Even those who don’t like beer (I am told such people exist...) can’t help but admire the beauty of a fresh pint of jet-black stout with a creamy white head. And doing it at home is much easier than you might think.
Here’s how to bring the Irish pub experience to your own home bar.
Let’s assume you already have a kegging system up and running. You need three additional items to serve nitrogenated beer:
- Nitrogen cylinder: Nitro-specific cylinders are designed to handle high pressure and are readily available at most homebrew stores. But before you go out and buy a new one, check with your local gas supplier first. Some vendors only exchange empty cylinders for full ones and won’t fill your shiny, new (expensive) tank.
- Nitrogen regulator: A nitrogen regulator handles much higher pressures than a regular CO2 regulator, and it mates to a nitro cylinder using a different kind of connection.
- Nitrogen (stout) faucet: A stout faucet is essential to pouring that beautiful pint. The secret is an internal plate that has been drilled with small holes. Beer is forced through these holes on its way to your glass, which knocks carbon dioxide out of solution and produces the famous cascade and creamy head. Nitro faucets couple to beer shanks just like standard CO2
If your draft system is already balanced for CO2, there’s no need to worry about rebalancing for nitro. The restrictor plate within the faucet provides the necessary resistance. You’ll have to experiment with the serving pressure to get the pour right, but most systems work best at 30–35 psi.
Once you’ve assembled your system, you’ll also need the following:
- Beer gas: Sometimes called “Guinness gas,” beer gas is a blend of about 25% carbon dioxide and 75% nitrogen. Nitrogen isn’t very soluble in beer. It’s just there to provide the extra oomph needed to force beer through the restrictor plate.
- Beer: Nitrogen dispensing works very well with malt-focused beers that are served at 1 to 1.5 volumes of CO2. Stout, Irish red ale, wee heavy, and English bitter are excellent served this way, but IPA and even saison can be great.
When you’re ready to serve, pull the handle down all the way, fill the glass about two-thirds full and allow the beer to settle for a few seconds. Then push back on the handle and fill your glass to the top. Guinness famously claims that this should take 119.5 seconds, but your mileage may vary.
Don’t panic. Share and enjoy!
Getting everything right may require some troubleshooting. If you get only foam, your beer is probably overcarbonated. If there’s no cascade, the serving pressure is probably too low. Start with a low dispense pressure of 25 psi or so, and gradually increase it over a period of days until you have just the right balance.
But it’s all worth it in the end. Once you get the right serving pressure dialed in, nitrogen dispensing is fun, delicious, and visually stunning. Just don’t be alarmed if you discover that you suddenly have more “friends” than you did before.