preserve the essence of beer. This is a must try drink but you also need to be extra careful to avoid any bad experience.