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Many years, many beers, and three-thousand miles ago I knew that someday I would be a brewmaster for a small, craft brewery. I also knew exactly what type of beer I would always have on tap. And on those days when I would end a good hard day’s work with a pint in hand, I always knew it would be a dry stout.

The variety of different beer styles in the world is truly fascinating, and though there are a few new styles that pop up that are vastly different than anything else that has ever been made (should we brew Unnamed Species again?) most of these styles have been with us for hundreds of years. Different beer styles have been described as refreshing, light, crispy, dank, juicy, roasty, rich, dark, fruity, boozy, hot, cold, hoppy, flinty, earthy, bitter, sour, tart, with notes of marmalade, red berries, treacle, coffee, tea, leather, horse blanket, gooseberries, et cetera ad infinitum.

If these are all the flavors and character that beer can have then I guess it is best that we have a lot of different varieties. Some of these flavors, when combined incorrectly, can have catastrophic effects — or at least impressively unpalatable effects. We also see different beer characteristics and flavors neutralize each other when combined. I certainly have found this when cooking an off-the-cuff stir fry where the more spices you add the less it tastes like anything, sort of like mixing paints to make taupe.

I guess what I like about Dry Stout is what it is not. Kinda zen.

When most people think about stouts and other dark beers they think of a heavy, sweet, high alcohol, sticky-with-dark-roastiness beer best consumed in the cold dark of winter. Though I do enjoy beers like that on occasion, in the cold dark of winter, that is not the pint I have after work. Dry Stout, and particularly Nitro Dry Stout is a simple, pure ale with an especially satisfying twist. Coming in at a modest 4.5% ABV, Dry Stout is a refreshing and sessionable beer. The “dry” in Dry Stout is in regard to the low residual sugar content — so low, in fact, that we can float it on top of our Pale Ale and ESB (be sure to check out our British Half and Half at the tasting room). Though brewed with plenty of hops to add just the right amount of bitterness for balance it is not a hoppy beer. And though, yes, it is a dark ale, that black color is actually a deep, deep red that looks amazing when it catches the sunlight on a spring day. 

To get just the right hue and delicate roast flavor we use only roasted barley from England and, instead of milling it and mashing it with the rest of the pale base malts, we pull it aside and carefully pour the roast grist over the grain bed in the lauter tun just before we start spraying the lauter with sparge water. So, in effect, the first wort that we collect from the batch is yellow and then about halfway through the lauter process gradually becomes darker and darker. I have heard of this technique being called “mash staining” but we call it “black sparge” because it sounds way cooler.

What about the nitro part, you ask? That is just a name to make it sound extreme, like Mt. Dew Code Red. Naw, that’s cap, just kidding. We call it Nitro Dry Stout because we go through great pains to get a bunch of nitrogen in the beer. Unlike carbon dioxide which dissolves happily and willingly in beer, nitrogen would rather be free out of your pint and back into the atmosphere. We go about getting the nitro in there by two methods.  

The first method is one we use when kegging Nitro Dry Stout, and we call it the “nitro rack” (rack simply means to move beer, wine, etc. from one vessel to another). A nitro rack is when we move the beer while injecting a bunch of nitrogen into the beer on the way. Since the nitrogen wants to get out of the beer right away we do a series of small nitro racks for each full-sized batch of the dry stout into a smaller tank. As soon as that tank is full we keg it up as fast as we can to capture all that nitrogen in the beer and seal it up before it can foam out. It is a fun challenge.

The second way we get nitrogen into Nitro Dry Stout is specifically for the cans. Here we count on a bit more science and technology — the Dry Stout runs from the tank through the canning line and into the can (with no nitrogen added), then, just before the lid of the can slides on and is seamed securely, there is a quick shot of liquid nitrogen that squirts into the beer and is sealed in before it boils off. If you think canning beer outside in February could make your hands cold, try it with liquid nitrogen. I keep a bucket of hot water nearby.

So we see that Nitro Dry Stout is really a simple, clean, refreshing (though dark) ale. What is all this fuss about getting the nitro in there? Well, it is exactly that which makes nitrogen so hard to get into the beer that makes it so, so satisfying. When the nitrogen is allowed to escape the beer in the controlled setting of pouring a pint or (gently shaken) can into a glass a subtle dance of natural forces takes place before our eyes. Tiny bubbles of nitrogen break out everywhere throughout the glass of beer. At first the beer seems a muddy brown (taupe?) before you realize that the light color is actually many thousands of tiny bubbles of nitrogen swirling, trying to make sense of their new form. Waves of tiny bubbles actually dive downward in the glass and back around and up until they find rest in a thick layer of foam, bright white, upon the tranquil depths of blackness below.

Trust me when I say that a pint of Nitro Dry Stout goes down easy. But to enjoy one, one must be patient, observe, let the anticipation build a bit. Then the first sip, the foam mustache, the rings of “lace” left on the glass from each satisfying gulp, and at the end, the last bit of foam slides down till there is nothing left.


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