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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.
So what's this actually doing? It appears to me that it's simply disrupting the CO2 that's in solution, causing it to precipitate and foam. Just because air is 78% nitrogen, I don't think this counts as a 'nitro' method.
I did major in Art, so definite armchair science from me. Please correct me if I'm completely off base here.
I don't fully grasp the 'science' of it. Guinness designed it, not me :)
That being said, I think I'm starting to wrap my head around it. From what I've gathered, these points might help understand it a bit.
1: Guinness draught, or boddingtons, or what not, is less carbonated than a standard beer.
2: A widget or Nitro draft system simply disrupts the absorbed CO2 in a lightly carbonated beer to create bubbles/head.
Nitrogen is used in the nitro tap/keg scenario so that you can hold the keg at a decently high serving psi without adding a bunch of carbonation. The high pressure allows you to force the beer through a spinning restrictor plate that knocks the small bubbles out of solution creating the tight head.
Nitrogen is used in the draft cans/bottles with 'widgets'. Here, the beer can be under the same pressure as a fizzier CO2 version while staying less fizzy. If you poured this beer with no widget, you'd get little to no head because the CO2 would stay dissolved. The widget has nitrogen in it when it is put in to the can. Liquid nitrogen is added to the beer and the can is sealed. The liquid nitrogen evaporates into a gas which increases the pressure in the can and slowly forces beer into the tiny hole in the widget, which compresses the nitrogen already in the widget. When the can is opened, the pressure holding the beer/nitrogen in the widget is released causing a little jet of beer/nitrogen to shoot out. This knocks the carbon dioxide out of suspension and creates the head.
SO... moral of the story is:
To get this to work you need the following things:
-A beer that is less carbonated than a standard beer. If your beer is not less carbonated, you can make it so by knocking some co2 out of suspension... maybe by shooting a stream of beer into your beer from a hypodermic plunger. Maybe a higher carbonation beer would benefit from having the CO2 knocked out of suspension more than once to lower the overall carbonation level.
-A way to force the dissolved co2 out of suspension to create a head. maybe by shooting a stream of beer into your beer from a hypodermic plunger. :)
Beergas is 75/25 nitro/co2 or 70/30 depending on where you get it. This makes sense. I suppose if you could add some sort of a restrictor plate to the syringe you could get a better effect.
The Guinness guy did it for appearance. This is not the same as Nitro beer on tap. Can't say you shouldn't try it as it is ridiculously cheap, but don't be surprised when your beer does not have the nitro head.
@Jazong While obviously not exactly like a nitro tap, I've actually used this method quite a bit since writing the article. It can add a great mouthfeel to a beer!
As it happens I had a stout in the fridge ready to drink when I read this. Guess who couldn't wait to try it out!? :D
As has been mentioned it is not exactly like a nitro tap it is a hell of a lot better than a normal pour.
I have an Imperial Black IPA on tap, a turkey flavor injector and am going to try it now. I live at 8200 ft above sea level, so we have more nitrogen in our air than most. Results: It did what you said. It gave the aperance of a nitro head and did make it slightly creamier than normal. The beer was flatter than usual, like a Guinness. It muted the hop flavor to a level that my wife would love. My only complaint was that the head had large bubbles in it that collapsed quickly and there wasn't any cacsading bubbles. I will try this with my Imperial Chocolate-Cherry Stout next and see what happens. That one is in a bottle. Thanks for an excuse to have a beer at 11:15 AM!
this is really cool,im off to fiind a syringe to try it out now!
edit: it works! much creamier head, fyi i used a small 20ml syrnge with a small needle on the end, drew in about 5ml beer and 5ml air (air first) and blasted it in. lasting head that laced right down to the bottom. i feel like ive discovered something miraculous. thanks!
This is not the same as a nitro tap. With that said, it makes my bottled stouts so, so much better. I've had quite a number of pints of nitro Guinness over the years, and I have a very close familiarity with the mouthfeel nitrogen provides. It's very very close to the feel of true nitrogen, and it cost me a total of $4.50 for the turkey injector. Great discovery, and one I will enjoy until I can afford a kegging setup with a stout faucet.
Oh, and make sure you have your pint in the sink the first time you try it. I spent a little while cleaning my pantry doors...
The amount of Nitro in your air has little to do with this effect. Beer gas is mixed the way it is because the nitro doesn't dissolve in beer and can be used to push the beer with a lot of force. The nitro tap has a restrictor plate in it that strips some of the CO2 out of solution. That is where the cascade effect comes from. When you do the syringe it is forcing the beer to churn up, like shaking a beer, but less violently. This causes the CO2 to come out of solution and you have the cascade effect!
I tried this today- and I would say that the results are more akin to cask ale from a beer engine than from nitro.
I am doing this now (ok, not this very *instant*) with a bitter and stout I brewed and carbonated to around 1-1.5 vols of CO2.
IF (and that's a big *IF*) you get the carbonation right, the syringe will produce a fantastic glass full of beautiful cascading bubbles which settle out to a solid head.
I do NOT pull extra air into the syringe, but rather pull about 5cm/2" and force it into the beer. The more force, the better the effect.
If the beer is overcarbonated (usually the case), it will volcano onto the counter so always have a sink nearby. If undercarbonated, it just won't do anything. The beer pulled into the syringe should be foamy. If this is not the case, then do pull some air in for a 50/50 mix and blast it in. This is more of a cask-style pour.
I noticed the growler immediately, +2 to People's in Lafayette. Also, I plan on trying this with my 2nd brew ever, a milk stout.
Great article!
So you can also do this with a correct pour from a bottle. pour the first 2/3rds of the bottle on the side of the glass, then set the class upright and pour the last 1/3 of the beer into the center of the glass from a height of 6-8 inches above the surface. No fuss, No muss.
For those who are saying "This isn't a nitro tap" I don't think anyone has any confusion about that. What this is, is the poor man's beer engine.
Beer is non-compressable, but air is; so, when you're trying to force the beer out of the syringe you compress the air (Mostly nitrogen) into the beer. The amount of air that gets compressed is all about the amount of pressure you use to shoot it into the glass. This is exactly what a beer engine does, draws in beer and air into a cylinder at a certain ratio, and then pushes it into a glass.
Since a Beer Engine is about $500, this is probably a better alternative for most.
I didn't have a syringe, so into my pint glass, I dropped my 2 micron aeration stone hooked up to my aquarium pump, and gave it a few seconds. Man! That worked wonders for my foreign extra stout. Not as tight and creamy as the real thing, but a radical improvement. Can't wait to try this on my dry stout. I like my stouts to be creamy, which means I have to compromise in the head department. 2 seconds on the pump gave instant, and lasting head, lacing and all. I challenge those with a magnetic stirrer/stir bar to give that a go...
Almost exactly a year and I just discovered this article! I just tried this with an Old Leghumper Porter from Thirsty Dog. Sucked 3 mL into Turkey injector w/o extra air and slammed the plunger as hard as I could. Definitely has the creaminess and mouthfeel- a small amount of oats in the bill would enhance this I believe (Guiness does use flaked barley for a similar purpose if I am not mistaken) I can taste the dark fruity notes better. Head is much finer/ creamier than before. Cheers jOitheboat! Having done no research w/ homebrew I reckon anything < 2.2 vols would be lowe enough co2 level to avoid an all foam situation.