Using Nitro Instead of CO2 for Homebrew Beer: A Guide to Alternative Beer Carbonation

We cover all aspects of the N02 vs C02 debate. Including what you can expect from a transition to nitro in your brewing.

BEER

Mat Stuckey

8/18/20238 min read

a person is pouring a drink into a glass
a person is pouring a drink into a glass

Using Nitro Instead of CO2 for Homebrew Beer: A Guide to Alternative Beer Carbonation

Using Nitro Instead of CO2 for Homebrew Beer

Homebrewing is an exciting hobby that allows us to experiment with different beer styles and flavours. One aspect of homebrewing that can make a significant difference in the final product is the type of gas used for carbonation and dispensing. While CO2 is the most commonly used gas in homebrewing, some brewers have started to use nitrogen instead. In this article, we will explore the use of nitro instead of CO2 for homebrew beer.

Understanding Nitro and CO2

Nitrogen and CO2 are both gases that can be used for carbonation and dispensing beer. CO2 is the traditional gas used in homebrewing and is known for producing a crisp and refreshing carbonation. Nitrogen, on the other hand, is known for producing a smooth and creamy carbonation, which is why it is commonly used in stouts and other dark beers. Nitrogen also produces smaller bubbles than CO2, which can contribute to a smoother mouthfeel.

Why Use Nitro Instead of CO2

There are several reasons why a homebrewer might choose to use nitrogen instead of CO2. Nitrogen can add a unique flavour and texture to the beer, which can be particularly desirable in stouts and other dark beers. Nitrogen can also produce a longer-lasting head on the beer, which can enhance the overall drinking experience. Additionally, some homebrewers may prefer the smooth and creamy texture that nitrogen produces over the crisp and refreshing texture of CO2.

Key Takeaways

  • Nitrogen produces a smooth and creamy carbonation, while CO2 produces a crisp and refreshing carbonation.

  • Nitrogen can add a unique flavour and texture to the beer, and produce a longer-lasting head.

  • Some homebrewers may prefer the smooth and creamy texture of nitrogen over the crisp and refreshing texture of CO2.

Nitro vs CO2

When it comes to carbonating homebrew beer, there are two main gases to choose from: nitro and CO2. Both gases have their own unique properties that affect the taste, aroma, and texture of the beer.

Properties of Nitro

Nitrogen gas, also known as N2, is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas that is commonly used in beer dispensing systems. Nitro has a lower solubility in liquid compared to CO2, which means it produces smaller bubbles and a creamier head. Nitro is also less acidic than CO2, which can give beer a smoother taste.

When using nitro to carbonate beer, a blend of nitrogen and CO2 gases is typically used. This blend, known as "beer gas" or "nitrogen gas," is usually 70-30 or 80-20 in favour of nitro. It's not recommended to use nitro only, as nitrogen is poorly dissolved in liquid, which can result in a flat beer straight after pouring.

Properties of CO2

Carbon dioxide gas, also known as CO2, is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas that is produced during the fermentation process. CO2 has a higher solubility in liquid compared to nitro, which means it produces larger bubbles and a more effervescent head. CO2 is also more acidic than nitro, which can give beer a sharper taste.

When using CO2 to carbonate beer, it's important to take into account the amount of CO2 that the beer already has. Pressurising the keg with too much CO2 can result in a beer that is too foamy or too flat. It's recommended to use a carbonation chart to determine the appropriate amount of CO2 to use based on the style of beer.

In summary, both nitro and CO2 have their own unique properties that can affect the taste, aroma, and texture of homebrew beer. Choosing the right gas for carbonation depends on personal preference and the style of beer being brewed. It's important to use the appropriate blend of gases and to take into account the amount of gas already present in the beer to achieve the desired carbonation level.

Why Use Nitro Instead of CO2

When it comes to serving beer, the traditional method has been to use CO2 to push the beer from the keg to the tap. However, in recent years, many brewers have been experimenting with using nitrogen (N2) instead of CO2. Here are a few reasons why we might choose to use nitro instead of CO2:

Smooth and Creamy Texture

One of the main reasons to use nitrogen instead of CO2 is to give the beer a smooth and creamy texture. Nitrogen bubbles are smaller and less soluble than CO2, which means they create a smoother mouthfeel in the beer. This can be especially desirable for certain styles of beer, such as stouts and porters, which benefit from a creamy texture.

Less Carbonation

Another benefit of using nitrogen is that it produces less carbonation than CO2. This can be desirable if you want a beer that is less fizzy or if you are serving a beer that has already been carbonated naturally in the bottle. Nitrogen can also help to preserve the flavour of the beer, as it is less likely to react with the beer's compounds than CO2.

Better Dispensing for Certain Beers

Finally, nitrogen can be a better choice for dispensing certain types of beer. For example, beers that have a high alcohol content or are highly hopped can be difficult to dispense with CO2, as the carbonation can cause the beer to foam excessively. Nitrogen can help to mitigate this problem, allowing the beer to be served at the desired pressure without excessive foaming.

Overall, there are several good reasons to consider using nitrogen instead of CO2 for your homebrewed beer. Whether you want a smoother texture, less carbonation, or better dispensing for certain beers, nitrogen can be an excellent choice.

How to Use Nitro for Homebrew Beer

Equipment Needed

To use nitro for homebrew beer, you will need the following equipment:

  • A keg of homebrew beer

  • A stout faucet

  • A tank of beer gas (a blend of nitrogen and CO2 gases)

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Connect the beer gas tank to the stout faucet using a gas line.

  2. Attach the stout faucet to the keg of homebrew beer.

  3. Adjust the pressure of the beer gas to 30-40 psi.

  4. Pour the beer slowly, tilting the glass at a 45-degree angle to create a thick, creamy head.

  5. Enjoy your nitro-powered homebrew beer!

It's important to note that nitro is not recommended for all types of beer. It works best for beers with a low carbonation level, such as stouts, porters, and cream ales. Using nitro for highly carbonated beers can result in a flat and unappealing drink.

Overall, using nitro for homebrew beer can be a fun and unique way to enjoy your creations. With the right equipment and a little bit of know-how, you can create a delicious and creamy pint that is sure to impress your friends and family.

Comparing Nitro and CO2 Homebrews

Flavour Profile

When it comes to flavour, CO2 and Nitro homebrews have distinct differences. CO2 tends to produce a sharper, more carbonated taste, while Nitro produces a smoother, creamier taste. Nitrogen bubbles are smaller than CO2 bubbles, which means that Nitro homebrews have a less aggressive carbonation. This allows the flavour profile of the beer to be more prominent and less dominated by the carbonation.

Mouthfeel

The mouthfeel of a beer can be just as important as its flavour. Nitro homebrews have a creamier, silkier mouthfeel due to the smaller nitrogen bubbles. CO2 homebrews, on the other hand, have a more carbonated and fizzy mouthfeel. The creaminess of Nitro can be attributed to the fact that nitrogen is less soluble in liquid than CO2. This means that Nitro homebrews are less carbonated, resulting in a smoother and more velvety mouthfeel.

Visual Differences

The visual differences between Nitro and CO2 homebrews are striking. Nitro homebrews have a cascading effect that produces a creamy head and a smooth texture. The cascading effect is created by the nitrogen bubbles rising to the top of the glass, resulting in a creamy and velvety texture. CO2 homebrews, on the other hand, produce a frothy and bubbly head that dissipates quickly.

In conclusion, Nitro and CO2 homebrews have distinct differences in flavour, mouthfeel, and visual appearance. Nitro produces a smoother, creamier taste and mouthfeel, while CO2 produces a sharper, more carbonated taste and mouthfeel. Nitro also produces a cascading effect that results in a creamy head and smooth texture, while CO2 produces a frothy and bubbly head that dissipates quickly. The choice between Nitro and CO2 ultimately depends on personal preference and desired outcome.

Potential Challenges with Using Nitro

When using nitro instead of CO2 for homebrew beer, there are a few potential challenges that we should be aware of.

Higher Pressure Requirements

Nitrogen gas requires higher pressure than CO2 to properly carbonate and dispense beer. This means that we may need to invest in a nitrogen tank and regulator, which can be more expensive than CO2 equipment. Additionally, nitrogen tanks are often larger and heavier than CO2 tanks, so we may need to plan for additional storage space.

Longer Conditioning Time

Nitrogen gas is less soluble in liquid than CO2, which means that it takes longer for beer to properly carbonate and condition when using nitro. Homebrewers may need to wait several weeks or even months for their beer to fully carbonate and develop the desired nitro creaminess. This can be frustrating for those who are used to the relatively quick turnaround time of CO2 carbonation.

Limited Beer Styles

Not all beer styles are suitable for nitro carbonation. Nitro works best with beers that have a smooth, creamy mouthfeel, such as stouts, porters, and brown ales. Other styles, such as IPAs and lagers, may not benefit from nitro carbonation and may actually lose some of their hop or malt character. Additionally, some styles may require higher carbonation levels than nitro can provide, making CO2 a better choice.

Cleaning Challenges

Nitrogen gas can also present some cleaning challenges. Because it is less soluble in liquid than CO2, it can be more difficult to remove from beer lines and kegs. This means that we may need to take extra care when cleaning our equipment to prevent off-flavors and contamination. Regular cleaning and maintenance of our nitro equipment is essential to ensure that our beer remains fresh and delicious.

Overall, while using nitro instead of CO2 for homebrew beer can offer some unique benefits, it is important to be aware of the potential challenges and limitations. With the right equipment and techniques, however, we can successfully create delicious nitro beers that are sure to impress.

Benefits of Nitro Homebrew Beer

Nitro homebrew beer has become increasingly popular over the years due to its unique taste and texture. Here are some benefits of using nitro instead of CO2 for your homebrew beer:

1. Creamy Texture

One of the most significant benefits of nitro homebrew beer is its creamy texture. Nitrogen bubbles are smaller than carbon dioxide bubbles, which gives the beer a smoother, creamier mouthfeel. This texture is particularly desirable in stouts and porters.

2. Fuller Flavour

Nitrogen bubbles also enhance the flavour of the beer, making it taste fuller and richer. The nitrogen gas does not dissolve in the beer as quickly as CO2, which means that the beer retains more of its natural flavours. This effect is particularly noticeable in hoppy beers.

3. Longer Lasting Head

Nitrogen bubbles also contribute to a longer-lasting head on the beer. The smaller bubbles take longer to rise to the surface and dissipate, which means that the head lasts longer. This effect is particularly noticeable in nitro stouts.

4. Lower Carbonation

Nitro homebrew beer has lower carbonation levels than CO2 beer. This means that the beer is less fizzy and has a smoother mouthfeel. The lower carbonation also allows the natural flavours of the beer to shine through.

5. Versatility

Nitro can be used for a wide range of beer styles, from stouts and porters to IPAs and lagers. This versatility makes it an attractive option for homebrewers who want to experiment with different beer styles.

Overall, nitro homebrew beer offers a unique taste and texture that is highly desirable for many beer drinkers. Its creamy texture, fuller flavour, longer-lasting head, lower carbonation, and versatility make it an excellent choice for homebrewers who want to take their beer to the next level.

Conclusion

In conclusion, using nitro instead of CO2 for homebrew beer can provide a unique and enjoyable drinking experience. Nitrogen gas creates smaller bubbles, resulting in a creamy and smooth texture that is perfect for stouts and other dark beers.

However, it's important to note that using nitro requires a different setup and equipment than CO2. You'll need a nitro tank, a nitro regulator, and a stout faucet to properly dispense your beer. Additionally, nitrogen is less soluble in liquid than CO2, so you'll need to use a blend of nitrogen and CO2 gases to properly carbonate your beer.

While using nitro for homebrew beer can be a fun experiment, it's not necessarily the best choice for every beer style. Be sure to consider the flavour profile and carbonation needs of your beer before making the switch.

Overall, using nitro instead of CO2 can be a great way to add variety to your homebrewing experience. Just be sure to do your research and invest in the proper equipment to ensure a successful and enjoyable outcome.