Boston Beer Co. founder Kim Koch demonstrates what happens when a canned nitro beer is poured into a glass.

Boston Beer Co. founder Kim Koch demonstrates what happens when a canned nitro beer is poured into a glass.

Ashley leduc

Enthusiasm for craft beer is accelerating at an incessant rate, and it’s all breweries can do to keep up with demand for new and innovative products. 

One of the latest industry trends is nitrogen. Many bars are installing special taps to serve beer using nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide, and it’s becoming so popular, big breweries like Boston Beer Co., Samuel Adams' parent company, are jumping on board.

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So why nitrogen?

Nitrogen affords brewers the ability to capture both bitter and smooth qualities of a beer by changing its carbonation and mouth feel. The bubbles formed in a nitro beer are smaller than those with carbon dioxide, which creates a smooth texture and dense head.

In hoppy brews, for example, the nitrogen counteracts the zesty flavor by cloaking the top of the beer in a blanket of dense foam created from the carbonation.

"The nitro offers a beautiful creamy head along with cascading bubbles along with a much more pronounced smoother taste," said D.J. Paul, a writer at Brewpublic, in a recent interview. "Plus nitro beers tend to be a bit less filling than their CO2 counterparts."

Boston Beer Co., Samuel Adams parents company, launched the Nitro Project nationwide in January 2016.

Boston Beer Co., Samuel Adams parents company, launched the Nitro Project nationwide in January 2016.

Ashley Leduc

Now in cans

Historically, nitro has been a something of a novelty usually consumed if a bar invested in a special tap. However, since the larger companies have been getting into the trend, it's become more widely available at local grocery stores in cans.

Both Guinness and Boston Brewing Co. have invented "widgets" that hold nitrogen in a ball at the bottom of the can. When the top is popped, condensed gas races upward carbonating the beer.

It’s worth noting that Guinness has been serving its flagship beer with nitro on draft and in cans since the mid-20th century. But the company has in recent years been adding new recipes.

The Guinness Nitro IPA is a mix of two cultures. Brewers say it embodies the style of an English IPA, but it's made it in Dublin. The brewery uses several different hops, including admiral, topaz and celeia, for bittering and flavor before dry-hopping the recipe and infusing it with nitrogen. The mission is to balance the texture and taste, according to Guinness' website. 

"Guinness perfected nitrogenated beer almost 60 years ago, so we believed we could really add something new to the style," said brewer Luis Ortega on the website.

Boston Brewing Co. debuted Samuel Adams' The Nitro Project in early 2016. The expansion welcomed three new beers to market -- Nitro Coffee Stout, Nitro IPA, and Nitro White Ale -- with the promise of more the come. All three are served in packs of four, 15-ounce nitrogen enhanced cans.

Jim Koch, chairman and founder of Boston Brewing Co., said in the company's latest earnings conference call that the Nitro Project is part of the company’s growing focus on craft niche products.

"We believe that craft beer will continue to grow and that we are well positioned to share in that growth and meet the challenge of the current environment, through the quality of our beers, our innovation capability and our sales execution strength, coupled with our strong financial position that enables us to invest in growing our brands," he said.

Looking for nitro beer on tap in Dallas-Fort Worth? Locations include:

Emily Fann is a member of Southern Methodist University’s 2017 class. She is pursuing a double major in English literature, and journalism. For more information, you can contact her by email at efann@smu.edu.

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