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What is Draft Beer?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Draft beer is any beer that is served from large casks or kegs, though the precise meaning of the term varies depending on geography and the intentions of the user. While this has made a single, universal definition of this beverage all but impossible to establish, there are certain typically agreed upon concepts intended or implied when serving or ordering the beer. In the United States and much of the Western world, draft beer has become fairly synonymous with keg beer and is typically served in bars or restaurants from a keg.

The origin of the term draft beer comes from the Old English term “dragen,” which meant "to carry." This was the source of a number of different terms used in the pouring and serving of beer including “draw,” “drag,” and “draught,” which is still used in the United Kingdom. The term draught, or draft, came to be used not only for the process of serving the beer, but for the type of beer itself, drawn from a keg or cask and served to the customers.

Draft beer still typically means beer that is taken from a cask or keg, and though it is used in general for either specific type, there are vast differences between keg beer and cask ale. Keg beer comes from a keg that is pressurized and the beer has typically been pasteurized or filtered, which increases the shelf life of the beer but may reduce the flavor of the beer. Cask ale is a term typically used for beer that is manufactured without pasteurization, so the yeast is still alive and active in the beer. This is usually served traditionally from a cask that must be kept at certain temperatures to ensure safety, and proponents of cask ale insist the flavor is richer and truer to how beer should taste.

Recently, however, beer manufacturers have used the term “draft” for advertising purposes, without recognition of the intended use of the term to refer to a beer served from a cask or keg. Commercial beers sold in bottles or cans have used the word “draft” simply as packaging on a label, in order to appeal to the sense of freshness associated with draft beer.

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Discussion Comments

By strawCake — On Dec 01, 2012

@JessicaLynn - I see this kind of labeling all the time too. I'm assuming most people don't know what draft means, so I don't think it's that big of a deal. Plus, draft evolved from another word anyway.

By JessicaLynn — On Nov 30, 2012

I find it funny how words can evolve over time. I see beers all the time labeled in bottles as something-or-other draft, and I never knew that this was technically incorrect. If draft beer is beer served out of a keg, then beer in a bottle can't be draft beer because you're drinking it from a bottle.

However, so many beer companies are labeling their beers this way, I think it's only a matter of time before draft starts to take on a new meaning.

By KaBoom — On Nov 29, 2012

@Pharoah - I think there actually is a difference in taste between beer served from a beer keg and beer served from a bottle. If I'm remembering correctly, it's because of the way the beer is carbonated. Beer on draft is carbonated with CO2, while beer in a bottle is carbonated through the use of extra ingredients.

By Pharoah — On Nov 28, 2012

I guess this is where the phrase "on draft" originated in restaurants and bars. Usually when you go to a bar they have a menu for bottled beer and another listing for their beers being served on draft out of the taps.

I personally can't tell a difference in taste between beer served on draft and beer served from the bottle. However, I have friends who swear they can taste a difference and when we go out, they'll only drink draft beer. I find this level of beer snobbery kind of funny, but then again maybe my tastes aren't that discerning.

By Joeyriles — On Apr 03, 2011

In England we still have traditional "gravity-dropped" beer. where there is no pump and the beer is served straight from the keg with a wooden tap.

Incidentally, the word "draft" is a strange misspelling of "draught". In most of Europe and the United Kingdom it is spelled this way to distinguish between the system of pulling a drink from a keg and a sketch or drawing.

By SilentBlue — On Feb 28, 2011

The cask in which a beer or liquor is stored will tend to influence the taste of the liquor. This is why it is important to select the right kind of cask. For a truly excellent taste, it is important to find the best kind of wood aged in the correct manner, in which the liquor is to be stored.

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