8 Reasons Why Cider on Tap May Taste Better

My experience of cider on tap (or keg or draft or draught or whatever you want to call it) is unfortunately limited.  However, almost every time I’ve thought it tasted better on tap than from its bottled/canned cousin.  I have noticed this with Spire Mountain Dark & Dry, Seattle Cider Semi Sweet, NV Cider Pear Essentials, and Reverend Nat’s Revival, which are all ciders I’ve had both bottled/canned and on tap.  Some I had bottled/canned first, and others I bought it after trying it on tap.

I thought I’d explore this query.  Most of the available research is from beer, but I believe much of it can be applicable to cider.  Here are a few hypotheses from my research as to why cider on tap may taste better:

UV Light Exposure
Aluminum blocks out light better than glass.  Sunlight exposure can effect the taste of the product.  Clear & green glass lets in more light than brown glass, which is why many bottled beers & ciders are in brown instead of clear glass.  Therefore canned or kegged cider is typically exposed to less light in its shelf life than bottled.  I’ve noticed a number of craft cideries in my area use cans either predominantly or exclusively, which surprises me as canned beers are often perceived as “cheap”.  I had assumed it was a cost issue (both for their assembly line & shipping), but it appears there may be much more to it.  I’m also surprised how many ciders I’ve seen in clear glass bottles, so I wonder if cider actually isn’t as prone to the detriments of UV exposure as beer.

Storage Temperature
Kegs are often treated better than cases of cider bottles/cans, with less temperature variation.  Cold storage is best as it slows down the oxidation process of the beverage, causing it to taste “fresher” for longer.  A cider sitting on the shelf at room temperature in a store for a long period of time may not taste as “fresh”.

Drinking Temperature
An alcoholic beverage tastes different based on serving temperature.  Certain ciders are better at different temperatures, and cold isn’t always best.  Cider on tap may be served colder or warmer than from your fridge at home.

Kegs rarely sit long term.  Especially with specialty and/or expensive ciders, inventory may sit awhile in the store (and again once we get it home).  Time can add oxidative flavors, which have the product taste less “fresh”.  Higher turnover equals fresher cider.

Carbonation levels may vary based on if the product is bottled of kegged.  Brewers often add less carbonation for draft beer.  Higher carbonation forces more flavor into your tongue, which some folks find overwhelming.  This is one of the reasons why a cider can taste different when drinking out of a bottle/can vs. pouring it into a glass, as pouring it releases some of the carbonation.  I find I like richer or barrel aged ciders better from a glass, but some of the sweet & fruity ciders taste just fine from the bottle.

Draft beer typically isn’t pasteurized, when bottled beer is.  Bottled beer has to undergo pasteurization, heating it to kill off any bacteria that may grow between bottling and consumption.  However, pasteurization can also compromise the taste, and some of the aromatic ingredients can be filtered out.  Keg beer does not require pasteurization and is typically kept cold up until it is poured, so more flavor may be retained.  I’m curious if the same is true for cider.  I’ve read that commercial hard cider is pasteurized to remove yeast & apple particulates and retain carbonation, but I wonder if that is done 100% of the time.  For craft & homebrew cider, it seems less likely.

Pouring into Glass Effect
Having the cider poured into a glass can open up the aroma quite a bit, and smell is of course tied into taste.  This is one of the reasons why drinking a bottled/canned cider out of the bottle/can can taste different than out of a glass.

Placebo/Social/Cost Effect
Drinking during a night on the town is more exciting than at home.  It also costs more (and when we pay more, we expect more).  Plus, its exciting to find one of your favorite ciders on tap (too often they don’t have cider, or only Angry Orchard).  All of this may add up to have us perceive that the product tastes better when it really doesn’t, as we expect it.

But its also possible the opposite could happen…
A product on tap could actually end up tasting worse than bottled/canned if the tap lines are not maintained properly (bacteria…ick!), if it is served or stored at an improper temperature, if the keg has been sitting around a long time and/or not stored cold, etc.  You are likely better off ordering cider on tap at a place which sells a lot of it.

The freshest place to get cider is straight from the cidery itself (a growler).  I imagine its likely that the preference for bottled/canned vs. tap may come down to personal taste as well.  So, what do you think?

2 thoughts on “8 Reasons Why Cider on Tap May Taste Better

  1. At the risk of reviving a 2 year old thread, excellent assessment. There are 4 additional points I would like to bring up: Carbonation method, Carbonation Sugars or Priming sugars, container size and glassware.

    1 – Carbonation method: Force Carbonation vs Priming. The two primary methods for carbonation are Forced Carbonation and Priming with a fermentable sugar. Kegs, Bottles or Cans could be carbonated using either method of carbonation; however most commercial kegs are Force Carbed whereas bottles and cans may very.
    Force Carbonation is applying an external source of CO2 until the desired level of CO2 has been disolved into solution.
    Alternatively, small amounts of Priming Sugar can be added post fermentation before sealing the container. The sugar reacts with the yeasts creating a small amount of alcohol and CO2. Since the container is sealed, the CO2 cannot escape it is absorbed into solution. The microfermentation that occurs slightly alters the abv as compared to a forced carbonated beverage.

    2 – Priming sugars: as mentioned above, Priming sugars are added to carbonate beverages. Dextrose is a common choice because it usually ferments completely without significantly alternating the flavor. Sometimes less refined or more complex sugars are used such as honey, maple syrup or fruit juice. These complex sugars are not completely fermented resulting in variations in flavor. The different sugars as well as a multitude of variables can change the volume of CO2 in your beverage as well as the size of the formed bubble. These variables can affect the flavor, smell and mouth feel.

    3 – Container Size: 12, 22, 750ml, 1.5L, 3L, 5gal, 15gal all oxidized at a different rate. Even the best sysems have some degree of oxygen making it into the final product. Think about the headspace between the fluid level and the closure. This pocket of air will vary in composition and surface area exposed to the stored fluid depending on the fill level as well as the size and shape of the bottle. This does not take into account variables in the filling process like time, filling efficiency, ambient temperature at fill, temperature of storage, light exposure or any other variables.
    Think about how some bottles of wine are best enjoyed fresh while others benefit from aging. Same principles apply to beer and ciders, some need to be fresh while others can benefit from aging.

    4 – Glassware: the container that is used to enjoy the beverage has a significant impact on how the consumer perceives the taste and smell. It was already mentioned by the Author that pouring into a glass vs drinking from the bottle or can will affect the flavor. It is also important to recognize that the glass size, shape, thickness and composition can affect the beverage enjoyment. The wine industry has spent great time and resources to optimize the glass to the style of wine to showcase its best assets. The beer industry is no different, there are glasses for almost any style of beer and cider.
    The glass choice can focus smells and flavors to the palate and nose for optimal sensory experience. A busy bar may serve everything in thick pint glasses not because its best for enjoyment, but because they are less fragile for high volume use. Paraphrasing the author, angry orchard and other sweet ciders tastes fine from bottle, can or cup. A fine crafted cider or beer is best served at the right temperature and in the right glass for the style.

    Personally, if I had unlimited time, money and space, I would have a set of glasses for every style. Instead, I have a good all around red, white and champagne glass. I also have good glass for light to pale ales and a good glass for bigger Belgian, porters and stouts. What defines a good glass? Its subjective.

    Liked by 1 person

    • David – Great points, thanks for sharing! I would have a lot more to add on this subject now with two more years of tasting experience behind me, but these sorts of articles haven’t been my focus here lately, just reviews.


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