What’s the Big Deal About Nitro Beers, Anyway?

I don’t know if you have noticed, but the world is suddenly all about Nitro. No, I’m not referring to the movement honoring former American Gladiators for their contributions to the world of battering laypeople with oversized q-tips that I hope to one day start. I’m talking about nitrogen gas, the biggest trend in brewing today.

So what’s the big deal with Nitro beer, and why is it suddenly everywhere?

First of all, we need to establish one thing. Using nitrogen to carbonate beer instead of CO2 is not a new thing. I know you might be seeing a lot of craft nitro brews emerging in the last year, and even some from the big time beer companies, but there’s one brewery that has been using nitrogen to make their delicious beers for over 50 years.

You know that little ball that you can hear rattling around your Guinness cans and bottles? No, it’s not in there so that you have something to play beer pong with when you’re drinking your Irish stout (note: if you’re playing beer pong with Guinness, you have problems). That little ball is called a “widget,” and it’s filled with just a tiny bit of beer, and a whole lot of nitrogen gas. How do you think your smooth, creamy Guinness gets so smooth and creamy?

Here’s how it works. Most beer is carbonated using CO2. You know how that first sip of cold beer–or soda and seltzer, for that matter–can sometimes tickle your throat, or downright burn it? That comes from the CO2 used to carbonate it.

When you carbonate with nitrogen instead of CO2, it changes the beer completely. Nitrogen does not dissolve in water like CO2 does, which means it basically stays in the beer until it’s poured, whether out of a tap, can or bottle. This makes for a much thicker feel when it’s inside the mouth. We’re not talking Hudson River thick, though. It’s not chewy, or gummy. It’s creamy, almost as though you’re drinking a milkshake. Doesn’t that sound nice? Well, it doesn’t end there. Nitrogen also makes for a much less acidic beer, which helps diminish some of throat burn one gets from normal beers.

Aesthetically, the creamy Nitro beers just look tastier. When poured correctly–hard into the glass with the bottle completely upside down–you get a really cool cascading affect as the bubbles rush downward and the head seems to rise from the depths of the pour. It’s almost soothing to watch. The delicious, creamy taste is almost a bonus.

Today’s nitro beverage is the Black House Nitro–an oatmeal stout from Modern Times Beer in San Diego, CA. Strap in, because what the good people at Modern Times have put together here is nothing short of phenomenal–one of the best stouts I’ve had on my craft beer journey so far.

The brewery itself has an interesting identity, as the name was inspired by a utopian community named The Socialist Community of Modern Times, which was built on Long Island in the 1851 (currently Brentwood). The main ideology of the community centered around individual sovereignty–the belief that the every individual is responsible for seeking their own purpose in life. When you look at the brewery’s inventory of unique, complex and experimental brews, Modern Times really feels like a fitting name. Hopefully, the brewery will last longer than 13 years.

I first spotted the Black House Nitro, a limited release based on Modern Times’ Black House year-round sout, on Instagram, and immediately knew I had to try it. Much to my chagrin, I discovered it’s basically only sold in California. Never one to be denied my dreams, I turned to the internet for help. Luckily, Inside the Cellar had literally one can left. As soon as it arrived (along with a couple other choice brews I picked up to fill out my order), I popped the top, poured it into my fancy glass and put it on the first window sill I could find. I was not disappointed.

The coffee (also produced in house at Modern Times), cocoa and coconut aromas really stand out when you lift the glass to your nose. All of those flavors come through immediately when you start drinking, but they don’t overpower. It’s a perfect balance of the sweet with the bitter, a truly exquisite experience.

I can’t recommend this beer enough, but it is a limited release, so you might have to work hard to track one down for yourself. As always, check it out on our Instagram, and visit Modern Times Beer next time you’re in San Diego.

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