Guinness recently announced that they’ll start distributing cans of a new Nitro IPA in the U.S., which is kind of a big deal. If you’re not familiar with nitro beers, they’re like your smooth talking, better looking cousin. Brewers substitute nitrous oxide for a portion of the carbon dioxide when they’re carbonating the beer, and the result is silky smooth goodness that rivals anything Barry White ever recorded. The technology to add nitro to a canned beer is limited and expensive, so you don’t see a lot of canned nitro beers out there. The standard Guinness Stout is the most common nitrogenated beer on the market.
Oskar Blues puts a nitro version of their scotch ale, Old Chubb in a can. And that’s about it for breweries in our neck of the woods. Fortunately, most brewpubs and small breweries release small batches of nitro beers on tap. It’s a treat when you spot one of these smooth beers in the wild, sort of like when you’re hiking and you see a black bear. It’s exhilarating.
Once every two months or so my wife tells me I have to take her out for a proper date. “Not burritos,” she says. She wants a place with forks and wine. A place where a half dozen roasted almonds will run you $8. Swell. I was having dinner with her at one of those fancy restaurants (the kind of place where you order the pasta because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, but they only give you one ravioli on your plate so you have to go get burritos after) when I spotted Pisgah Brewing’s Stout on nitro. Bully for me. I’ve had this particular stout before, but never on nitro.
On its own, it’s a decent beer. Good but nothing to write home about. On nitro, it becomes this velvet, coffee bomb–the kind of thing you want to get naked and bathe in.
Stouts are the most common beer put on nitro because the already rich, subtle body of the style lends itself well to the nitrous. But I’ve been in brewpubs recently where just about every style under the brew kettle was given nitro treatment. Ok, not every style. Sours and wheat beers might suck on nitro, but lagers, pales and IPA–you’d be surprised what a shot of Barry White will do to these beers, adding a whole new dimension to appreciate. Mostly, what we’re taking about here is texture. Nitro can bring out flavors that are typically more subtle in a beer (it brings out notes of coffee in the Pisgah Stout) but mostly, the gas just makes the beer feel better in your mouth. That’s a weird sentence to read (and a weird one to write, I assure you) but that’s the deal. Nitro makes a beer feel better. and that’s an interesting proposition.
In the words of Mr. White, “let’s get it on.”