Craft brewers will share the hardest to find hops, but there’s one thing they still won’t share with each other: the secret to packaged nitro beers. The process to get the creamy, thick pour that Guinness made famous is a trade secret. Some use a plastic in-can widget to release the nitrogen gas while others, like Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Company, have a secret method that uses just beer and nitrogen gas. With no one talking, it means NorthGate Brewing had to find the answer themselves.
NorthGate will be the first Minnesota brewery to can a beer using nitrogen when Maggie’s Leap Nitro Milk Stout officially hits stores in four-packs on September 6.
“We’ve been trying for about a year,” says co-owner Adam Sjogren. “Once we had the kegging process down, that was the big thing. We were 80 percent there and just had to get the last 20 percent. But I now understand why nobody else will talk about it,” he says. The last 20 percent is the key to successfully canning a nitro beer, but is a closely held secret, one that, he explains, is an ah-ha moment once it’s sorted out.
Earlier this year when Sjogren and the NorthGate team traveled to the Craft Brewers Conference they picked the brains of anybody and everybody who would talk. “It’s not what people say, it’s what they don’t say that clues you in,” he says. By reading between the lines, NorthGate pieced together the last part of the process, making it more of an industry puzzle than a secret, perhaps.
Maggie’s Leap is a nitro-only beer (there is no version carbonated with carbon dioxide) and has been limited to kegs until cans go public next week. “We knew it could be done,” Sjogren reflects, though with significant research and development and some new equipment. Ultimately, the canned beer is the same as a pint at the bar, just smaller. Drinkers at home do need to pour a nitro beer differently, as noted on the lip of the can: pour aggressively to release the nitrogen gas, instead of the careful tilted pour used with most beers.
With a successful launch, NorthGate plans to follow Maggie’s Leap with Publican Pub Ale cans next fall. Noting the popularity of other nitro beers in the U.K., such as Guinness and Boddingtons, Sjogren says that NorthGate’s attention to the style makes sense for this own brand, which is influenced by U.K. brewing.
“We got to it first in Minnesota. I’m assuming we’re not going to be the only one for long,” Sjogren says, soaking in the moment. “I’m assuming that others have been experimenting for just as long. I’ll tell you it feels good to be the first,” he laughs, adding that he’s been asked by many of his peers and refuses to spill the secret process. “Everyone who has asked says, ‘I understand, I wouldn’t tell you either…’”