How Beer Kegs Work

Beer Taps and Couplers

A tap is a one-way valve that, when opened, permits beer to escape but allows nothing back in. Of course, a certain amount of pressure is lost with the exiting beer, and this is why the keg has to be re-pressurized with either air (via a party pump) or one of those fancy gases. But if you're using CO2 or nitrogen to pressurize your keg, not just any old tap will do. You need a coupler.

Couplers are taps designed for kegs that are pressurized with gas, and because different beers need different levels of pressure, there are seven different kinds of taps. American beers follow the D system, German beers follow the A system, Bass and Anchor Steam follow the G system, and so forth [source: Micromatic]. Different beers require different amounts of pressure because of differences in aroma and flavor. The more aromatic and flavorful beers are less carbonated so they need less pressure to maintain that low carbonation level [source: Wayland Works].

Then there's the matter of temperature. The warmer a beer gets, the faster it goes flat. That's because heat causes the carbon bubbles to expand and pop out of the beer more rapidly. This is especially bad news for highly carbonated lagers like Coors or Molson. In bars where the kegs are kept far from the taps, the beer must travel through long lines to the tap. To keep the beer from warming up as it travels, a glycol system keeps the lines safely insulated and cooled [source: Wayland Works].

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Beer Institute. "Statistical Update." January 2010. (Accessed 3/9/10)
  • Beer Magazine "Who the Firkin are you? Read this and you'll Firkin know!" Ted McCartin. December 28, 2009. (Accessed 3/9/10)
  • Brew Ware: How to Find, Adapt & Build Homebrewing Equipment by Karl F. Lutzen & Mark Stevens. Storey Communications, 1996.
  • Micromatic. "Keg Draft Beer Learning Center." March 13, 2010. (Accessed 3/15/10)
  • Micromatic. "Beer Brand/Keg Taps Couplers Listing." March 11, 2010 (Accessed 3/21/2010)
  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Definition of "barrel." (Accessed 3/9/10)
  • Nickel Institute. "Beer Barrels: from Roman times to the Present Day." Eric R. Partington, Reprinted from ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF FOOD SCIENCE AND NUTRITION, ISBN 012227055X, © Elsevier Science 2003, pp 383-393, Partington, "Barrels: Beer Making," with permission from Elsevier. (Accessed 3/11/10)
  • Nickel Institute Magazine. "As Good As New." Dean Jobb. June 2003. (Accessed 3/9/10).
  • Occupational Safety & Health Administration. "Beverage Delivery Ergonomics: Beer Kegs." January 7, 2008. (Accessed 3/9/10)
  • Origin and History of Beer and Brewing by John P. Arnold
  • Alumni Assn. of the Wahl-Henius Institute, 1911. Reprint Edition,, 2005.
  • Wayland Works. "Draft Beer Technology: Retailers Guide." May 24, 2008. (Accessed 3/9/10)
  • Word Detective. "And I need a really smart one that understands alternate-side parking." (Etymology of Pony Keg) Evan Morris. 11/28/97. (Accessed 3/9/10)