Aug 26, 2016 - Food and Drink

What is nitro beer and why is it popping up around Charlotte?

I can’t resist a new wrinkle on Charlotte beer. One that’s becoming more common across Charlotte breweries: Nitro beer.

Bars used to only use nitro systems for Guinness and not much else — if they even had one, said Josh Patton, CEO of Wooden Robot Brewery.

Now breweries are experimenting more with nitro beers of all varieties.

“I think it’s becoming more popular in breweries lately because… why not?” said Jackie”JP” Parker, tap room manager at Birdsong Brewing. “It’s a fun way to experiment and give people something different.”

nitro-wooden-robot-tap

Here are the basics.

What is nitro beer?

The nitro refers to nitrogen and describes the gas used as part of the draft beer tap system. Most beer on tap comes from kegs that use carbon dioxide to keep the pressure steady as beer is drained and force it through the taps to your glass.

nitro-birdsong-sign

Nitro beer comes from kegs that use primarily nitrogen to do the same thing.

What does it do to the beer?

nitro-wooden-robot-beer

You’ll definitely notice if you try it. In short, it “leads to a smoother or creamier mouthfeel and adds some complexity to the beer,” Patton said.

The head of the beer is also distinctive, almost like “the top layer on a dessert parfait,” Parker said. That’s because the bubbles in nitrogenated beers are smaller than the carbon dioxide bubbles in regular carbonated beer.

What types of beer are good on nitro?

nitro-birdsong-beer

Traditionally, breweries will do a stout on nitro. The flavors of these dark beers work well with the creaminess the nitro line adds. Porters and brown ales are also fairly common.

But some of the newer varieties have played with different type of beer.

Wooden Robot’s Good Morning Vietnam (coffee vanilla blonde ale) on nitro had stellar reviews. Sycamore has done an Oat Pale Ale on nitro, and Birdsong Brewing has recently featured the Fake Plastic Trees (hoppy wheat ale) and Eat a Peach.

Where can I try it?

  • Wooden Robot has a dedicated nitro line in the taproom, and rotates a keg through at all times.
  • Triple C Brewing has featured nitro beers for years. Their Smoked Amber on nitro is a favorite.
  • Birdsong Brewing regularly has a nitro beer in the taproom.
  • Sycamore Brewing has nitro beer available on occasion, primarily stouts. All of the brewery’s wine on tap is poured through a nitro line.
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