What Is A Draft Beer? Answered (2023 Updated)

Last Updated on October 25, 2023 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 exactly 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 Type Average Price Alcohol Content Ideal Serving Temperature
Draft Beer Around $5-10 (a pint at bars)  4-6% ABV 38-55°F
Bottled Beer Around $10-25 (6-pack) 4-5% ABV 38-55°F
Lager Beer Around $6-15 (6-pack) 4-5% ABV 34-45°F
Craft Beer Around $15-25 (6-pack at local shops) 5-10% ABV 40-55°F
Canned Beer Around $10-25 (6-pack) 4-5% ABV 38-55°F

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


Are draft beers and draught beers the same?

Yes, draft beer and draught beer are the same. Americans commonly use draft beer, while draught beer is usually in New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, and Britain.

How can you tell if a draft beer is bad?

You can tell if this beer is bad when it has a sour aroma and taste. It is usually because of bacteria contamination caused by neglected draft systems. 

On A Final Note

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.



Lydia Martin

Lydia Martin hails from Redmond, Washington, where you’ll find some of the best cocktail bars and distilleries that offer a great mix of local drinks. She used to work as a bar manager in Paris and is a self-taught mixologist whose passion for crafting unique cocktails led her to create Liquor Laboratory. Lydia can whip up a mean Margarita in seconds! Contact at [email protected] or learn more about us here or feel free to give Lydia a tip.

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