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.
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”.
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.
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?