Nitro-Infused Cocktails Are The Latest Mixology Trend
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If you’re a fan of craft beer, you probably know all about nitro. The term refers to the use of nitrogen gas to carbonate beer. Guinness and Boddington’s have been doing it for years and Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout is currently one of the most popular craft stouts in the U.S. The result of carbonation with nitrogen gas is creamy and noticeably carbonated beer. The alternative is CO2 carbonated beers, which are fizzy and bubbly and everything many of us expect when we sip on our favorite IPA, pale ale, or wheat beer.
The rise of nitro-infused beer is similar to the demand for nitro coffee. You can’t seem to visit a coffee shop without seeing a tap for nitro-infused cold brew coffee. Like all trends, it was only a matter of time before bartenders got involved. Mixologists and barkeeps from Baton Rouge to Bakersfield have jumped on the “nitro” bandwagon.
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Now the entire cocktail industry is infused with nitrogen. Similar to the way the gas is used in beer, nitrogen-infused cocktails use nitrogen to affect the texture and mouth-feel. “It’s a way to make drinks smooth and buttery without adding cream or egg whites,” says James Garrido, bartender at The Rabbit Hole at Henley in Nashville. At Henley, Garrido used an iSi canister and gas cartridges, the same device Starbucks uses to make their whipped cream. The result is a cocktail with a creamy mouth-feel with no impact on the overall flavor. Any kind of cocktail can benefit from that texture. Henley loves using the technique in albino grasshoppers, blood and sand, and whiskey sours.
Here are a few ways mixologists are using nitro technology to make better cocktails.
Dunk This Doughnut from Datz (Tampa, FL)
At Datz in Tampa, beverage director Jon Griffiths uses the nitro technique to make the “Dunk This Doughnut cocktail. This drink combines Rittenhouse Rye, Grind coffee liqueur, black walnut bitters, and house-made cold brew. Previously made to-order, the updated version is now on draft, infused with nitrogen to give it a creamy, frothy texture once dispensed.
Griffiths allows nitrogen to dissolve into the liquid, similar to carbonation, but the bubbles last longer and are about 100 times smaller. He makes it similar to most cocktails but in a large batch in a refillable keg. “Nitrogen is then introduced with the help of a diffusion stone under high pressure, usually between 35-40 psi,” he says. The nitrogen makes the overall flavor profile seem sweeter while creating a velvety, creamy texture on the palate.
There’s more than just taste involved, though. “It also adds a really cool cascading effect in the glass as the gasses are released.” Even though his drink is made with coffee liqueur and rye whiskey, Griffiths says nitro works well with myriad other flavors. “Coffee, teas, and even sodas work really with nitrogen.” The creamy texture and perceived sweetness of nitrogen helps to tame the power and acidity the drinks can have without adding sugars. “I also find that cocktails that classically call for egg whites, like a gin fizz or whiskey sour, do well because nitrogen adds such a rich mouthfeel.”
Irish Nitro from Pie Tap Pizza Workshop + Bar (Dallas, TX)
At Pie Tap Pizza Workshop + Bar, Jeff Mahoney uses the technique to make a drink called “Irish Nitro”. This boozy beverage features Irish whiskey, nitro coffee on tap, egg white, simple syrup, and cream. “Brewing the drink with nitrogen creates smaller nitrogen bubbles, giving the drink a silkier texture,” says Mahoney. Like many bartenders, he enjoys nitro cocktails because of the creamier taste and thicker mouthfeel, but his cocktail might remind you of a childhood favorite that’s been adapted for more adult tastes. “Pie Tap’s Irish Nitro Cocktail tastes like a spiked chocolate milk because of the coffee, cream and whiskey combination. We find that whiskey works well with nitro coffee because its dark, sweet taste balances the creaminess of the coffee,” he says.
It’s also perfectly suited for the aperitif crowd. “Pie Tap’s Irish Nitro makes an outstanding after dinner drink and is very popular during brunch as well,” says Mahoney. He sees the rise of nitro-infused cocktails coming from a taste for unique, new flavors. “The fresh flavors, smooth feel and less acidic taste of nitro coffee make it a popular mixer for alcoholic cocktails.”
Nitro Martinis from The Rabbit Hole at Henley (Nashville, TN)
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The chilled vodka martinis at The Rabbit Hole are made with equal parts dry vermouth and vodka. Lemon oil is added for fragrance and the drinks are set in crushed ice. They are then encapsulated in a scented fog using oils, teas, extracts and liquid nitrogen.
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You might think that the nitro cocktail-making technique is expensive, but Griffith says that isn’t the case. “The equipment needed is becoming less expensive and easier to find as home brewing has become so popular these days,” he says.