Why do Some Beers Taste Better on Tap?

I feel like this is one of those philosophical questions that everyone has a different opinion on. Other than establishing that yes things that are on tap vs bottled or canned do taste different (and if you don’t think that’s true, you may want to find a different blog to read, because you’ve just embarrassed both of us), it comes down to the subjective matter of what you think tastes better.

But there must be science involved in this, right? Some kind of reason?

I dug around on the internet to see if there was a real answer. It turns out that there is, kind of. It depends on a variety of factors, but here is the lowdown:

  • Tap beer is likely fresher. Makes sense, because if you’re buying a drink at a bar, so are other people, and the keg is probably replaced often. If you’re buying it from a store, who knows how long it’s been sitting on the shelf?
  • Beer that isn’t all that good tastes much better the colder it is. Distributors know this, and that’s why some beer is super cold coming out of the tap to disguise the taste. It’s not going to taste the same coming out of your fridge, sorry.
  • Pouring it into a glass also can change the way it tastes when you drink it. A narrow bottle or can opening can reduce the aroma of the beer, which can also mute the taste. So if you’re drinking it at home, pour your beverage into a pint glass first.
  • Kegs are better at protecting beer from things like small variations in temperature and exposure to air, both of which impact the taste of beer.
  • Some companies don’t pasteurize keg beer but do in the bottling process. Doing so requires heat, which can change the taste for those of us who notice these things.
  • Carbonization from the keg may also make it taste better to some people.

Writing all of this up, I was surprised. I figured it was something simple like, “you can taste the can when you drink from one,” or “bottled beer lets in a different amount of light,” and that would be the absolute end of it. There are so many factors that go into draught beer that it almost depends on the bar: how clean the bar lines are, how well the fridge operates, what temperature they keep things at, how long have the kegs been sitting there?

You would think getting something from a bottle or can would be more consistent, flavor-wise, but it turns out that that isn’t the case, either.

I think the bottom line here is that if you like your beer on tap better, there’s a real reason and you should just accept it instead of drinking the inferior version at home. If you like bottled/can better, good for you! Enjoy your beer in the comforts of your own home!