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Tim Bissell Tim Bissell
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Three Pint Stance: Nitro beer - it's a gas!

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It's getting to be the time of year where I tend to look less for a crisp, refreshing beer and more for a smooth, rich, satisfying brew. In my salad days of beer drinking, I would commonly reach for Guinness, Boddingtons and even the occasional can of Old Speckled Hen to satisfy this itch. While those three beers range in color from dark as night (Guinness) to light golden (Boddingtons), what they have in common is not a grain or hop, but a certain gas - nitrogen!

When talking about nitrogen-poured beer, it is almost imperative to start with Guinness. As far as I can tell, Guinness was the first brewery to package beer to be poured with nitrogen as the propellant. One key to the nitrogen pour is the beer faucet that the beer comes out of. You may have noticed that the Guinness tap usually looks different from the rest of the beer taps at your local bar. This is because beers poured on a nitrogen line have to pass through a diffuser plate that agitate the Nitrogen laced beer and releases the tiny little bubbles that give Guinness and all other nitro pours their signature 'cascading bubbles' effect.

These smaller, more tightly packed bubbles help the beer achieve body without having to rely on residual sugar, so the beer goes down easier without leaving a cloying flavor. Also, using nitrogen in place of some of the CO2 usually found in beer reduces the amount of carbonic acid in the beer, which takes some of the bite out of beer. This leads to subtler, deeper flavors coming to the surface of the palate.

While Guinness is the most well-known and readily available nitro beer, there are many other traditional beers (such as the Boddingtons and Old Speckled Hen mentioned earlier) and some domestic craft beers that utilize a nitro pour to create a smooth beer with a silky mouthfeel.

Nationally, you can find Left Hand Brewing of Longmont, CO's Nitro Milk Stout on tap and in bottles. Nitro Milk Stout is a fantastic example of what a nitrogen infusion can do to a beer. Left Hand also releases a traditional carbonated version of the Milk Stout, so you can do a side by side comparison of the two and see for yourself.

Locally, Orono Brewing Company produces a great range of beers available on nitro pours. You can commonly find a stout on nitro at either OBC locations; in addition to the stout, you are also likely to find their White Nitro Cream ale on nitro from time to time. It's remarkable how much drinkability is added to that already-crushable brew when it is poured on nitro.

Lastly, you can drink nitro beers at home! While it would be awesome to have a finely-tuned nitrogen draft system at home, the cost of such a unit would be quite prohibitive for the majority of us. Fret not, because Guinness created a way to package beer with a widget in the can that releases a shot of nitrogen as soon as the can is cracked to emulate the nitro draft pour.

Nitro beer canning is a remarkable technology that is really only surpassed by Left Hand's propriety process that allows them to package Nitro Milk Stout in bottles with no widget! As of today, they are the only brewery to figure out how to do that, but I'm sure there are beer nerds coast to coast working on replicating that process.

Regardless of whether your nitro beer comes in a can or bottle, be sure to follow the directions on the package as to how to pour your beer into a glass. ALWAYS pour a nitro can or bottle into a glass!

So, when life gets hectic and you need to smooth things out, reach for a nitro beer. Those tiny cascading bubbles always help take the edge off.


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