Beer Man

Left Hand Finally Gets Some Competition in the Bottled Nitro Beer Category from Utah's Wasatch Brewery

More than three years after Longmont's Left Hand Brewing became the first U.S. beer-maker to bottle and sell a nitrogenated beer, a second American craft brewer has finally figured out how to do the same. The company, Utah's Wasatch Brewery, just happens to be located in an adjacent state and will officially introduce Polygamy Nitro Porter in Colorado this week.

“We'd been making Polygamy Nitro on draft forever, so when Left Hand came out with theirs in a bottle, I said, 'Guys, let's put this together and figure out how to do this,'” says Wasatch founder Greg Schirf. “But it turned out to be one hell of a challenge. It took us a year and a half.”

Beers that are injected with nitrogen when they are tapped at a bar have a smooth and creamy mouthfeel and distinctive look in which the bubbles cascade up from the bottom, giving the beer a thick head. Nitro beer bottles are designed to be poured hard – almost completely upside down – which releases the nitrogen, causing the same effect.

Schirf says the brewery tried “every which way” to get the process right so that the beer would pour creamy and bubbles would cascade, and each time, something wouldn't work right – until finally the brewery found the secret, one that neither Left Hand or Wasatch is likely to share anytime soon.  “We were tempted to call Left Hand and ask them how they hell they were doing it, but they would have probably just laughed at us,” he says.

“A lot of breweries have reached out to us,” confirms Left Hand spokesman Chris Lennert of the brewery's the nitro process. “But that is kind of where the secret sauce is. We will help people with anything. But not that.”

Still, Left Hand doesn't see the beer as a threat to its lineup, which began with Milk Stout Nitro in September 2011 and has grown to include nitro versions of its Sawtooth ESB and Wake Up Dead, a Russian imperial stout.

“I had it a couple of weeks ago. It's good,” Lennert says of Polygamy Nitro Porter. “With us being the first nitro beer, I think ours has become iconic, but new ones will just bring attention to the category.”

Milk Stout Nitro has become Left Hand's best-selling beer, and last year, the company created Nitro Fest, which is designed to be an annual event showcasing nitro beers.

Several other breweries have begun canning nitro beers, including Left Hand's Longmont neighbor, Oskar Blues and Sarnac in New York, but those packages use widgets, a device that Guinness pioneered to create nitrogenation in the can. 

Left Hand and Wasatch, on the other hand, have both figured out how to inject nitrogen into the beer as it is bottled. (Updated and corrected): Another brewery, Vault Brewing in Pennsylvania, recently announced that is has also figured out how to do this without a widget, but in a can; that company unveiled its first widgetless nitro beer in a can, Nitro Can Coffee Stout, last month.

The 6 percent ABV Polygamy Nitro Porter is a version of the Polygamy Porter that Wasatch has been brewing since 2001. The name and tagline – “Why have just one?” – is a shot at the old Mormon tradition of polygamy.

The beer is already on store shelves around Denver, but Wasatch will host an unveiling party on Thursday, April 16 at World of Beer in LoDo, where it will offer pouring demonstrations, free tastings, giveaways and a chance to hang out with brewmaster Jon Lee.

Wasatch distributes in fifteen states. 

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes