A Perfect Match: Nitro and Stout

Brian Hink, the innovation director at Cape May Brewing in Cape May, New Jersey, weighs in on the diversity and importance of nitrogenation when it comes to stouts and other styles.

Brian Hink Jan 28 - 4 min read

A Perfect Match: Nitro and Stout Primary Image

We always have two offerings on nitro, our IPA and a honey porter, but with stouts, nitro just works. I think that stouts are actually less enjoyable carbonated because of the carbonic bite. It leaves a little bit of that acrid bitterness from the roasted malt. In really big, viscous imperial stouts, a high level of carbonation can be harsh. But nitro smooths out the stout, softens its edges, and enhances the mouthfeel. It adds more to the body, leaving you with an enjoyable drinking experience.

Last year, we did a "white stout" called Ties the Room Together for Left Hand Brewing’s annual Nitro Fest. It was basically an imperial cream ale, and all the ingredients worked well together. It had a nice, heavy body with cocoa nibs, coffee, and vanilla. It was on nitro, and all those deep flavors just came through strongly, in a harmonious way, and I think part of that was because of the creamy nature of the nitro.

Nitro beers are smoother because the solution is about 30 percent carbon dioxide and 70 percent nitrogen. The latter is mostly insoluble in liquid and is the readon why the beer has that creamy mouthfeel. When beers are poured properly through a restrictor plate on the nitro tap, you get that great pour and a firm head on top of the beer.

When creating a beer that you want to put on nitro, it makes sense to do one that is malt-driven as opposed to hops-driven. Hops often get stripped down in nitro beers, and the bitterness clashes with the creaminess from the nitro.

But the malts get boosted in a nitro beer. It’s a little sweeter, you get a little more texture, and an ingredient that doesn’t always shine with carbonation gets to come out and play. In the end, you want that overall mouthfeel that pushes a beer into the rich, dessert-like territory. That’s why ingredients that have a meltier component shine when you put them on nitro. Chocolate, vanilla, and coconut are all awesome.

I think it would also be fun to experiment with fruited sours on nitro. While those often have strong or prickly levels of carbonation, the fruit additions would likely be interesting on nitro. In the way that stouts work because of the malt nature, I think fruited sours can as well. It’s something we hope to experiment with at some point.

If you wanted to create a nitro beer as a homebrewer, it can be relatively easy, but it takes a little financial commitment. With a nitro tap, the appropriate gas tank, and a nitrogen regulator, you can start experimenting (for more information, see How to Serve Beer on Nitro). That’s what it’s all about: try different recipes on nitro, serve them alongside carbonated beers, and see which stands out and why.

We love experimenting with nitro beers, and drinkers respond well to them. The creamy, velvety texture of a nitro beer just enhances the whole package of a beer, and who doesn’t love seeing that beautiful cascading effect after one is poured into a glass? It’s fun. It’s a win. And that’s definitely an incentive to keep making them.

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