San Diego beer hit another packaging milestone in January, when a couple of local breweries released nitrogenized beer in bottles and cans for the first time. Modern Times kicked it off with a nitro version of its Black House coffee stout flavored with cocoa and coconut. A week later, Ballast Point delivered Red Velvet, a unique golden oatmeal stout flavored with chocolate and colored with beet juice to invoke the experience of its namesake cake.
Nitro beers are carbonated with nitrogen gas more than straight carbon dioxide. They benefit from tiny bubbles, which give their effervescence a creamier mouthfeel than the fizz of carbonation. In bars, such beers typically pour from a dedicated tap affixed with a restrictor plate that agitates the beer, releasing the bubbles to produce the creamy texture and foamy head.
Guinness famously inserted a plastic widget into nitro bottles and cans in the late '80s, to effectively package its stout with nitro and achieve the agitation of the bubbles in the beer when opened. Like Colorado's Left Hand Brewing, which became the first American craft brewery to package nitro beer in 2014, Modern Times and Ballast Point have packaged their nitrogenized beer without a widget.
But they do offer instructions. The Modern Times can advises, "For best results pour hard." Red Velvet's shrinkwrapped bottles suggest you "Pour with purpose," placing the bottle upside-down over your glass. Each of the breweries followed this up with video posts to social media, showing how a hard pour produces a foamy head and cascading effect, wherein bubbles fall down the sides of the glass, rather than up like regular carbonation.
Of course, if you poured a standard carbonated beer, say a pilsner or IPA this way, you would get bubbles and foam pouring out of your glass. So when you follow the pour hard instructions, there's an almost exhilarating moment when the foam threatens to overflow — but it never does.
Both nitro beers were characterized as a limited run by their respective breweries, so San Diego nitro beers on local shelves may not last long. However, Nitro Black House proved popular enough that Modern Times released a second run in February, and Belching Beaver has plans to release a nitro version of its Beavers Milk Stout.
That one's packaging instructs, "When pouring nitro, pour straight up!"