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Beer Industry Vocabulary: A Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Enthusiasts

Update: 1/22/2018 – Thanks to popular request, this will become a regular feature and will further explore beer industry terms. This first post focuses more on terms related to draft beer & systems in the United States. Future editions will explore more terms and vocabulary both American and International.

All industries have their own jargon or vocabulary. The beer and cider industry is no different. Because beer and cider are so popular as topics, there are a lot of non-industry bloggers and journalists and while they may be both passionate and extremely knowledgeable, they may misuse industry terms. Most readers may understand what is meant, however, using the proper words only lends credence to the topic under discussion and the credibility of the author.

The vast majority of these terms relate to the draft side of the business. Draft systems are often a mystery. The consumer knows the beer is sitting somewhere in back or maybe in the basement and it somehow goes through a tube that ends up at the bar. Knowing the name of the various parts or other beer terms won’t make or break your writing, but it will give that extra air of competence and knowledge that inspires confidence in readers be they layperson or industry pro.

Coupler – A coupler is the device that is used to tap the keg. Air goes in the back side and beer comes out the top. It can also be referred to as a “keg coupler.” Several different types of couplers exist. The “D” type is the most common used in the United States. European breweries use a much more diverse variety. Some of the more common misnomers include sankey, tapping device, or tap. Sankey actually refers to modern keg design which was named after the British company that first developed it.

Keg – The “sankey” keg is the most commonly used keg in modern brewing. Designed to work with modern carbonated beer and draft systems, it allows the beer to be kept in a relatively sanitary environment allowing for greater shelf life after being tapped. Once tapped, air (either CO2 or a mix of CO2 and N2) fills the top of the keg and pushes down on the liquid. The pressure forces the beer up the central tube, called the spear, and into the beer line. They’re often mistakenly called “barrels.” This can be confusing as “barrel” is the standard volume used by breweries to measure production size. In the US, a standard beer barrel (bbl) is equal to 31 gallons. Kegs come in a wide variety of sizes,but it is easy to calculate their size. These are the main keg sizes:

  • 1/2bbl – 15.5 gallons or 1984 oz. This is the standard and largest size used in the US.
  • 1/4bbl – 7.75 gallons or 992 oz. They are made in short or tall shapes. They’re commonly referred to to as “pony kegs.”
  • 1/6bbl – 5.2 gallons or 661 oz. These are the tall, super skinny kegs.
  • 50L – 13.2 gallons or 1690 oz. This is the most common large European size. It’s also popular with many craft brewers.
  • 30L – 7.92 gallons or 1014 oz.
  • 20L – 5.28 gallons or 676 oz.

Casks – As craft beer gets more experimental, that often means tapping into traditional styles and serving methods. One of those is the cask. Cask kegs are common in British Real Ale pub culture, but American craft brewers are using them in ever increasing numbers. That fat keg sitting on its side in a cradle, called a stillage, on the counter top, that’s a cask keg. In most cases in the US, the bar staff pours directly from the cask via a spigot that’s pounded in with mallet. The two main cask sizes are the 10.8 gallon “firkin” and the 5.4 gallon “pin.”

Faucet – The prefered term is a faucet, not a spigot, tap, or tap handle. This is the last thing that touches the beer before it goes into a glass.

Tap Handle – The tap handle screws on top of the faucet. It can be plain, basic, and unmarked, or it can be provided by the beer company to mark what beer is being poured through that line.

Beer Line and Air Line – Air line is almost universally 5/16″ I.D. (inner diameter) vinyl hose. Beer line, however, can be made from a variety of materials depending on the needs of the draft set up. Air line caries air from the air tank to the coupler. The beer line carries the beer from the coupler to the faucet.

Please check back for more additions to this ongoing series about industry terms and vocabulary!


What are your favorite beer terms? If you wondering what something is called, please reach out via the contact me link at the bottom of the page.

I’ll leave you with this fun video to put some of the above learning into action. If you’re called on to tap one of those casks, don’t be this guy. Don’t be gentle. Take that mallet and pound that spigot in hard. (Video from


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