If you were asked to pick a nitrogen-infused beer out of a lineup without tasting it, all you’d have to do is look for the one with cascading bubbles and a pillowy white head. Most beers you’ll find in liquor stores and on tap at your local brewery are carbonated—it’s what happens naturally during the fermentation phase of the brewing process. What makes nitrogenized beers (a.k.a. nitro beers) different is that they’re infused with nitrogen gas. Compared to traditional carbonation, that gives the beer smaller bubbles and a smoother, creamier texture. While any style of beer can be made a nitro beer, most breweries favor richer, more chocolatey brews like porters and stouts.
It wasn’t all that long ago that you could only get nitro beer on tap. Because it tends to go flat quickly, most breweries don’t even allow for growler fills of their nitro beers. However, new advancements in brewing and packaging technology have allowed more breweries to experiment with the style. Slowly but surely, nitro beers have found their way to bottle shops nationwide. Want to give this creamy, smooth style a try? Below, we’ve rounded some of our favorite nitro beers you can enjoy at home.
The Best Nitro Beers to Drink at Home
1. Guinness Irish Stout
You have to respect the original. Though nitro beers have only started appearing on bottle shop shelves in earnest over the last few years, Guinness has made it possible to enjoy the cascading bubbles from home since 1969—first with its iconic Irish Stout and more recently with its IPA. Guinness uses a plastic widget (basically a nitrogen-filled ball that surges with bubbles when you crack the top) to emulate a draft pour. Hysterically, the widget won the Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement in 1991, beating out the internet.
While Guinness may have invented adding nitrogen to beers, Left Hand Brewing in Colorado arguably did the most to popularize it. At any given time the brewery has about six on offer, including the Nitro Milk Stout, Galactic Cowboy Nitro Imperial Stout, Black Forest Nitro Cherry Chocolate Stout, and others. While they’re all good, we’re partial to Flamingo Dreams because of its uniqueness. Nitro beers often resemble boozy chocolate milk, but this berry-forward blonde ale is one-of-a-kind. Like Guinness, it uses a built-in widget to activate the bubbles.
It feels appropriate that Firestone Walker releases its Cinnamon Dolce Nitro Stout during the holiday season—it smells like a Christmas cookie. Brewed with a chocolate malt base, warming cinnamon spice, and Madagascar vanilla beans, this beer tastes like a creamy latte. To experience “the theater of the pour,” the brewery recommends inverting the can three times and then pouring hard (at a 45-degree angle for the first half and a 90-degree for the second) into the glass.
Colorado’s Breckenridge Brewery has given its popular Vanilla Porter the nitro treatment. If you have a sweet tooth, this is a solid nitro offering to reach for. Notes of chocolate, roasted cashew, toffee, coffee, and vanilla are present. The brewery also offers a nice Nitro Irish Stout that’s similar to a Guinness. Both are available year-round and are best served using the hard-pour approach.
Like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in a pint glass, this iteration is arguably an improvement on the (already wildly successful) original. Whereas other nitro beers can feel flat compared to the carbonated version, this nitro milk stout from Belching Beaver is just as rich, but it offers a far more velvety mouthfeel. To serve it, the brand recommends pouring the bottle straight down at a 90-degree angle.
Coffee and chocolate and cream, oh my! If you’re a mocha person this supremely drinkable treat from California-based AleSmith is for you. It’s decadent, but it won’t weigh you down. Honestly, we’d be surprised if you didn’t reach for another.
Silky and sessionable, this year-round brew from Salt Lake City-based Wasatch Brewery has long flown under the radar—odd considering it and its CO2 twin have won multiple World Beer Cup and North American Brewers Association awards. With notes of rich chocolate, cream, espresso, and stone fruit, Nitro Polygamy is a well-done porter that deserves more recognition. Actually, on second thought, let’s keep this a secret between us.