Learn to Love Little Bubbles with Left Hand’s Nitro Series

Photo: Left Hand Brewing

I’m not afraid to say it: I like Guinness, and I like ordering it on draft and watching its rightly famous cascade, those smooth, fine bubbles accumulating in that creamy, cloudy head.

There is one key ingredient that gives Guinness its distinct aesthetics: nitrogen gas. For a long time, Guinness was the only brewery using nitrogen. Their marketing even featured the nifty little widget they use in their cans and bottles. But craft brewers weren’t about to let that stand, and in 2011, Left Hand Brewing emerged as pioneers in the field when they became the first craft brewer to release a bottled nitro beer without a widget.

At the 2017 Naperville Summer Ale Fest, Left Hand wants to help you fall in love with the little, smooth bubbles of a nitro beer with a full four nitro offerings.

Before you go, let’s get you up to speed on nitrogenated beers.

What You Need to Know to Sound Smart

Surprisingly, there’s not that much out there on nitrogenation. That’s because most breweries had to figure it out on their own, and then they keep their secrets pretty close to their vests. You’re more likely to see homebrewers talking about it than breweries.

But the basics aren’t that tough, so here’s a little tutorial so you can sound smart with your friends.

1. Nitrogen Beer Is Not Natural

You probably know that most beer is carbonated. That’s because fermentation naturally produces carbon gas — along with alcohol. In addition, brewers give their beer a little carbonation boost prior to bottling, canning, or kegging, so that you get that familiar “hard” quality. If you’ve ever had cask-conditioned ale, you know it feels “softer,” and that’s in part because it has less carbonation.

Nitrogen, on the other hand, does not occur naturally as part of the brewing process. Brewers have to artificially add it in at the end of the cycle.

2. Nitrogen Is Hard to Dissolve

Without getting too technical, there are two main problems brewers have to overcome to nitrogenate. First, nitrogen gas creates more pressure, so they have to make sure all their containers can handle it safely. That’s usually not a problem if you can just get the right equipment.

Second, nitrogen doesn’t dissolve nicely in beer like carbonation does. This makes it trickier to get the nitrogen into the beer, much less to keep it there until you’re ready to pour.

Guinness and Boston Beer overcome this problem with little widgets inside their cans or bottles. These widgets store the nitrogen until you open the container, and you can hear them hissing as they release the gas.

Pubs can install special nitro tap handles that have what’s called a restrictor plate. Stay with me now, because if you remember this term you can ask your server about it and get extra beer-geek points. Basically, this is just a disc with little holes in it that agitates the beer enough to create that pretty cascade (see footnote for extra technical stuff).

They’ll probably have a restrictor-plate tap at the Naperville Summer Ale Fest, or else you’ll see them pouring aggressively straight from the bottles. Keep in mind that sometimes volunteers work the stations, so don’t give your server a hard time if they’re not sure.


Technically, nitro beers are not purely nitrogen gas but usually around 30% carbonation. The restrictor plate actually breaks out the carbonation from the beer, which causes the cascade. The cascade consists of bubbles “falling” down the sides of the glass but rising up through the middle because physics.

Your Left Hand Nitro Beer Checklist

Now that you know probably more than you wanted to about nitro beers, here are the four beers from Left Hand Brewing to look for at the 2017 Naperville Summer Ale Fest:

Nitro Milk Stout

Photo: Left Hand Brewing

If you’ve seen any of Left Hand’s Nitro series, it’s probably this one. It put them on the map as leaders in nitrogenation because they did it without any widgets. If you haven’t had it, then maybe start here.

Milk Stout Nitro has that beautiful cream cascade that forms a thick head. Your experience begins with aromas of brown sugar, vanilla cream, and coffee, which lead to a roasty, mocha character in the sip that Left Hand calls the “pure bliss of milk chocolate fullness.”

Hard Wired Nitro


Photo: Left Hand Brewing

We know the stout / porter distinction feels confusing and a bit fuzzy, but why not try your own taste comparison — on nitro! This porter has a soft head that’s toffee-sweet. The taste has lots of coffee as well as caramelized sugar and cacao, and even some blueberry. And while your stouts will often have a roast quality, expect this porter to be a little smokier.

Braveheart Nitro


Photo: Left Hand Brewing

Nitrogen favors malt-forward beers, and Scotch ales are about as malt-forward as they get. On nitro, this brew is exceptionally smooth, allowing you to really savor the bready malt with its notes of caramel.

Bittersweet Nitro


Photo: Left Hand Brewing

Maybe you don’t think of yourself as a “bittersweet” beer person, but how do you feel about chocolate-covered espresso beans? News flash: those are bittersweet, and if you like to throw back a few of espresso beans after lunch, you’ll probably really dig this imperial coffee milk stout. It’s smooth, creamy, and features undertones of dark cherry and spices.

Sawtooth Nitro


Photo: Left Hand Brewing

Left Hand’s Sawtooth is already a great APA. Nitrogen smooths it out so that nutty flavors emerge in the malt, but it still allows the herbal hops to shine.

Wake Up Dead Nitro


Photo: Left Hand Brewing

I’m a sucker for Russian Imperial Stout, anyway, so this isn’t a hard sell for me. This is a big style: big flavor, big aromas and mouthfeel, big ABV. Nitrogen makes this a little more quaffable than your average Russian Imperial, but don’t get crazy. Take your time and enjoy the rich blend of cocoa, dried fruit, and licorice.

2017 Naperville Ale Fest
July 15th 2017
Naper Settlement
VIP: 12:00 – 5:00 pm
General Admission: 1:00 – 5:00 pm




Lager Lane
2017 Naperville Summer Beer List

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