When it comes to the difference between draft beer vs craft beer in reality there is one significant difference of note which is that all craft beer can be draft beer, but not all draft beer is craft beer.
If that appears confusing bear with us as it is in actuality a very simple concept that we will explain. To begin with, it is important that you have a good understanding of what each beer is.
Draft Beer vs Craft Beer: Defined
Although a craft beer can be a draft beer, when it comes to the general population’s understanding of these two beers they are perceived as being two separate styles. Most consider craft beer to be made by the smaller microbreweries and draft beer to be produced by the larger commercial breweries, in essence, as you will see this perception is not far off but is also not 100% accurate.
What is Draft Beer
Draft beer also commonly referred to as Draught beer is simply beer that is stored in pressurized stainless steel kegs or barrels and is served from a beer tap or faucet. Walk into any pub, bar, or restaurant and you will see these beer taps behind the bar, typically they will have the name of the beer stamped on the handle.
Draft beer is the same beer that you will find in a can or a bottle, it is manufactured the same way and is in many cases produced in the same batch alongside the beer that will be canned or bottled, the only difference is in how the brewery packaged it. When a brewery makes a batch of beer they will package a certain percentage of that batch in cans and bottles and a certain percentage in kegs.
Many people find it hard to believe that the only difference between draft beer and canned beer is how it is packaged, this is because they perceive it to be of superior quality and prefer the taste.
There are several reasons that draft beers are perceived as higher quality…
The primary reason is that by transferring the beer directly into stainless steel kegs a brewery is reducing the risk that the beer will be exposed to oxygen. Oxygen has a significant negative effect on the quality of the beer and can cause undesirable off-flavors. Kegs also protect the beer from the UV rays of the sunlight which also has a degrading effect on the beer. As a result of kegging the beer, it maintains its quality and freshness for much longer periods of time.
Draft beer is also distributed and served to the consumer very quickly, within days of being produced it will be on tap in bars and restaurants whereas canned beer can sit on a beer store shelf for weeks or months before being consumed. This results in draft beer being served much fresher. Draft beer is also typically consumed much faster which also allows it to maintain a higher level of quality and freshness.
For more on this beer style, you can read our post: What is Draft Beer?
What is Craft Beer
Defining what beer constitutes as being a craft beer can be somewhat of a challenge. The general consensus is that it is beer made by small independently owned breweries. However larger commercial breweries are now producing beer they are calling craft beer and in a blind taste test between their version of a craft beer and the microbrewery’s beer, it would be difficult if not impossible to determine which is brewed by who.
In general terms, craft beer is considered to be a beer that is of a higher quality than the mass-produced commercial beers that dominated the beer market in North America since WW1.
It is brewed using high-quality ingredients, typically in smaller batch sizes, and with attention to detail by the brewer, resulting in a higher-quality beverage with distinct rich aromas and flavors. We have heard it said that craft beer compared to commercial beer is like comparing a meal prepared by a chef in a high-quality restaurant to that of a burger from a fast food drive-thru restaurant.
The term craft beer is actually relatively new to the beer world, having only started taking hold in the 1990s when beer sales of commercial breweries began declining as a result of the quality of their beer. Homebrewers who had been making their own beer for years and perfecting their craft saw an opportunity in the marketplace and began opening up smaller independently owned breweries referred to as nano or microbreweries.
Over time more and more of these smaller breweries have come onto the scene with many of them growing into much larger breweries and even being purchased by the massive commercial breweries. This begs the question as to whether these now large breweries’ beers can still be considered craft beer, it’s the same beer but now brewed by a large corporation, and precisely why we say defining what craft beer is can be such a challenge.
The Brewers Association has attempted to clarify this confusion by defining in their own terms what is a craft beer. They indicate that the beer maker must have a notice from the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and must produce less than 6 million barrels of beer per year. They also advise that in order to be considered an independent brewery it has to own a minimum of 75% of the brewery shares if they own less then they are not considered to be a craft brewery.
For us, we stick with the definition that craft beer is any beer brewed with high-quality ingredients that results in a higher-quality beverage with rich aromas and flavors that is distinctly different in taste, aroma, appearance, and mouthfeel than the mass-produced watered-down commercial beers.
Draft Beer vs Craft Beer: Their History
The History of Draft Beer – Before 1700 beer was primarily served out of barrels or casks, it was during the late 1600s that a beer engine was invented. A beer engine is simply a hand pump that allowed the pub owner to store the cask in a cellar beneath the bar and pump the beer up to the bar to be served. Beer served in this manner started being known as draught beer.
The term “draught” comes from the English term “dragan” which simply means to pull or carry. As technology improved beer in kegs emerged and beer started being carbonated with CO2 and served under pressure. By the 1970s beer served in this manner was exclusively called draught or draft beer. In Canada and the USA it is called draft beer and in many places in Europe, the UK, Ireland, and Australia it is referred to as draught beer.
The History of Craft Beer – Nailing down the exact history of craft beer is a very difficult task to take on. If one thinks about it, if the definition of craft beer involves its requirement to be brewed by small independent breweries then in essence craft beer has been around for hundreds of years ever since small breweries started selling their beer to pubs.
However, the term craft beer itself is new to the world of beer brewing, having originated in the mid-1990s when homebrewers started opening small independent breweries as a response to the consumer demand for high-quality beer in the marketplace. Prior to the emergence of these small craft breweries, the marketplace was dominated by companies producing low-quality mass-produced swill. Since the 1990s the craft beer market has exploded with hundreds of new breweries opening up yearly.
Craft Beer vs Commercial Beer
Before we delve into this section it is important to note that we are not referring to all commercial beer, as there are numerous breweries that sell their beer commercially that are of excellent quality.
When we make this comparison we are referring to the very big beer companies that mass-produce extremely low-quality beer. Typically these beers are marketed as having to be served extremely cold, this is done in order to camouflage their inferior taste. Many of these commercial beers are sold on tap as draft beer, but it is not difficult to distinguish them from craft beer, the following are the three major differences between them:
Their Appearance – A commercial mass-produced beer can easily be detected by its appearance, it will have very little to any head that will not last long and it will appear extremely light yellow almost watery in color. Whereas a craft beer will be visibly appealing to look at, appear robust and come in a variety of different colors, its head will typically be substantial with significant retention.
Their Taste – Commercial beers will have a very bland taste profile, with very little flavor and bordering on a water taste, they will always be served very cold to hide their lack of flavor. Whereas craft beers are a pleasure to drink, have a variety of different flavors, never taste watery, and have a noticeable mouth feel and finish. They do not need to be served cold and many times can be served at room temperature, with most being served around 50 – 60℉ so that their flavors are noticeable.
Their Ingredients – Most commercial draft beers are produced with inexpensive ingredients in order to cut down on costs. Most of the time these beers have a large percentage of corn or rice in their grain bill. Craft beers on the other hand are brewed with high-quality grains.
Draft Beer vs Craft Beer: Their Differences
Now that you have a good understanding of what a draft beer is vs a craft beer let’s quickly touch on their differences.
As you have seen, unlike a comparison of craft beer and mass-produced commercial beer there really is not a lot of significant difference between them. Any beer brewed by a small or large brewery that is of high quality and calls itself craft beer can be drawn from a tap and be called draft beer.
A difference worth noting is that draft beer can also be of low quality, as it is not always a craft beer.
Lastly, it should be noted that draft beer can actually taste fresher than craft beer that is canned or bottled, this again goes back to the fact the beer served on tap is distributed to the consumer much quicker than beer that sits on the shelves of a beer store.
Draft Beer vs Craft Beer: Brew Your Own
For fans of craft beer and draft beer, one of the best options available to you is to learn to brew your own beer. When you make your own you will have two options when it comes to packaging it, either bottle it or keg it. When you keg your own beer you will serve it from a tap and in essence have your own draft beer. For beer lovers, there is nothing quite like having your own beer on tap. We have lots of resources on this site to help you learn how to make your own craft beer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is stronger, draft beer or craft beer?
Typically craft beer is stronger with a higher ABV (alcohol by volume) than commercial beers, this is not always the case and it does not have to be this way. Any beer can be brewed with a higher alcohol content but doing so requires more grains to be included in the recipe which costs the brewery more money. Commercial breweries are always looking for ways to cut back on expenses and brewing a beer with a lower alcohol content is one option for them to do so.
Why is craft beer so expensive?
The answer is that it is based on a simple business concept called economy of scale, which basically means the smaller breweries can not compete on price with the larger breweries who are able to produce more at a lower cost.
Why is draft beer cheaper?
Packing a beer in a keg costs the brewery less time and money than packaging in bottles or cans and as a result, they are able to pass on their savings to the consumer.
We trust this overview of the differences between draft beer vs craft beer has been enlightening for you. In the end craft beer is a new spin on high-quality beer and draft beer is simply any beer that is packaged in kegs and served from a tap whether it is of high quality or not.
P.S. If you brew beer or want to get started we recommend you pick up your free gift of Big Robb’s top 5 favorite recipes from his brewpub. Details are on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on your phone. Cheers!