A Summarized History of Draft Beer

Step into just about any bar in the United States, and you’ll find at least a few types of beer that are served on draft. With modern shipping and cold storage technology, draft beer can be found almost anywhere in the country. Here, Portland-based Northwest Draft Technicians explains some of the history of beer in the U.S. and how draft beer became so popular.

Draft beer with taps in the background

What Is Draft Beer?

It’s simple: if you’re drinking a beer served straight from the tap, rather than out of a bottle or a can, you’re enjoying a draft beer. At your neighborhood bar, your favorite style of beer may be available on draft (from the tap), bottled, or canned. The ingredients and the recipe for making that beer are the same regardless of how it’s served. But many beer connoisseurs find draft (or draught) beer to be superior for a couple of key reasons:

  • Draft beer is shipped in a keg from the brewer to a bar or restaurant, so it’s usually fresher and has been stored for less time than bottled or canned beer.
  • Storing beer in a metal keg keeps out oxygen and light, both of which can degrade the quality and taste of beer.

At some bars and brewpubs, you also may see “cask beer” on the menu. Unlike draft beer dispensed from a keg with the help of carbon dioxide (which gives draft beer its carbonation), cask beer is typically dispensed into a glass using a hand pump and is unfiltered.

When Did Draft Beer Become Popular in the U.S.?

Brewing beer isn’t done with new technology – in fact, many ancient societies brewed their own alcoholic beverages. In the United States, beer wasn’t very popular among the early colonists, as hard cider was a much more common household drink. Beer rose in popularity during the Industrial Revolution when waves of immigrants were arriving in the U.S. from Europe and bringing their beer brewing techniques with them. But because many people shifted from working at home to working in factories, bottled beer became more popular in the 19th century.

Beer, and particularly lager-style beer, was popular throughout the 1800s, especially in areas with newly arrived immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. The development of pasteurization also allowed beer to be shipped safely across longer distances. Of course, beer production came to a halt during Prohibition, which lasted from 1920-1933. After Prohibition was repealed, social drinking once again became widespread.

Later in the 20th century, technological advances made it easier for bars and restaurants to set up draft line systems for serving beer on tap. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the craft beer movement took off, leading to hundreds of new microbreweries and a renewed interest in beer on draft. Today, there are more than 8,000 breweries across the country.

How Is Draft Beer Served?

At many breweries and bars, you’ll find that the draft beer menu regularly changes. That’s because draft beer is served directly from the tap, via a draft line connected to the keg. When a keg is kicked, that means it’s been emptied and that type of beer won’t be available on tap until another keg is delivered. Available beers on tap at your favorite brewpub may change with the seasons, based on availability, or based on customer preferences. So if you find a draft beer you love, make sure to let your bartenders know – they may just order another keg.

Enjoy Draft Beer With the Help of Northwest Draft Technicians

Throughout the storied history of beer in the U.S., many beer advocates agree: nothing beats the crisp taste of a draft lager or ale. To make sure your draft beer is served fresh, you need to keep your draft lines clean and your system running smoothly. That’s where Northwest Draft Technicians comes in. We provide installation, cleaning, and maintenance services for draft line systems. We serve restaurants and businesses all around Portland, Oregon, and would love to help you, too. For more information, contact us today.

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