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The Tale of Nitro & the Widget

by BeSpoken

As a newbie getting into the craft beer culture, I rely on the experts to teach me all the latest and greatest from their tasting adventures. Although drinking vicariously is not recommended, reading Tara Nurin’s Libations column in NJ Monthly breaks it down nicely, and is usually my first stop on the malt, hops & yeast trail.

In this month’s Special 40th Anniversary issue of New Jersey Monthly, Nurin introduces us to the term Nitro.   A thrill ride at Six Flags?  An 80’s heavy metal glam band?  Or…exploding beer?  Maybe all three, but for now, let’s go with exploding beer.

Nurin writes, “It’s a draft phenomenon – like frothy bubbles.”   I’ve heard the hype about nitro-infused cold brewed coffee, so now I’m curious about how these tiny bubbles work their magic in beer.

Typically, Nitro beer can be found on tap, but that’s not the only way for one to face the froth.  Enter the ball widget.  Not a web widget, but a small plastic mechanical device that resembles a hollow ping-pong ball that floats inside a beer can.  It’s filled with nitrogen that releases gas through a little hole when the can is open, creating a foamy texture on top that results in a smoother, fuller flavor that is best used in milk stouts, dry stouts (i.e. Guinness), pales, and bitters.

Actually, Guinness pioneered the first nitrogenized beer formula in the 1960’s, followed by their patented widget ball in 1969, which eventually led to the “Smoothifier” widget in cans in 1989.  Although they released the first canned Nitro IPA a few years ago, U.S. breweries like Samuel Adams and Left Hand Brewing  have taken up the torch to create their own secret recipe for their new line of nitro beer in cans and bottles.   So much science, so much beer!

Thanks, Tara Nurin for your beer-tastic knowledge, and turning us on to the frothy bubbles of Nitro beer.  I look forward to learning and tasting more!

BeSpokenThe Tale of Nitro & the Widget