Like tapping a beer from a cask, serving a beer “on nitro” can alter the way the brew tastes and feels on the tongue. I’m a believer; I’ve had some revelatory beers on nitro (most recently, Mother Bunch‘s Cream Ale) that made me pause to appreciate each sip.
Basically, a beer carbonated with nitrogen rather than common carbon dioxide has smaller bubbles that contribute to a creamier texture and mouthfeel. A nitro beer’s signature is a cascade of miniscule bubbles that flow down the glass from the pour’s pillowy head. (Something along these lines.)
Find such a luxury at the few bars that have nitro lines, or via one of the many new bottled nitro beers from Left Hand or Oskar Blues or Saranac. For the truly decadent, a new product called NitroBrew promises to bring the creamy goodness of nitro beers to your home (or bar; there is a commercial version available)—for a price, of course. The $499 system consists of a charging station and a kettle; pour in any beer from a bottle, can, or keg, and the system pumps it with nitrogen or compressed air.
We tried the contraption in the office last week. It arrived securely packaged; we had to connect the air compressor to the charging station, which only took a few minutes. (If you’ve used an air compressor to fill tires, this shouldn’t be difficult.) Air is made up of mostly nitrogen, so there’s no need to have special nitrogen canisters. We selected a pale ale from our fridge and gave it a go.
At first, we had some trouble getting the air compressor to work, but with a little technical support from NitroBrew’s inventor, Dr. Murthy Tata, we had it up and running. I poured the pale ale into the kettle, pressed the kettle’s tip to the charger, let it carbonate for five seconds, and released the kettle. Dr. Tata told me to shake the kettle vigorously, which I did. I pressed in a small button on the handle (while holding the kettle upside down) to pour the beer into a pint glass. The result: a beautiful, fluffy head atop our pale ale, complete with cascading mini bubbles.
So was it worth the time it took to read through the instructions, connect the charger, carbonate the beer and wash the kettle afterwards? Yes and no. The head was definitely superior to a regular bottled, canned or CO2-carbonated draft beer. The mouthfeel was nice, too, but we found the whole process a bit involved. I can see homebrewers really enjoying this, especially to serve certain styles like oatmeal stouts or even to add textural richness to an IPA, but it requires counter space and a bit of time. Each kettle holds one pint of beer, so you’d have to carbonate multiple beers separately. It’s also not 100% intuitive; we did have to read through the instructions and give the NitroBrew folks a call to make sure we had it working properly.
If you have $500 to spend on snazzy beer toys, add this to your arsenal. Some stouts and porters really do taste like milkshakes when served on nitro, which can be an enjoyable indulgence. Those of us on more meager budgets, however, might have to stick to nitro cans.