Controversy – Is Beer Best from the Bottle or on Draft?

Yesterday, I wrote about laundry. Clotheslines. I enjoyed it, and the pictures were fun, but it didn’t strike me until the evening just how mild I had become. I hope the local politicians and journalists appreciate the lack of negative attention. I worry about my friend and frequent commenter Les, though. That old man’s spleen needs venting . . .

So, on to a topic of importance and controversy – is beer best enjoyed from a bottle or an draft? This topic is soon to be of increased relevance here in Kansas City, because Bier Station is going to open in less than a month. There, people can taste beer on tap and buy bottles to go.1 When offered your choice of drinking the same beer from a bottle2 or from a tap3, which should you choose?

Cool Logo for the Bier Station, soon to open at Rockhill and Gregory

Most beer snobs will tell you to take order the draft. I (mildly) disagree. Most times, the difference is minor, and the nod should go to the bottle.

The reasoning in favor of draft beer is that it is often not pasteurized, and, by being transported in a steel keg, it is shielded from light, which can damage hop flavors, making them “skunky”. Also, it comes to you in a glass, which allows the aroma to come out.

More importantly, bars try to rotate their kegs pretty frequently. When you order a draft beer, you’re not likely to get something that has been sitting on a shelf for two years in a hot warehouse.

Those are good points, but I think that advances in beer knowledge and handling have reduced their importance. If you get a bottle of craft beer from a bar, the brewer has put it into a dark glass bottle, and shielded it with cardboard carriers before delivering it to a wholesaler who has been chosen for its ability to treat beer with respect. Your craft beer isn’t sitting in a 120 degree warehouse these days – it’s treated with the same respect that the kegs get.

It is also pressurized just the way the brewer likes it – not according to the dispensing system at your local watering hole. Speaking of dispensing systems – they’re not always cleaned as well as they should be. I’d rather have my beer straight from a clean bottle than pushed through grungy taps filled with mold and sediment.

As for aroma, I think the nod goes to bottles. (Of course, you’re going to insist on getting a glass with your bottle, right? You weren’t just going to swig your beer from a bottle, and miss out on seeing the color and head, and sniffing the aroma, were you?) In a bar, the person who gets to enjoy the fresh-poured aroma is the bartender. By the time the glass gets put on a tray and brought to your table, all those wonderful volatiles have disappeared. A bottle will hold those aromas in and release them when you or your waiter pour the beer at your table. (I prefer to poor my own, but I haven’t yet started slapping the hands of over-eager waitstaff.)

As for freshness, it depends. If you’re drinking something weird that has been sitting around for months, it’s probably better out of a bottle, but if it’s something weird that attracts a mob of beer nerds to plow through a keg in a day or two, then the nod might go to the keg.

8 times out of 10, though, I think you’re better off ordering a bottle beer over the same beer on tap, all other things being equal. But those other 2 times in 10 might arise when I want to have 12 or 16 ounces of a beer that only comes in champagne bottles, or I’m just in the mood to have a draft, or the drafts are coming in special glasses. There’s no hard and fast rule here – just a tendency. I’m not going to turn down a good beer whether it comes from a tap or a bottle.

1I dropped in and visited with John Couture yesterday evening as he and David Rouyer (handyman extraordinaire, and the craftsman who created the tiny porch I mentioned yesterday) were working to prepare for opening. The space is looking great! Here’s an excellent write-up on this major addition to Kansas City’s beer culture.

2When I say “bottle”, I really mean bottle or can. Craft brew in cans is a rapidly growing segment, and it’s great news for beer lovers. Cans admit no light, so the beer doesn’t get “skunked”, and they are more ecologically sound.

3When I say “tap”, I mean only regular draft beer. If you get a chance to sample “real ale” (hand-pulled with a pump-like action from a keg), the decision is easy – those are special beers and you should give them a try.

12 Responses to “Controversy – Is Beer Best from the Bottle or on Draft?”

  1. les says:

    I worry about my friend and frequent commenter Les, though. That old man’s spleen needs venting . . .

    Damn betcha. And think about the poor local glibertarians–where they gonna go? Responsibilities along with privileges, my man…

    That said, Bier Station sounds like a great idea. I’ll be happy to help them hit their 60% in house sales requirement.
    Good beer in cans–huh. I haven’t had a can for I don’t know how long–old memories of Grain Belt in cans, tasting like the beer went in while the lacquer was still wet on the can. I don’t recall seeing many in the craft beer sections–any recommendations?
    Finally, to your point–I have a strong lean to tap; but I’m not sure it’s a reasoned, taste based kinda thing. I just love sittin’ at a bar, watching the pour–and since you bring up ecology…but given the number of places with 5 light “beers” and a random ale on tap, it’s not always a good idea. Is it just my imagination, or do most taps run to a little less carbonation? Which can be good, or no.

  2. gonemild says:

    I love Dales Pale Ale in cans, Les, though there are plenty of other good choices. I think they do run a little low on carbonation, to avoid wasting beer through overflowing. For some styles, that’s fine, for others, it’s not. And, yeah, I agree with the enjoyment of sitting at a bar drinking drafts.

  3. Nick says:

    I’m a firm believer that Guinness must ALWAYS be drawn from a tap…in Ireland.

    Other than that, everything else is a personal choice.

  4. gonemild says:

    You’re correct in so far as that is the optimal way to enjoy a Guinness. But I wind up disagreeing with you because even sub-optimal Guinness is a great thing.

    You also raise another problem with drafts, and that is they are usually too cold for any style other than pilsner. But that is also true of bottles, though I suppose you could order a bottle and let it warm on your table before opening it – a little too beer-geeky even for me!

  5. Nick says:

    While I always drank cold(ish) beer in Asia, I found that while Eurpose in general would make fun of the English for ’standing’ their beers before serving, your average German had no qualms about serving many beers at room temperature…or even after it had set out overnight.

    Those last brews might best be descibed as “crunchy.”

  6. les says:

    Those last brews might best be descibed as “crunchy.”

    I tend to have a beer in hand as I wander through honey-do lists and other housely chores of a week-end, and have no problem as they warm. And I’ll confess that when, next day, I happen on a left-behind, lost but unfinished bottle, I usually find it palatable (assuming not lost in the sun). I am, in part, German, so I guess that explains it.

  7. Nick says:

    les -

    oh, i didn’t say I didn’t enjoy the crunchy beers.

    on the contrary, nuthin’ like a lil’bier und brötchen for the occasional breakfast…

  8. Craig says:

    Slightly off topic, but Missouri just started carrying Henry Weinhard’s. Best beer ever IMHO.
    My life is now complete.

  9. gonemild says:

    I’ve had it decades ago, but I recall it as a pretty bland lager. What should I be expecting when I try it again?

  10. les says:

    Slightly off topic, but Missouri just started carrying Henry Weinhard’s.

    Where, already?

  11. craig says:

    Dan, I am not as nuanced as you at rating beers. The best way I can describe it is, smooth but slightly toasted and a little hoppy. It is not a kick you in the chest beer, more like the best football watching beer ever made.

    Les, Hy Vee if there is a full blown liquour department like my Hy Vee.

  12. gonemild says:

    I look forward to trying it again, and my tastes have certainly come around to appreciating some of the less bombastic beers. Sounds like HW might be one of those.

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