Draught beer

Draught beer

Draught beer (also known as draft beer or tap beer) has several related though slightly different understandings. The majority of references to draught beer are of filtered beer that has been served from a pressurised container, such as a keg or a widget can. A narrower meaning, beer that is served from a keg (or tap), but not from a can, bottle or cask, is also used. A more traditional definition is beer that is served from a large container, which could be either a keg or a cask. The different understandings may at times overlap and cause confusion. Some traditionalists object to the more modern use of the word when applied to canned beer. The slight usage differences of the term are due to the history and development of beer dispensing.

History of draught

Until Joseph Bramah patented the beer engine in 1785, beer was served directly from the cask and carried to the customer. The old English word for carry was dragen, from the German tragen, which developed into a series of related words, including drag, draw, and draught. By extension, the word for carrying or drawing a beer came to mean the serving of the beer and, in some senses, the act of drinking, or a drink of beer itself, regardless of serving method. By the time Bramah's beer pumps became popular, the use of the word draught to mean the act of serving beer was well established and transferred easily to beer served via the hand pumps.

In 1691, an article in the London Gazette mentioned John Lofting, who held a patent for a fire engine: "The said patentee has also projected a very useful engine for starting of beer, and other liquors which will draw from 20 to 30 barrels an hour, which are completely fixed with brass joints and screws at reasonable rates".

In the early 20th century, serving draught beer from pressurised containers began. Artificial carbonation was introduced in the United Kingdom in 1936, with Watney’s experimental pasteurised beer Red Barrel. Though this method of serving beer did not take hold in the U.K. until the late 1950s, it did become the favoured method in the rest of Europe, where it is known by such terms as en pression. The method of serving beer under pressure then spread to the rest of the world; by the early 1970s, draught beer was almost exclusively beer served under pressure.

Shortly after a British consumer organisation called the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was founded, in 1971, to protect unpressurised beer, the group devised the term real ale to differentiate between beer served from the cask and beer served under pressure. By 2004, the term real ale had been expanded to include bottle-conditioned beer, while the term cask ale had become the accepted global term to indicate a beer not served under pressure.

Keg beer

Keg beer is a term for beer which is served from a pressurized keg. While often considered synonymous to draught beer, keg beer refers specifically to beer served under pressure, while draught beer may refer to any beer served from a larger container, including both keg beer and cask ale. Keg beer is often filtered and/or pasteurized, both of which are processes that render the yeast inactive, increasing the shelf life of the product at the expense of flavor.

In brewing parlance, a keg is different from a cask. A cask has a tap hole near the edge of the top, and a spile hole on the side used for conditioning the unfiltered and unpasteurised beer. A keg has a single opening in the centre of the top to which a flow pipe is attached. Kegs are artificially pressurised after fermentation with carbon dioxide or a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen gas.

Keg has become a term of contempt used by some since the 1960s as pasteurised draught beers were replacing traditional cask beers. The quality of the kegging process was not as good then as it is today, and sometimes the keg beers are referred to as Plastic Beer. Some people believed that chemicals (adjuncts) were used to create a foam head. These perceptions exist to this day.

Despite this consumer concern, keg beer was replacing traditional cask ale in all parts of the UK, primarily because it requires less care to handle. Since the mid-1970s, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has been conducting a successful consumer campaign which focused attention on those consumers who preferred traditional cask beer. As well as this CAMRA has lobbied the British Parliament successfully to ensure support for cask ale. New, small microbreweries have sprung up to serve those consumers who prefer traditional cask beer. Today many pubs in the UK will serve both keg and cask beer.

In modern beer dispensing, a metal keg is pressurised with carbon dioxide (CO2) gas or nitrogen (N2) gas or a combination of both. Pressure in the keg drives the beer to the dispensing tap, or faucet.

Pressurised CO2 in the keg's headspace maintains carbonation in the beer. The CO2 pressure varies depending on the amount of CO2 already in the beer and the keg storage temperature. Occasionally the CO2 gas is blended with Nitrogen gas. CO2 / Nitrogen blends are used to allow a higher operating pressure in complex dispense systems.

Nitrogen is used under high pressure when dispensing dry stouts (such as Guinness) and other creamy beers because it displaces CO2 to form a rich tight head and a less carbonated taste. This makes the beer feel smooth on the palate and gives a foamy appearance. Premixed bottled gas for creamy beers is usually 75% Nitrogen and 25% CO2. This premixed gas which only works well with creamy beers is often referred to as Guinness Gas, Beer Gas, or Aligal. Using "Beer Gas" with more common ale and lager styles can cause the last 5% to 10% of the beer in each keg to taste very flat and lifeless.

Country differences

Draught beer is usually unpasteurised in America. It is intended to be kept refrigerated between 2°C (35°F) and 4°C (40°F), and consumed quickly after being "tapped". Above 6°C (44°F), a beer may within two days turn sour and cloudy. Below 6°C (44°F), a keg of draft beer should last 20-30 days before it loses its fresh taste and aroma.

In the UK, the term keg beer would imply the beer is pasteurised, in contrast to unpasturised cask beer. Some of the newer microbreweries may offer a nitro keg stout which is filtered but not pasteurised, but the older established breweries do pasteurise.

One of Australia's most popular beers is Carlton Draught, which is available on tap as well as in both cans and bottles without widgets.

Different beers also require different equipment for dispensing. For a detailed listing of brands and their respective keg taps and couplers, please see the Beer Brand / Keg Taps Couplers Listing

Smooth flow

Smooth flow (also known as cream flow or just smooth) is the name brewers give to beers pressurised with nitrogen; either from a can or bottle with a widget, or from a pressurised keg.

Canned and bottled "draught"

Recently the words "draft" and "draught" have been used as marketing terms to describe canned or bottled beers, implying that they taste and appear as beers from a keg. Two examples are Miller Genuine Draft, an American lager which is produced using a patented cold filtering system, and Guinness stout in patented "Draught-flow" cans and bottles. Guinness is an example of beers that use nitrogen widgets to create a smooth beer with a large foamy head.

In some countries such as Japan, the term "draft" applied to canned or bottled beer indicates that the beer is not pasteurised (though it may be filtered), giving it a fresher taste but shorter shelf life than conventional packaged beers.

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