Traditionally, a beer keg would be a wooden barrel and the tapping would involve a mallet; the beer would then flow with the help of gravity. Nowadays, there is a slightly more complex process, but the same basic idea of ‘tapping’ remains. We’ve hosted many beer tapping events in the past, but wanted to outline the process and set an expectation to any new beer drinkers.
What is a Beer Tap?
The name comes from a valve which controls the release of beer from a keg. The valve was originally wooden, and was affixed to traditional barrels by hammering it into place.
In the past, beer kegs were wooden barrels with stoppers and the beer was released simply using gravity and air. Today, kegs are sterile stainless steel containers and inert pure gases are used to drive beer out of the keg using a keg tap. Nowadays we “tap” the keg by inserting a coupler into the keg valve. The keg valve and coupler are a matching system, similar to a lock and key.
Types of Beer Taps
Pressure-dispense Bar Tap
Beer supplied in standard kegs is pumped along beer lines with the help of pressurized gases (usually carbon dioxide, sometimes nitrogen). The beer tap which controls the pressure is the decorative tap handle behind the bar. This is the most common type that you see in restaurants, pubs, and bars; you’ll find 360 beer taps at Howells & Hood, likely the largest tap system in the US.
Keg Party Pumps
The type of beer tapping system most commonly seen at house parties. The unit includes a hand pump to provide air pressure in the keg, which then helps dispense the beer. Because this method introduces outside air with bacteria and other elements that will cause reactions with the beer, it is best to consume this beer within a few hours of first tapping. Learn to tap a keg at home in 5 easy steps.
Gravity Cask Tap
Cask Ale is unfiltered and unpasteurized, meaning that the yeast is still living in the container. Serving these without the aid of pressurized gases helps keep the yeast present and the slow fermentation can continue to keep the beer fresh. This is the ‘hand pump’ that almost disappeared with the advent of pressurized containers, but you may still see at some traditional or niche beer bars.
The way to tap a cask (or ‘Firkin’) is by tapping a simple on-off valve into the bottom of the container with a hammer, and to let gravity do the work. The beer simply flows our of the cask and into the glass.
Beer Tapping Events
A ‘tapping’ is simply the opening of a new beer keg/barrel/cask/firkin, by affixing and opening the tap. A beer tapping event means that one or more brand new kegs will be ‘tapped’, and often implies a new or rare beer to that venue, market, or crowd.
We’ve hosted many different beer tapping events at a variety of venues. The goal is to both help bring new beers to new markets, and to simply added a bit of fun and excitement to a beer drinker’s evening.
You can find out specific info on some events here:
Big Shoulders Beer Tapping in Oak Brook
Anderson Valley Brewing Company Beer Tapping in Chicago
A Midsummer Backyard BBQ at Howells & Hood
by Bottleneck Management.