The Exposé: Is draft beer fresher? | craft beer bar Hong Kong musing
Blue Supreme Hong Kong Craft Beer Bar Musings by Theodore Lai
“Nah, I don’t want bottles. What’s fresh on draft?” find yourself asking the same question? We certainly get it frequently. The word “freshness” gets thrown around a lot when its comes to beer talk. But what does it really mean? and when does it really matter?
Before we delve in. What’s freshness? Freshness is the proximity of a beer’s consumption to its production date. Draft, on the other hand, refers beer in keg dispensed by a draft system. Draft beers differs from bottled or canned beers by the vessel that holds the liquid.
Firstly, does freshness matter in your beer?
Some beers are designed to be drank fresh while some aged; for instance, hop centric beers as opposed to bottle conditioned beers respectively. Hop centric beers like pale ales and IPA rely on hop bitterness and hop aroma for flavour, and the latter is just like fresh grounded coffee; aromatic when fresh but deteriorates with time due to oxidation. Contrarily, bottle conditioned beers are bottled with live yeast and culture that cause a re-fermentation in bottle. They have great age-ability as they are metabolically alive; yeast being oxygen scavengers halts the oxidation process.
Conditions like heat and exposure to UV speed up oxidation (like all chemical reactions) which hop centric beers are most prone to. But bottle conditioned beers with live yeast and culture are susceptible too; yeast dies and form flavours similar to rubber tires.
At Blue Supreme, we treat our beers like our beloved dogs; only leaving them in cool and ventilated areas.
Secondly, preserving freshness and integrity with logistics.
At Blue Supreme, we import a unique selection of lambics, wild sours and farmhouse ales. As these beers are susceptible to heat and light (see above for explanation), we ensure our beer during transit are fully temperature controlled. Furthermore, when kegged, kegs are kept refrigerated at the desired serving temperature as the brewers have intended.
Lastly, regarding the vessel.
Pouring a bottle of beer is rather straightforward; whereas draft beers are dispensed by a draft system, and maintenance of a draft system would be imperative to the quality of the beer poured.
To begin, lines that transport the beer from kegs to to glass must be clean regularly to eliminate excessive yeast, bacteria or mould. At Blue Supreme we wash our lines during every keg change, if not every week.
Furthermore, kegged beers are propelled by pressurising the keg with gas, most commonly carbon dioxide. It’s a delicate balancing act as excessive pressure of CO2 will result in over-carbonation in the beer or vice versa. At Blue Supreme, each beer tap has individual pressure regulators for beers to be dispensed at the optimal pressure and at the brewer’s intended carbonation level.
And to answer the question, no, draft beer is not necessarily fresher. It is a collective effort from brewers, distributors and retailers to maintain the integrity of craft beer being sold. Hence how the selection at Blue Supreme is designed; we work with local suppliers for hop centric beers to ensure the hop aroma is as fresh as possible, whereas bottled conditioned beers with ageability, we ship in a fully temperature controlled supply chains from Belgium to Hong Kong.