Why we're here...

Beer culture is coming of age. At any store, restaurant, bar, or friend's house you can now find at least a few good brews. In fact, there seem to be so many new beers, breweries and bars it's difficult to separate the good, the bad, and the mediocre.

If you're going spend $10 on one beer, what should you buy? If you're going to drive 2 hours to check out a brewery, what's worth your time? If you're going to plan a Friday night, what has a good selection and friendly atmosphere? We're here to help you answer these questions.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Showdown: Keg vs. Bottle

When you go to a bar or restaurant how do you order your beer? I, like most of you, usually choose something that's on tap. But recently, I've been turning to the bottle with surprising results.

Draught (from the keg) beers are preferred by businesses because they are cheaper per gallon. Some people even tout that draught beer is more environmentally friendly. Kegs are also more efficient, you might not want to commit to a 22oz or a 750ml bottle.

But, if you are like me, you are interested in the best flavor. I don't drink to get drunk, I drink to enjoy the creative thoughts and processes of skilled brewers. The buzz is a benefit!

So what tastes better draught beer or bottled beer? This is a nuanced question. It depends on how the beer was bottled. There are two ways to carbonate a bottled beer. With CO2 injection or bottle conditioning.

CO2 injection, in the most simplest terms, mixes the CO2 and the beer as it enters the bottle. If you ever bottled beer at Brew It Up, that's how your beer was carbonated, by injecting the C02 into the bottle.

The other way to carbonate beer, and the one most home brewers are familiar with, is bottle conditioning. In the most simplest terms, bottle conditioning  adds extra sugar to each bottle which the yeast uses to create CO2 and thus carbonate the beer. The carbonation takes around 3 weeks.

Most massed produced beers and many microbrews use CO2 injection, its quicker and easier to control the exact level of CO2.

So again, which is better? The answer to that question depends on where the CO2 comes from. CO2 used in injection is made from reactions between acids and metal carbonates. The CO2 from bottle conditioning comes from the yeast that made the alcohol in the beer (although some microbrewers add different yeast to bottle condition).

I won't go into whether CO2 from manufactured chemical reactions is better from the CO2 from the yeast. But the key difference to me, is a dead beer versus an alive beer. When beers are injected with CO2 they are well filtered to take out remaining yeast and the flavor is locked into place. This is helpful to create a consistent flavor for massed produced beers. But, bottle conditioned beers are living.

Yeast is a living organism, it's actually a fungus!  Which means the more time it spends in the bottle, the more it changes the flavor, usually in a good way. A recently bought, bottle conditioned beer could taste one way, but if you wait a few weeks the flavors will become more complex.

Beers injected with CO2 are meant to be drank ASAP, which is why a good brewery will have a born on date. Bottle conditioned beers are often bottled with the idea that they are stored for a while for maximum enjoyment.

So, there really isn't a straightforward answer for injection vs conditioning in bottles. Injected bottles are good if you like the specific flavor of a beer, but it must be fresh. Conditioned bottles are good if you're into organics and you like the idea of a beer that gets better with time, but you must be patient. However, many bottle conditioned beers have already sat around for a while and their flavor complexity is ready to be drank. Also, a good brewer will make the decision for you: they will add a "drink by" date, and have decided whether the flavor is best through injection or conditioning.

But, back to the keg vs bottle. While it's cheaper to go with draught beers, there's a lot of "ifs" with kegs. Some kegs don't sell as fast and so they aren't as fresh. Some bars or restaurants don't clean their piping regularly which can create bad tastes. The keg may be reaching the bottom and the flavor has been diminished. The carbonation may be off.

You can bet that draught beers from the actual brewery are well managed. If you're at the brewery ask the bartender which beers are better from the keg or from the bottle.

In the end, I prefer the bottle. I don't have a preference between injection or conditioned, just make sure the injection is fresh. If you have a chance at a bar to taste the same beer from draught as from the bottle, you will be surprised.

If you drink from a bottle, ALWAYS use a glass!! And I won't even start on the various types of beer glasses and which beers go with each type of glass....

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I like draught beer. It always seems to have a fuller body than a beer from a bottle.