What Is Nitro Beer?

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “nitro?” For me, it’s Fast and Furious. However, after writing that, I looked it up and apparently it’s nitrous oxide, or NOS, that I was thinking of.

Hey, I haven’t seen any of them in like, two decades. When did the first one come out?

My point is that nitro in beer sounds cool, but it isn’t immediately clear what it is or why it’s important. So, I’ll outline what nitro in beer is and why it’s important.

What is Nitro in Beer?

Nitro is short for nitrogen, which is one of the noblest of gases. Maybe you know, maybe you don’t, but one of the byproducts of the fermentation process is carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide gives beer its bubbly consistency and creates a nice light head of foam. 

In nitro beers, brewers add a combination of carbon dioxide and nitrogen to the beer. Which is why the beer would be called “nitro.”

Why is nitro in beer important?

One of the most overlooked factors of carbon dioxide’s role in beer is that it significantly affects the beer’s flavor and feel.

Think about a beer that’s gone flat, i.e. has lost all of its carbonation. Tastes terrible, right? Right??

If you’re still reading and haven’t gone to find your wounded soldier, then we can start to discuss what makes nitrogen in beer unique.

For starters, nitrogen produces smaller bubbles than carbon dioxide (I think, I’m not the biggest science expert). This makes the beer have a creamier, smoother flavor to it. Nitrogen also kind of cuts into the sharper flavors of beer, making the final product taste a bit milder and smoother than it would with carbon dioxide.

Is this why Guinness uses nitrogen? Maybe, kind of, who knows. But I love Guinness.

Nitrogen in Beer: Useless Facts to Know

Hey! Here’s some useless trivia about nitrogen in beer.

Nitro beers need to have dedicated tap handles. These taps have little plates that prevent the beer from pouring out too quickly, ensuring it doesn’t lose too much nitrogen during the pour. These handles and lines also use nitrogen to ensure that you get the maximum nitrogen experience. Radical!

Also interesting is that, when brewers add nitrogen to brews, it replaces the oxygen in the tank. This essentially removes the chances of contamination, ensuring a clean brew.

Another useless fact: foam on nitrogen beers is technically thicker and lasts longer due to those nitrogen bubbles I mentioned earlier. This means that nitro beers need to sit longer before the head settles.

Thomas Short
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