Nitrogen vs. CO2: What’s the Difference?

by | Feb 23, 2016 | Food & Related Products

If you love craft beer, then chances are, you’ve also noticed that the strength of the carbonation plays a role in your drinking experience and can even affect the flavor of the beer. Nowadays, nitrogenated beer is gaining popularity in the craft beer circuit, with new varieties popping up that utilize this technique. So what makes it different than traditional carbonation?

Understanding CO2
Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is the clear, colorless glass that adds fizz to your beer. Different styles of beer depend upon the level of carbonation; thus, if you’re brewing your own, you’ll want to adjust the level of beer carbonation depending on what it is you’re brewing. A Hefeweizen has a higher lever of carbonation than brown ale, for example. Of course, when brewing your own beer, you run the risk of it being either over-carbonated or under-carbonated, so it’s best to be careful—or to use a carbonation system for greater control.

What’s Nitrogenated Beer?
Nitrogenated beer, or nitro beer, is quickly becoming a favorite amongst craft brewers. Basically, it’s exactly what it sounds like: beer that has been infused with nitrogen gas, rather than CO2. Since nitrogen gas is insoluble, it creates a different, almost softer, type of fizz in the beer.

Creamier Texture
Due to the tiny bubbles in nitro beer, it has a creamier, smoother, and thicker mouthfeel. If you’ve ever drunk a Guinness or Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout, then you’re familiar with the experience. Nitro beers are often served at a colder temperature than CO2 beer, as well, which can add to the texture and taste. If you’re looking for a heavier beer, but want to switch it up from porters and stouts, then you might want to give a dark nitro brew a shot.

Less Bitterness
Nitro beers tend to have a maltier taste than CO2 beers, as the nitrogen tends to dull the hoppy flavors. Therefore, if you’re more into the taste of hops, then nitro beer might leave you something to be desired. But if a hoppy flavor isn’t your thing, then a nitro beer might wind up being your next favorite. Additionally, CO2 itself is acidic, which also serves to enhance those bitter flavors.

Of course, it all comes down to a matter of personal preference. Regardless of whether you prefer CO2 or nitro beers, it’s easy to agree that the power of carbonation is truly a wondrous thing.

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