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What Is A Draft Beer? Answered (2024 Best Edition)

What Is A Draft Beer

Last Updated on March 23, 2024 by Lydia Martin

Draft beers are usually served from commercially-sized beer kegs with 20 to 50 L capacity, perfect for big celebrations and events. 

Many beer enthusiasts regard drinking beer on tap as the freshest way to consume this alcoholic beverage.

But what is a draft beer? And how is it made?

What Exactly is a Draft Beer?

Refilling Beer on a Glass

A draft or draught beer is a beer served and stored in a cask or keg.

It comes straight from a pressurized or pumped-by-hand tap and should be stored at a cellar temperature of 54°F. 

Draught beer generally tastes fresh, is less exposed to light, and is unpasteurized. Both cask and keg beers are also draft beers.

But the purists who prefer traditional cask beer consider that keg beer is inferior to a draft beer from a cask. 

Etymology & Origin

The history of draft beer started centuries ago, referencing medieval monks as among the first people to store beer in casks or barrels. 

The first official record of it was from an article in the 17th century.

But the beer engine was patented in 1785 to direct the beer from the barrel to the consumer.

The word draft or draught is related to an Old English word, “dragan,” meaning to drag, draw, or pull [1].

How Much Alcohol Does Draft Beer Contain?

Man Refilling Beer

Draft beer (or draught beer) usually contains 3% to 5% ABV, like any other regular beer.

Sometimes, it has less alcohol than its canned or bottled beer version. 

A draft beer is not a classification of beer; it is just how a regular beer is kept. In 1971, the Campaign for Real Ale Group was founded to protect traditional beer and brewing processes.

Real ale must be unfiltered and unpasteurized, creating a smooth beer with deeper flavors.

What Does It Taste Like?

Draft beer has a fresher and more pronounced flavor than regular beers. It is often more carbonated, imparting a unique mouthfeel and taste to the beer. 

Draft systems used beer gas, a combination of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, to help dispense the beer from the taps.

Using more nitrogen in a premixed bottled gas creates a creamy beer with a less carbonated taste.

What Makes It Taste Good?

Refilling Beer on a Glass

It’s Fresher

Many beer enthusiasts believe that draft beer sells faster than beers in cans or bottles.

Although there is no empirical evidence, bars that serve this regularly refill their cask, ensuring the fresher taste of draught beer every time.

Read: What’s A Domestic Beer?

It’s Not Pasteurized

Pasteurization is a heat treatment, usually done at the end of the beer production process, that negatively affects its flavor and freshness [2].

Unlike a keg beer, draft beer is usually not pasteurized, leading to its shorter shelf-life.

“In a bar, draft should be moving faster [than bottles], so I’d take the fact that it’s probably fresher as my largest beer-ordering concern.”

Gabriel Magliaro, Founder of Half Acre Beer Company

Draft beer can only remain fresh for 45 to 60 days but retains all its natural beneficial bacteria, nutrients, and full flavors after production.

Less Light Exposure

Keeping the beer in a cask or keg keeps it away from direct light exposure, extending its shelf life.

Beer bottles usually have dark colors to reduce light exposure because it would be detrimental to the flavors. 

The heat would cause the beer to become stale faster because it speeds up the loss of alcohol.

The beer stored in a traditional cellar would have been kept in the dark and safe place. 

What Could Make Draft Beers Taste Bad?

Beer Keg

Neglected Draft Beer Dispensing Systems

Draft beer depends heavily on the quality of the bar management.

If the lines connecting the barrel to the beer faucet or spout are unclean, the impurities will give off characteristics and flavors to the tap beer. 

Getting biweekly cleanings, performing pH tests, and recirculating caustic solution with an electric pump are ways to keep the dispensing system clean.

Read: Light Beer vs Dark Beer

Bacterial Contamination 

Pubs with deep cellars have very long lines that are relatively hard to clean, causing impurities to build along the way.

Bacterial contamination makes draft beer taste like vinegar or, sometimes, buttered popcorn. 

The impurities are sometimes only noticeable to a bartender, so it would be best to find a technician to check the draft system regularly.

How Draft Beers Are Made

Draft beer is crafted in almost the same way as other beer styles.

The only difference is the container the makers would pour the beer into for the secondary fermentation. 

Some of the beer’s brewing methods involve crumbling and squeezing malt grains to produce starch and creating a mash.

Some beers would use a cold filtering system. After adding flavors, the beer would be transferred to a fermentation vessel. 

The yeast would be added next before transferring it to a keg or cask as draft beer.

Compared To Other Beer Types

Beer Bottle on a Wooden Table

Bottled Beer

Bottled and draft beer differ in dispensing, storage, and brewing process. Draft beer (or draught beer) is generally more flavorful, aromatic, and heavily carbonated than bottled beer. 

Bottled beers commonly have 4 to 5% ABV, almost on the same level as draft beer.

However, this type of beer is usually cheaper than the same beer brand when you order the bottle counterpart at bars.

Lager Beer

Draught or draft beer is not a classification of beer; it is the method of keeping and serving beer.

Draft beer is not pasteurized, while lager beer has gone through pasteurization before bottling. 

Lager beer and draught beer contain almost the same alcohol level, but lager beer is much cheaper.

Craft Beer

Draft beers are known for their freshness, coldness, and smoothness, but craft beer has a slight edge in its flavors.

The vibrant flavors of craft beers are evidence of the brewer’s ability and creativity.

It usually has more alcohol content and is more expensive than draft beer because of its ingredients and making process. It can be served at a higher temperature.

Canned Beer

Regarding freshness and more flavors, draft beer is superior to canned beer.

However, canned beer can be enjoyed anywhere, while you would have to find bars and places serving it.

The alcohol level of draught beer is almost the same as regular bottled or canned beers, and both have the same ideal serving temperature. 

Read: Canned Beer vs Bottled Beer

Draft Beer vs Other Beers Cheat Sheet

Beer TypeAverage PriceAlcohol ContentIdeal Serving Temperature
Draft BeerAround $5-10 (a pint at bars) 4-6% ABV38-55°F
Bottled BeerAround $10-25 (6-pack)4-5% ABV38-55°F
Lager BeerAround $6-15 (6-pack)4-5% ABV34-45°F
Craft BeerAround $15-25 (6-pack at local shops)5-10% ABV40-55°F
Canned BeerAround $10-25 (6-pack)4-5% ABV38-55°F

*Average prices are based on Drizly online. Prices may vary in local liquor shops

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is considered draft beer?

Draft beer, also spelled draught beer, refers to beer that is served on tap directly from a keg or cask rather than from a bottle or can. It is typically dispensed from a pressurized container through a tap system installed in bars, pubs, or restaurants.

Draft beer is often preferred for its freshness, as it does not undergo pasteurization or long-term storage like bottled or canned beer, and it allows for better control over serving temperature and carbonation levels.

What is the difference between draught beer and regular beer?

The primary difference between draught beer and regular beer lies in how they are served. Draught beer is served on tap, directly from a keg or cask, while regular beer is packaged in bottles or cans.

Because of this, draught beer is often fresher, as it does not undergo the same pasteurization or extended storage as bottled or canned beer.

Additionally, draught beer allows for more control over serving temperature and carbonation levels, resulting in a potentially different taste and mouthfeel compared to regular beer.

Why do they call it draft beer?

The term “draft beer” (or “draught beer”) originates from the Old English word “dragen,” meaning “to pull” or “to draw.” In the context of beer, “draft” refers to the act of drawing the beer from the storage vessel, whether it be a keg or cask, through a tap system for immediate service.

This method of serving beer has been used for centuries, dating back to when beer was stored and served in wooden barrels.

Over time, the term “draft beer” became synonymous with beer served on tap, distinguishing it from bottled or canned beer.

Is draft beer stronger than canned beer?

Generally, the strength of beer, in terms of alcohol content, is not influenced by whether it’s served on draft or in a can. The alcohol content is primarily determined during the brewing process and remains consistent regardless of packaging.

However, certain factors such as serving temperature and carbonation levels may affect how the alcohol is perceived, potentially influencing the overall drinking experience.

In essence, draft beer is not inherently stronger than canned beer solely due to its method of dispensing.

Is Heineken a draft beer?

Heineken is a brand of beer that is available both on draft and in bottles or cans. While Heineken is commonly served on draft in many bars, pubs, and restaurants, it is also widely distributed in bottled and canned formats for retail sale.

Therefore, Heineken can be enjoyed as both a draft beer and a packaged beer, depending on the preference and location of the consumer.

Why is draft beer better?

The perception of whether draft beer is better than bottled or canned beer can vary depending on personal preferences and circumstances. However, there are several reasons why some people prefer draft beer:

Freshness: Draft beer is often considered fresher because it doesn’t undergo pasteurization or long-term storage like bottled or canned beer. It is typically served directly from a keg or cask, preserving its flavor and aroma.

Temperature Control: Draft beer allows for better control over serving temperature, ensuring that it is served at the optimal temperature for enjoyment. This can enhance the beer’s flavors and aromas.

Carbonation Levels: Draft beer can be served with different carbonation levels, offering a range of mouthfeel options. Some people prefer the smoother, creamier texture of draft beer compared to the more carbonated feel of bottled or canned beer.

Environment: Enjoying draft beer in a bar, pub, or restaurant can add to the overall experience, creating a social atmosphere and sense of camaraderie among patrons.

Ultimately, whether draft beer is better than bottled or canned beer is subjective and depends on individual preferences and circumstances.

Is draft beer ale or lager?

Draft beer can be either ale or lager, as these are two broad categories of beer distinguished primarily by the type of yeast used and the fermentation process. Ales are typically fermented at warmer temperatures using top-fermenting yeast strains, resulting in a range of styles such as pale ale, IPA, stout, and porter.

Lagers, on the other hand, are fermented at cooler temperatures with bottom-fermenting yeast strains, producing styles like Pilsner, Helles, and Märzen.

Both ale and lager can be served on draft, depending on the specific beer being offered.

Is draught beer bitter?

The bitterness of draught beer varies depending on the specific style and recipe of the beer being served. While some beer styles, such as India Pale Ales (IPAs), are known for their bitterness due to higher levels of hops, not all draught beers are bitter.

Many beer styles, including lagers, wheat beers, and amber ales, have balanced or even sweet profiles without significant bitterness.

Therefore, whether draught beer is bitter or not depends on the individual beer being poured.

Which beer is better, draught or lager?

Comparing draught beer to lager is like comparing apples to oranges, as draught beer refers to how beer is served (on tap), while lager is a specific style of beer. Both draught beer and lager have their own merits and appeal to different preferences.

Draught beer offers freshness and potentially better control over serving temperature and carbonation levels, enhancing the drinking experience. It allows for a wider range of beer styles to be enjoyed on tap, including ales, stouts, and IPAs, in addition to lagers.

On the other hand, lager is a specific style of beer known for its clean, crisp taste and refreshing qualities. It’s widely enjoyed by beer drinkers around the world and is available in both draught and bottled/canned formats.

Ultimately, whether draught beer or lager is “better” depends on personal preferences, taste preferences, and the specific context in which the beer is being consumed.

Some may prefer the freshness and variety of draught beer, while others may prefer the classic taste and characteristics of lager.

What is the strongest draft beer?

The strength of draft beer can vary widely depending on the style and brewing process. However, one of the strongest draft beers ever brewed is typically considered to be “Snake Venom” by Brewmeister, a Scottish brewery.

This beer boasts an exceptionally high alcohol by volume (ABV) content, often reaching around 67.5%, making it one of the strongest commercially available beers in the world.

However, it’s worth noting that extremely high ABV beers like Snake Venom are not common and are typically enjoyed in small quantities due to their potency.

Is draft beer good for you?

Moderate consumption of beer, whether it’s draft or bottled/canned, can have some potential health benefits when consumed as part of a balanced lifestyle. Beer contains antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and B vitamins.

Moderate beer consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer. Additionally, some studies suggest that beer may help improve bone density and cognitive function.

However, it’s important to emphasize moderation, as excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a range of health problems, including liver disease, addiction, and impaired judgment.

Why does beer taste bitter?

The bitterness in beer primarily comes from hops, one of the key ingredients in brewing. Hops are flowers that contribute bitterness, aroma, and flavor to beer.

During the brewing process, hops are boiled with the malted barley (and other grains) to extract their bitter compounds, known as alpha acids. The level of bitterness in beer can vary depending on the amount and type of hops used, as well as the duration of the boiling process.

Bitterness in beer serves several purposes. It helps balance the sweetness of the malt, providing a counterpoint to the beer’s overall flavor profile. Bitterness also acts as a preservative, helping to extend the beer’s shelf life by inhibiting the growth of certain microorganisms.

Additionally, bitterness can enhance the complexity and depth of flavor in beer, adding layers of interest to the drinking experience. However, the perception of bitterness is subjective, and some people may find certain beers too bitter for their taste preferences.

So, What Is A Draft Beer?

Draft or draught beer started centuries ago and has become a trend among beer lovers. Keg beer and cask beer are draft beers, but not all draft beer is keg or cask beer.

Draught beer tastes fresh and more flavorful because of how it’s stored and served.

It has the same alcohol level, and ideal serving temperature as canned or bottled beers, but draught beers are usually cheaper when ordered at bars.

References:

  1. ‘Draft’ vs. ‘Draught’
  2. Pasteurization of Beer by Non-Thermal Technologies
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