Explained: What is Draft Beer?

What is draft beer? Draft beer is a beer that is stored in either a keg or a cask and is drawn from these containers through either a beer tap or spigot and typically served in a glass. Draft beer is considered by most to be fresher and of higher quality than bottled or canned beer. This is a result of its packaging which allows less exposure to oxygen and UV rays from sunlight as well as the fact that it is typically consumed sooner and quicker.

What is draught beer? Draught beer is simply a different spelling for draft beer. Typically in North America “draft” is used to describe this type of beer, whereas in the UK and other countries such as Ireland and Australia “draught” beer is used; however, you will find both used interchangeably for marketing purposes by different beer companies and establishments.

History of Draft Beer

Prior to the late 1700s, beer was served from barrels, history tells us that it was actually monks from medieval times that were the first to serve beer in this manner.

In the late 1600s, John Lofting invented the beer engine and in the late 1700s, Joseph Bramah further developed it. A beer engine is a mechanism for pumping beer from a cask, it is typically located in the cellar under where the beer is served.

The beer served via this method started to be referred to as draught beer as the term “draught” originates from the old English word “dragan” which means to carry or pull.

In the early 1900s, it became common practice to carbonate beer artificially and serve it from pressurized containers. Slowly over time this beer became known as ‘draught beer” or “draft beer” and by 1970 it was exclusively referred to as such.

How is Draft Beer Made? 
draft beer pouring from a tap next to the words what is draft beer.
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Draft beer is made the same way as bottled beer. The only difference is it is packaged in a keg or a cask instead of bottles. All beer is made with water, grains, yeast, and hops.

The grains are first mixed with water and allowed to soak at high temperatures for typically 60 minutes. After which the liquid is transferred to a kettle and boiled for 60 minutes, hops are added during the boil to add bitterness, flavor, and aroma to the beer. After the boil is completed the liquid now called wort is transferred to a fermentation container, the yeast is pitched (added) and the wort is allowed to ferment for approximately 10 days. After fermentation, the beer is carbonated either artificially with CO2 or in bottles (referred to as bottle conditioning). It is then packaged in either casks, kegs, bottles, or cans.

Keg vs Cask Beer

Even though draught beer can be served from either a cask or a keg that does not mean they are created equal, in fact, there is a significant difference in taste and mouthfeel and dare we say quality between draught served from a keg vs a cask.

Cask Beer – Is considered by beer enthusiasts to be a much higher quality beer. Sometimes referred to as cask-conditioned beer or real ale it is unfiltered and unpasteurized and still contains live and active yeast that is transferred into a barrel (cask) and allowed to go through a secondary fermentation.

Within the cask, the yeast continues on with its job of converting the sugars into alcohol and CO2 resulting in a natural but light carbonation and conditioning of the beer occurring. This process provides for a much softer carbonation as well as a greater flavor and mouthfeel than the artificial carbonation that beer in kegs undergo.

Cask beer is served using a hand-operated pump i.e. the beer engine. The hand pump pressurizes the cask with oxygen in order to serve the beer. As a result, the beer must be consumed within a relatively short period of time ( a few days) or it will spoil.

Keg Beer – Kegged beer on the other hand is basically a large can of beer. It is first filtered and then carbonated artificially by having CO2 injected into it. It is served by connecting it to a CO2 or nitrogen tank which pressurizes the keg and pushes the beer out.

Kegged beer has many advantages over a casked beer the primary one being that it does not expose the beer to oxygen which allows for a much longer shelf life.

Draft Beer vs Craft Beer

Craft beer can be draft beer but not all draft beer is craft beer. This simply means that craft beer can be served on tap from a keg or a cask, however so can commercial beers made by the big breweries.

Although the definition is changing, craft beer is considered beer that is made by small independent brewers using traditional brewing methods versus the mass-produced beer made by the much larger corporate-owned commercial breweries. But again regardless of who makes it and how the beer is made it can still be draft beer if it is served from a keg or a cask directly to your glass.

Draught Beer vs Bottled Beer

There is a significant difference between bottled beer and draught beer that is served from a cask due to all of the reasons that we discussed that make casked beer of superior quality.

However, when it comes to kegged beer vs bottled beer they are in essence the same beer. The beer is first carbonated and then transferred to either kegs or bottles. The only difference between them will be the fact that most kegged beers (draft) will be served sooner than bottled beer which can sit on shelves for months, resulting in the kegged beer being fresher.

It should also be noted that there can be a difference in taste and carbonation levels between them depending on the gas used to serve the beer by the pub or restaurant. The practices they implement can affect the quality of the beer on tap.

You might also notice from time to time a beer company marketing it’s bottled or canned beer as draft or draught beer. This is purely for marketing purposes and is in fact misleading and false as canned or bottled beer can not be draft beer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is draft beer vs tap? There is no difference; they are the same thing. Tap means that the beer is served through a tap directly to your glass. The beer that is being served in this manner is draft.

Why is draft beer better? The main reasons that it tastes better is because of its freshness and the fact that it is not exposed to UV rays (sunlight) which alters the taste and gives it a skunky flavor.

Is draft beer stronger? It could be argued that beer from a cask could be slightly stronger as it does undergo a secondary fermentation, however, the additional sugar that is converted to alcohol during this process is very small and of minor consequence. Beer from a keg has the same ABV as bottled beer.

Does draft beer give you a worse hangover? No, this is a misconception that many people have. There is nothing about draught beer that would cause a worse hangover than bottled or canned beer. Both have the same ability to get you intoxicated and hangover.  If you are feeling that it is then the culprit is most likely a result of beer lines or taps being dirty.

P.S. If you make your own draught beer then be sure to check out our gift to you. Get access to Robb’s top 5 best-selling brews from his brewpub, details are on the side of the blog or at the bottom on your smart device. Cheers!

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