When most people think of beer packaging, they think of bottles and cans. A draft system is part of the most intricate way to package beer. Draft beer packaging includes the keg, all of the components of the draft system, as well as a glass. It can also be the most profitable way for an on premise retailer to serve beer. When well executed, a draft beer is a lovely thing.
When a draft system is not functioning correctly, the most common symptom is over foaming, but that can happen when the beer is too warm, or when it’s too cold; when the system pressure is too high, or when it’s too low. Draft systems should be installed and calibrated by professional draft technicians. When a draft system isn’t regularly serviced, a number of off-flavors can be developed from mineral and microbial deposits that can take root in the keg coupler, the beer line, or the faucet.
From the consumer’s perspective it is often difficult to know if a retailer is utilizing draft system best practices. You won’t know if a keg has been inside their cooler for at least 24 hours before it is tapped to ensure the beer is being served at the proper temperature. You won’t know if the draft system is cleaned at least every two weeks as recommended by the Brewers Association. You won’t know what is done to ensure a beer clean glass is used to serve the beer. There are many places where things can go awry. The beer drinker and the brewer must put a lot of faith in the retailer and thankfully, things often work out. The beer is proper temperature, the draft system has been service recently enough, the glass is clean, and the bartender executed a respectable pour.
On the occasion there is a problem, your best option as a consumer is to have a conversation with management when a beer you’re familiar with doesn’t taste quite right. Be as descriptive of the problem as you can; it may help to diagnose the issue. Most people selling beer will want to know correct things and make you a repeat customer.