Is there a difference between drinking a beer in the bottle vs. on tap? I think so. On numerous occasions I have noticed a significant difference between the two. Why is this the case? Well, for one thing, beers on tap are carbonated by force injection of various levels of CO2 and many times nitrogen. Beers in the bottle are often given extra dextrose (corn sugar), yeast, or other forms of sugar to create carbonation (although it is noteworthy that most bottled beers are also force carbonated). So, which is really better? It depends on what the beer is meant to do. I’ve often found that I prefer most beers on tap vs. their bottled counterparts. This is especially true of Stouts. A great example is Guinness. I do not like it in the bottle but love it on tap. This is also true of a beer like Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. With beers like the above, this is a decent rule to go by. It is also true of most beers that are already matured at the time of drinking. But there is another category to consider.
If you didn’t know already, some beers are meant to be conditioned or aged in the bottle. Some beers can even have a shelf-life just as long or longer than wines. Since beer is still an organic, that is, it is not distilled and continues to change over time, it can be matured in the bottle. So, some beers that are in the bottle are able to achieve a character that is not possible on tap. Higher alcohol beers, more hoppy beers, and darker beers are often found in this category. Next time you drink a beer, ask yourself whether or not it is meant to be aged in the bottle or not. It will truly change over time.
One last thing needs to be said. Since beers can taste quite a bit different in the bottle vs. tap, I would encourage the reader to try a beer that they don’t like on tap or in the bottle (whatever is opposite the one you didn’t like). You may even find that the beer you thought you hated is the one you love the most.
I do want to note a couple other things as I continue to add to this post. First of all, there is some science to the idea that tap it better than bottled beer. In a keg there is less airspace per amount of beer, so less oxidation is likely than a bottled beer. The second thing is that most companies will insist that their kegged beer be kept cold during its whole life, while this is not the case with bottles. The other thing that I wish to address is whether or not beer on tap is stronger (alcohol wise) than bottles. The answer is no. “Then, why do I get a headache,” you ask. Since nitrogen is a lighter gas and higher levels of CO2 gets in the bloodstream easier. This, in turn, gets to the brain easier and creates more possibility of a headache. You may drink the same amount of beer on tap that you normally drink in a bottle and get a headache…but the reason may or may not be alcohol.
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