I’ve been brewing off and on with various levels of focus, excitement, and regularity over the last 15 years or so. Over the years, my tastes have swung between sessionable low gravity stouts to hop overdose IPAs and all the way back. I’ve had a kegging system for a long time and have often considered splurging on a nitro tap, but the cost associated with the special tap and special gas always kept me from pulling the trigger on something that I’d only use on some of my beers.
Over the last few months, I’ve found myself drinking nitro cans or nitro tap beer more frequently and day dreaming about replicating that pillowy head, silky mouthfeel, and the cascading waterfall in the glass that proceeds them. It should be of no surprise that I started combing Google for nitro-related info minutes after pitching the yeast in a batch of stout after an 18-month hiatus from brewing. What I found was astounding! There exists an absolutely (or nearly) free method for introducing nitrogen into my brew. It required almost no work and one piece of equipment that I already own. How did I miss this for so many years?
Back in 1978 (200 years after Guinness first started selling a dark black porter and 20 years before your author could legally sample it), Guinness introduced a 4-pack of Draught Guinness in the bottle. Each lightly carbonated 4-pack came with a little brown plunger type syringe resembling a miniature version of what your dentist may have used to jab Novocaine into your gums around the same year. This plunger was used to draw some of the black-as-night beer out of your pint directly before shooting the beer and some air (78% Nitrogen) directly back into your glass. The result is the beautiful cascade of seemingly gravity defying bubbles that were only previously available via the special nitro tap (and now via a “widget”).
I read a report of some Guinness reps using one of these to beautify a pint for the cameras at a press conference along with some Anheuser Busch Brass as they were announcing some brewery partnership. One of the AB crew saw it and immediately grabbed the plunger and used it on the Budweiser in front of him. The Bud erupted. There’s a lesson in that story: you do need to tune how you use this method to the amount of carbonation in your beer.
So what is the piece of equipment that you need to pull this off at home? A small, needle-less syringe of one type or another. Maybe the little plastic syringe that you used to use squirt medicine in the kids mouth, maybe a “turkey marinade injector”, or maybe just a plain old syringe sans needle. If you don’t already have one of the above sitting in a drawer in your kitchen, a couple bucks and a trip to a pharmacy, department store, or farm store will get you the goods!
I had a turkey injector sitting in a drawer and a children’s liquid medicine plunger thingy in the medicine cabinet. There’s no rocket science here. Just pull equal amounts of beer and air into the syringe and shoot it back into your full glass of beer. Experiment with the volume and force that you use since it will change depending on the level of carbonation in your brew. I found that the turkey injector provides for the widest range of volume and force.
So far I’ve used it on my green stout on its way between secondary and bottle (my “sample” was pretty big and I happily drank it all), and a normally carbonated stout from a local brewery (People’s Brewery in Lafayette, Indiana – plug).
The results are absolutely great.