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Sixer: Next-level nitro beers


Photo by Ed Rudolph

Photo by Ed Rudolph

Anyone who has ordered a draft beer “on nitro” knows the crucial role carbonation plays in how a beer feels and tastes. Beers are traditionally carbed with CO2, but switch that to nitrogen, and the smaller bubbles create a creamy texture and a signature cascading pour effect. It’s been mostly a draft phenomenon, but today more breweries are tinkering with canning and bottling nitrogenated beers. And they’re not just for stouts anymore—this new wave includes everything from smooth IPAs to velvety Scotch ales.

Guinness | Nitro IPA
The Irish brewery that introduced Americans to nitro—and the widget clinking inside the can—last year crossed to the light side with an English-style IPA. The smooth liquid slowly washes hop flavors across the tongue, allowing rustic, herbal tones to layer atop each other. Instead of big bubbles to wash the sip away, medium-firm bitterness closes the swallow.

3 Sheeps | Cashmere Hammer 
This aptly named rye stout is fun to pour (watch the cappuccinolike head rise and then stick around for minutes), but even more fun to drink. Rye grain spice and toasted malts lead the sip before rich dark cocoa and dry peanut shell surface in the middle. There’s serious body to the velvety stout, but with a drinkable 6.5% ABV.

Left Hand | Hard Wired Nitro
Left Hand’s Milk Stout Nitro is a standard-bearer, but—controversial opinion alert—this coffee porter offers even more complexity. The initial impression is of an espresso frappe thanks to the weighty sip, but a pumpernickel breadlike malt base grounds it in beer territory. After the swallow, bittersweet cocoa lingers on the tongue.

InBev UK | Boddingtons Pub Ale
A recyclable, plastic widget shaped like a spinning top inside the can helps release nitrogen in the beer, replicating the experience of drinking this iconic British bitter on cask. Drinkable and straightforward, this golden-hued ale is all about the dry toast and biscuity malts with a delicate bitterness that finishes the swallow.

Oskar Blues | Old Chub Nitro
Oskar Blues slightly retooled its Old Chub Scotch ale recipe for nitro canning and brought the ABV down about 1 percent to 6.9%. The caramel-dominant flavor is the same, though; sweet raisin and toffee initiate the sip before light roast arrives toward the finish. The beer’s super smooth texture melts slowly from the mouth.

Wasatch | Polygamy Nitro Porter
It took nearly a year of testing for Wasatch to fine-tune this porter for nitro bottling before it released last March. The creamy sip first introduces peanut butter richness balanced by a fleeting earthy hop flavor that arrives a beat later. Delicate roasted malts deepen the flavor and linger into the finish.

Even more nitro!

Boston Beer Co. introduced its Nitro Project on draft and in cans earlier this year; it includes a white ale, an IPA and a coffee stout. Yardley, Pennsylvania-based brewpub Vault Brewing Co. also offers nitro canned beers, including a perennial favorite Sweet Potato Ale in the fall.


Kate Bernot is DRAFT’s beer editor. Reach her at kate.bernot[at]draftmag.com.


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