New Beer Resolution: Nitro-Beer Me

What is Nitro-Beer?

We get questions about nitro-beer all the time during our Brewery Tours and there is nothing better than setting our guests up with two samples of stout – Lake Superior Brewing Company’s Sir Duluth Oatmeal Stout for example – one carbonated with carbon dioxide and the other with nitrogen – so they can experience the difference first hand. Our guests sip their suds while we explain the two approaches to beer carbonation.

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Big Boat Oatmeal Stout on Nitro at Fitger’s Brewhouse

“Nitro” refers to the type of gas used to carbonate the beer. Most people are familiar with beer carbonated using carbon dioxide (CO2) – sometimes the beer is force carbonated with CO2 during the conditioning stage of the beer making process. Sometimes the beer is bottle conditioned and the yeast are tasked with the job of carbonating the beer inside the bottle. With nitro-beers, carbonation comes from a mixture of CO2 and nitrogen (N2). Professional breweries typically nitrogenate their beer by chilling it to approximately 32°F and forcing nitrogen into it under high pressure.

Visual Experience

A freshly poured pint of a nitro-beer can be quite mesmerizing. When your beer-tender pours you a pint of nitro-beer, the beer is flows through the tap line and is forced through tiny holes on a nitro-tap restrictor plate before entering your glass. This strips the N2 out of solution and creates the signature cascade-effect and thick head that nitro-beers are known for.

Mouth-feel and Taste

In terms of the beer drinking experience, the difference in mouth-feel is quite noticeable… the nitro-beer experience is silky and creamy while CO2 imparts a more prickly, bubbly sensation on the tongue. And that familiar “bite” you experience with CO2 results from a chemical reaction that’s going on inside your mouth — a reaction that turns the carbon dioxide bubbles into carbonic acid.

Nitro-beers, on the other hand, are infused with nitrogen gas – typically a mix of about 70 percent N2 and 30 percent CO2. Less CO2 means less carbonic acid production and, as a result, there is less perceived bitterness in a nitro-beer. Nitro-beers are often described as having a more evenly distributed flavor profile that emphasizes the malty characters of a brew while beer carbonated with CO2 comes off as more aggressive on the tongue and aroma forward.

Related: What is a Growler?

Historically, beers served on nitrogen tended to be maltier beer styles (e.g., stouts and porters) rather than hop forward styles but that trend is starting to change. Our friends at Bent Paddle Brewing Company, for example offer most of their flagships – including the Bent Hop and the 14° ESB – on nitro. And guess what… they’re delicious.

Get Ready for More Nitro in 2016

In fact, listed nitrogen carbonation as one of their craft beer trends to watch in 2016. There’s no doubt about it, the demand for nitro-options will grow as more beer drinkers are introduced to it and many of us are already well acquainted. But it looks like there will start to be more options on liquor store shelves this year as well.

Bottom line? We highly recommend that you explore nitro-beers and be sure to compare and contrast the flavors and aromas to the original CO2 versions. You’ll see, taste, and feel the difference and learn a little something about beer along the way. Cheers!

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If you’re interested in sampling some nitro-beers and learning about the North Shore Craft Beer Scene, please visit our Brewery Tour Page and book a brewery tour with The Duluth Experience!

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