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Serving Nitro Beers Correctly

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I remember the first time I drank a nitro beer. Through various forms of sorcery, the bartender had some how arranged for my beer to have bubbles falling down in my beer instead of rising to the top. I was completely enamored by the appearance alone. With great anticipation, I took my first sip of the smoothest flowing beer I’d ever drank. It was a Left Hand Milk Stout, and I was hooked.
At the time, I completely misunderstood nitro beers, but I knew I loved them. That was enough to convince me to build my own kegerator with a nitro tap on it. This noble quest is not for the faint of heart however. I sought the perfect nitro pour. I wanted the cascading bubbles. I wanted the 1 inch whipped cream head of Bell’s Double Cream Stout to be served in my basement, out of my own nitro tap. Though I would make my way there eventually, it didn’t happen without learning some lessons along the way.

What Makes Nitro Pours Different?


Let’s start with the reason the beers served on nitro pour differently. If you have ever had the chance to try a beer served on nitro vs that same beer served on CO2, you will understand that the nitro pour changes the overall experience of drinking that beer. They actually pours through a different faucet than a CO2 beer. Stout faucets are specifically built to pour straight down instead of at an angle. The stout faucet also has a small disc inside with tiny holes punched in it. The beer is forced through these holes at a high pressure in order to knock the carbonation out of your beer. To get enough push behind the beer to force it through the holes in the stout faucet, you must push the beer with more pressure in the keg.
You will typically see a nitro beer keg pressurized to 25-35 PSI in order to have enough force to get through the disc in the faucet. Most CO2 beers are pressurized around 12-14 PSI. The headspace of the keg initially holds the pressure when you add CO2 to the keg, but the CO2 will dissolve into your beer until the pressure in the beer and the pressure in the headspace are equal. The amount that dissolves is also dependent upon the temperature of the beer. By looking at a kegging carbonation chart, you can see that 12 PSI at 40F will carbonate your beer to 2.47 volumes of CO2.
This is a pretty average amount of carbonation in a beer served on CO2. Imagine now, that you needed to push this beer at 30 PSI in order to get it through the stout faucet. The chart now shows that you would now have 4.10 vols of CO2 in your beer. That is a lot of bubbles! Your beer would be totally over-carbonated, making it difficult to pour, let alone drink it. In order to compensate, we use beer gas to serve beer through these faucets.
The nitro name does indeed come from the gas that they use to pressurize your keg. It is a mix of carbon dioxide and nitrogen (usually 25% CO2 and 75% N2 or thereabouts). Sometimes, you can find beer gas at a local home brew shop. I get mine from a welding supply store. The beer gas helps you to push the beer at high pressures without over-carbonating your beer. In fact, beers served on nitro should be carbed somewhere between 1.5 -1.8 vols to get a decent pour.


Adjusting the Pressure in Your Keg


If you are buying a keg with your favorite craft stout in it, the beer will be carbed too high to serve immediately on your nitro tap. You will get a lovely glass full of foam. With a little bit of effort and patience though, you can be serving on nitro in no time. What you will need to do is to use the pressure relief valve on your keg to release all of the pressure from the headspace. Remember, the beer and the headspace want to be the same pressure, so CO2 from your beer will come out of the liquid in order to equalize the pressure in the keg. Do this every couple of hours or so for about a day. Then, you will have released enough pressure to have lowered your carbonation level in the keg.
If you are kegging your homebrew, you will want to force-carb your beer with a tank of CO2 at a lower PSI. Somewhere around 4-5 PSI should get you close to 1.8 vols at 40 degrees (f). Once it has force-carbed, then your beer is ready to be put on your nitro line.
Apart from the stout tap, there are some key differences between a nitro line and a CO2 line. The nitro line needs to hold much more pressure. As such, you cannot fill a regular CO2 tank with beer gas, you will need a designated N2 tank, capable of handling the additional pressure. This tank has a separate fitting that will only fit an N2 regulator. Everything else between the regulator and the faucet remain the same. Be sure to balance your beer line so that you don’t get too much pressure at the faucet!

Pouring Homebrew from a Nitro System


The final piece of the puzzle is the pour. Even when your beer is carbed correctly, you can still mess this part up! Guinness (the inventors of the nitro pour) has famously said it takes 119.5 seconds to pour a nitro beer correctly. Patience is key! When you pour a nitro beer, tip your glass at a 45 degree angle and fill it about 80% full with the faucet all the way open. Now, set the beer down and admire the bubbles. The head of the beer takes time to form. After you can see most of the cascading bubbles have stopped, put your beer back under the tap and press the tap handle away from you. This allows the beer to flow through a little slower. Do this until your glass is full and you will have served an amazing nitro beer!

If you want some recommendations on great nitro beers, you should follow a couple of basics. The nitro serve really accents the malts of a beer. Hoppy IPAs are not likely to impress you off of a nitro tap. I like to stick with stouts and porters, but you have the freedom to experiment with any beer you like. Some of my favorites include:
Left Hand Milk Stout
Bell’s Double Cream Stout
Latitude 42 Lucifer’s Cuvee
Founder’s Rubeus
Ballast Point Red Velvet
What will you serve on nitro once you build your setup?
 
Jake Lohse

Comments

Nice article. This is exactly what I found after doing hours of extensive research and then trying stuff myself. The keys to nitro are definitely:
1. Carbonate at 4-5psi
2. Use beer gas @25-30psi to push the beer
3. Get a stout faucet
Without these things you will not get a perfect nitro pour.
 
Great to see accurate info regarding nitro taps. I've helped many homebrewers - and even some commercial brewers - properly set up and balance their nitro lines. You'd be amazed at how many misconceptions about the nitro draft concept there are out there.
Also, my favorite recipes to put on nitro are: ESB, Dry Stout, Oatmeal Blonde ale, & Amber/red ales. The beauty is that you can put anything you want on nitro and see what you like best.
 
I'd love to make a Stone Xocoveza on nitro, I'll soon have my all grain 10 gallon equipment all put together. It should have been done four years ago but two babies and a new job got in the way. Stupid adult stuff! Been a long four years and I'm excited to start brewing again!
 
Great article, and live to start brewing. Guinness is my favorite I was blessed to tour the Guinness Brewery in Ireland last year and learned about the pour there.
 
Thanks for the nice comments! This was a fun article to write. I love Nitro beers, and hope this makes it easier for somebody else to get into it!
 
So for equipment, if using beergas mix, if I were to go to a welding or beverage supply shop, would they give me beergas in a nitrogen tank (not a standard co2 tank?) And so, I'd need the special N2 nitro regulator in order to use that tank?
 
Is there an advantage to running the blended gas for this purpose as opposed to just carbing a beer to 1-1.5 volumes of co2 and then dispensing through a stout faucet with 100% nitro?
 
Nice article. I like how Nitro Beers need very little CO2 before switching to Nitro. Seems like the perfect solution for a quick-turn beer. Ferment, cold crash it for a day, gas it for day, then and serve. Bamm, you're drinking a beer in 3 days after it stops fermenting. It doesn't need much time to carb and mellow after a being in gas for a week. I hate that carbonic bite that you get after a force carb.
 
Thats what I think... Oh fudge... I said that a few months ago.
I surprise even myself sometimes. If that's possible. LOL
 
Nice article. This is exactly what I found after doing hours of extensive research and then trying stuff myself. The keys to nitro are definitely:
1. Carbonate at 4-5psi
2. Use beer gas @25-30psi to push the beer
3. Get a stout faucet
Without these things you will not get a perfect nitro pour.
J
New to using nitro and just have a couple of questions for nitro for setting it up.
1- How long do you leave it on carbonate at 4-5psi for?
2- How long do you leave in on beer gas before drinking?

Cheers. Jebediah.
 
J
New to using nitro and just have a couple of questions for nitro for setting it up.
1- How long do you leave it on carbonate at 4-5psi for?
2- How long do you leave in on beer gas before drinking?

Cheers. Jebediah.
1. Short answer: until it's carbed. Longer answer: until it reaches a volume of about 1 - 1.2. You could do that by burst carbing, force carbing, or natural carbing.
2. As soon as it's carbed, you can hook it up to beer gas and serve. There's no waiting period. Any lack of carbonation will be made up eventually with the CO2 in the beer gas. It takes a bit longer though than 100% CO2.
 
1. Short answer: until it's carbed. Longer answer: until it reaches a volume of about 1 - 1.2. You could do that by burst carbing, force carbing, or natural carbing.
2. As soon as it's carbed, you can hook it up to beer gas and serve. There's no waiting period. Any lack of carbonation will be made up eventually with the CO2 in the beer gas. It takes a bit longer though than 100% CO2.
Sorry for the stupid question, but when do you know when you reached the volume 1-1.2. (4-5 PSI) when carbonating with C02?
 
Sorry for the stupid question, but when do you know when you reached the volume 1-1.2. (4-5 PSI) when carbonating with C02?
By using the correct psi on the regulator until you've reached equilibrium (usually a week or two, but it could be much faster with such a low c02 volume)
 
By using the correct psi on the regulator until you've reached equilibrium (usually a week or two, but it could be much faster with such a low c02 volume)
By using the correct psi on the regulator until you've reached equilibrium (usually a week or two, but it could be much faster with such a low c02 volume)
You mean it could be faster having a C02 volume than 1.2?

I went on this website and typed in 1.2 for Volumes of CO2: and Keg Temperature: 41 and came up as regulator setting -1.6 PSI.
 
I was happy to see this article come up. I just tapped my first nitro in a couple years, a dry Irish stout.

In the article it says to make sure to balance your draft lines. I'm familiar with balancing lines, but am wondering about the higher pressure. Do you balance the draft line at the 1.5-1.8 volumes or do you balance it for 25-30 psi?
 
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