5 Top Reasons to Drink Nitro Beer
One of the best areas on smaller scale craft and home brewing is the amount of innovation that occurs. This can certainly lead to some flops, but can also allow brewers to stumble upon greatness. Although many will say that Guinness was the first to use nitrogen to bottle condition a beer, it was the good people at Left Hand Brewing that were able to figure out nitro bottles for more than just a stout. Left Hand Brewing has added an entire line of Nitro beers that include a Stout, Russian Imperial Stout, Coffee Porter, and an All-American Ale. If you are looking for a good example of a nitro beer you will not need to look any further than Left Hand Brewing. I would suggest having a few pints of theirs, or other breweries for that matter, before jumping into nitro for home brewing. But this isn’t an article about Left Hand, it is one that will educate and encourage the everyday home brewer to experiment with their processes. Yes it would mean a little more equipment and some more money invested, but creativity and innovation are rarely cheap but usually worth it.
There are few things that will be good to know when getting into nitro beers for a home brewing purpose. The most important item to note is that nitro is a higher pressure gas that will require different regulators and possibly some higher rated hoses. There is also the matter of finding a readily available supply of the gas. Most brew supply stores will be starting to carry more of the nitro options. You could also check out your local welding supply depot as they might have bottles that you can lease and refill for a reduced amount. I do that with my CO2 and it seems to work really well. Also you need to know that there is special equipment needed to use nitro with home bottling. Typically bottling is done by allowing some additional fermentation (bottle conditioning) to occur that will pressurize the cap and keep oxygen out. If you plan to go this route you will need to use a similar method to what Guinness uses with their bottles and cans. It is essentially a small device that once the beer is opened releases the nitrogen into the beer giving it all the added benefits of the nitro without making bottling or canning near impossible.
Tiny Nitro Bubbles Make the Beer Look Exquisite.
Nitrogen that is added to beer makes smaller bubbles than CO2. This will cause such a ruckus of bubbles rising to the top of your glass that it will make the brew appear to be lighter in color than it actually is. This is even more exaggerated since most nitro beers are browns, porters, and most commonly stouts. Just take a look at how the much smaller nitro bubbles are giving the the beer a smoother and even creamier look. It goes beyond more than just the look though, this will also affect the mouth feel of the beer. The beer will feel lighter on your palate without the large popping CO2 bubbles. The head of the beer will also look a lot nicer. The smaller bubbles will pack together nicely to give a smoother more even look and color to the head of the beer, while the CO2 side looks a little more chaotic. I know which side I would rather drink, do you?
Nitro Doesn’t Give You a Headache.
Sure drinking too much will usually lead to a splitting headache in the morning, and we have all been there, but nitro beers are a little different. Part of your morning after headache is due to the CO2 that is both in the beer and used to push the beer through keg lines. And if you can’t see the kegs at a bar, chances are they are pushing beer a long way from the keg room. This will require a great deal of CO2 at higher than desired pressures. I know many people, myself included, that will suffer for horrible headaches the morning after drinking a lot of draft beers. This isn’t the case with an element that makes up almost 80% of the air that we breathe, your brain is already used to it…Hell, it needs it to survive. Typical mixtures for nitro would be 75% nitrogen and 25% CO2 for storing and serving. So go ahead and have another pint or two, you won’t feel it in the morning, I promise!
Nitro Knocks the Hoppie Bitterness Out of Your Beer.
The bitterness that you are able to taste in you beer that is associated with hops, not brewing flaws or bottle infections, will be removed when the CO2 is reduced. This is because the acidity that comes with CO2 pairs with the alpha acids in the hops and adds to the bitterness. CO2 will also help boost the aroma that hops add to a beer. So if you are someone that doesn’t like the hoppie bitterness or the aromas that come with it, then nitro is for you. A word of caution to home brewers that are going to use nitro, understand that some beers will not taste like you want them to without some hop/malt balance. I recommend testing nitro on smaller quantities for different style until you know what the outcome will be. Remember, tweaking recipes and processes are half the fun of brewing in the first place.
No Hop Bitterness Means a Creamier Beer.
Without the bitterness of hops there is room for the malt and specialty malts to really crescendo while drinking your beer. The chocolate malts and roast flavors are not offset in the least by their hoppie counterpart, which allows them to come through in full effect. This will give your beer a sweeter and creamier mouth feel and taste than if the CO2 was allowed to bring out the bitterness in the hops. This really plays well with Stout and Porter style beers that typically have robust bodies and are a little sweeter. But who am I to tell you what to do? There is even talk about Nitro IPA’s, so again, the sky is the limit with home brewing and craft beer. What a time to be alive!
Nitro Beers Are a Gateway of Innovation.
CO2 has been the gas of choice for many year, and for a good reason, since that is one of the byproducts of fermentation. It certainly makes sense that if fermentation is producing CO2 and making your beer come to life, then why not use that gas to deliver that same beer? You know using CO2 won’t affect the flavor, head, or other notable attributes very much so it was always the safe bet. Well craft beer in 2016 is all but safe. The industry has found ways to make a single beer that can be brewed with double digit ABV and also as a session without altering the taste much. We are now canning more varieties of beer including beer over 8% ABV. Which is a great thing since most venues will only all you to bring in cans, making bottles of delicious craft beer useless at places like Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We have even started messing with the storage and delivery of kegged brews. Yes, Guinness has been doing this for YEARS with their stout in both bottles and cans, but Diageo stopped there. Other brands such as the aforementioned Left Hand Brewing decided to add nitro to other styles and I’m sure others will follow suit including home brewers. I would even venture to say that many home brewers are adding nitro to their bag of tricks when it comes to brewing beer that will be a crowd pleaser at your next social function.
There you have it, the 5 top reasons to you should be drinking Nitro Beer. Like anything else there will be personal preferences that will come into play here. Me personally, I don’t love overly bitter pale ales, or any over hopped beer for that matter. I can drink them, and appreciate ones that are brewed well, but never really prefer them. So nitro might not be your thing but I would implore you to give it a try and decide for yourself. Don’t like nitro, or want to get real crazy? Find some other gas that might add some interesting characteristics to your brew. Try helium and maybe not only your beer will float, but your voice will rise as well. Or you could do just the opposite and add some sulfur hexaflouride and potentially make your beer heavy and your voice deep. Whatever you are planning to do with your beer just make sure you are having fun and don’t let anyone tell you what to try. If everyone starts experimenting with their own techniques and off the wall additions to their beer, just think about what the world of craft beer could look like in a few more years.