Nitro: Stout’s Frothy Friend

Nitro is becoming a buzzword in beer, and Jersey brewers are exploring it.

Nitro is becoming a buzzword in beer, and Jersey brewers are exploring it. The name is nifty, with a whiff of danger, but it isn’t actually new. Guinness claims to have invented nitro in 1959. Ever watch a pint of Guinness stout drawn at the tap? That thick, creamy head, churning with densely rising bubbles? That’s nitro at work.

What is nitro? For technical reasons, it’s mostly a draft phenomenon. Most beers get their bubbles from carbon dioxide. Guinness and other nitros get theirs from a roughly 75/25 mix of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Nitrogen bubbles are naturally smaller than carbon dioxide bubbles, and the special faucet used to serve nitros has perforations that expel some of the gas, thickening the mustache-making head.

At Amazing Grapes Tap & Bottle, a tavern in Pompton Lakes, owner John Gray has devoted three of his 22 tap lines to nitros, including Carton of Milk, a stout from Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands. “I figured three nitro lines would make us interesting,” says Gray.

The new Devil’s Creek Brewery in Collingswood has two nitro lines in its tasting room. “We’ve done some fun stuff,” says co-owner Kathy Abate, citing a nitro lemonade shandy. “It made it taste fluffy, like a true dessert. We called it Lemon Meringue.” Devil’s Creek’s latest nitro is a Caramel Apple Brown Ale.

When Chris Burke opened Eight & Sand, a brewery in Woodbury, in September, he made its Dry Irish Stout two ways: one normally, the other nitro. He served them side-by-side in the taproom. In online ratings, the nitro won handily.

One reason could be that stout’s “coffee and malt flavors come through nicely with nitro,” says Ricky Soni, manager of Mohawk House in Sparta, a restaurant deep into craft beer. Some ales and fruit beers work well as nitros. In 2015, Guinness introduced a nitro IPA. “Mostly,” Soni says, “people are interested in anything different.”

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