"Nitro Fest": A Circus Celebration and Nitrogenated Beers

"Nitro Fest": A Circus Celebration and Nitrogenated Beers

The largest beer festival, called Oktoberfest is held in Munich, Bavaria. / Photo by: Takashi Images via Shutterstock


Beer is typically connected to Germany and to college parties. Oktoberfest is the world’s largest beer festival held in Munich, Bavaria from 16 to 18 days spanning late September and early October and involving more than six million every year. While not as big, never has there ever been quite a festival as the Nitro Fest, a festival that celebrates with an unabated circus flourish and a steady supply of nitrogenated beer.

Explaining Nitro Beer

Saying “nitro beers” makes it sound like someone is drinking diesel engine. It’s like a kid naming a beer out of thin air without actually having tried beer yet. But while its name sounds completely outlandish to those who have no idea what it is, it’s actually pretty real.

Over at the October website, Miles Liebtag describes nitrogenated beer as the type of drink one might have somewhere at a bar in Dublin, Ireland. That’s largely because that’s where they originated. While normal beer just looks like it’s merely one or two shades lighter than urine, nitro beer has a thicker top froth and it doesn’t really look like beer at all. But it is. How come?

“Carbonation in beer occurs naturally as a byproduct of fermentation—yeast creates CO2 as they consume sugars and excrete alcohol. For many centuries, this natural carbonation was the only source of bubbles in beer,” Liebtag explains in the article.

“Today, the vast majority of beer is force carbonated, meaning a specific amount of carbonation is forced into the liquid under pressure, with the exception of bottle or cask-conditioned ales. Nitrogen, however, does not just appear in beer—someone has to put it there.”

Basically, nitro beers is a kind of beer where someone has put a “widget” inside it, a plastic ball containing residual nitrogen that will kick in when the beer is under pressure. It helps make the alcohol a little less biting and, well, a lot prettier.


Compared to a normal beer, nitro beer contains residual nitrogen. / Photo by: PavelKant via Shutterstock


The Nitro Fest

Having explained the core drink at the Nitro Fest, what comes next is the question as to what exactly the Nitro Fest is. According to the Times-Call Lifestyles, which covered the event last November 10, Nitro Fest is a “voodoo-tinged” festival that’s one of a kind.

This year, it’s has spent its fairly new fifth year as the “only festival in the world to exclusively feature nitrogenated beer—a process where a larger percentage of nitrogen gas is used in the carbonation process, creating a creamy end-result and a distinct mouthfeel.”

What the yearly festival aims to do, other than get festival-goers buzzed and hammered, is actually introduce more beermakers in the mainstream and give them a chance to showcase their very own breweries. Currently, Nitro Fest attracts brewers from as far as Europe, from Hungary and Croatia where they can truly get experimental.

Ever since its 2010 conception, the Nitro Fest has made its festival its own by committing to a central theme. Everyone who wants to attend must wear a circus-type outfit, or an ensemble fitting for a Mardi Gras street party. It’s more than a little fun to commit to this theme, of course, especially when the rest of the setting likes committing to it too.

Says Eric Kean, the community outreach manager for Left Hand Brewing, the company that ultimately started this festival in 2010, Nitro Fest likes to “deliver an extremely unusual experience.” As an upshot, there are circus-type performances all around.

Being buzzed over good beer and seeing performers, stilt walkers, and fire dancers could be a very strenuous environment for some, but the experimental nature of the breweries that get to be on the festival fits in nicely with these outlandish performances.

The Spirit of Experiments

And they truly are filled with experimental brands, some of which have never even broken through the market yet.

In an article by Boulder Weekly, it’s mentioned that the festival has even enlisted brewers from Japan, South Korea, Ireland, and from different parts of the UK. Having that many alcoholic drinks in one place can be a real doozy, but for the beer market, it’s great business, and even greater science. Most people just like a good brew, but these guys know that the great science behind stuff like nitrogenated beer is as important in the festival as the number of people drinking during the event.

Nitro Fest shows that traditional brewing methods are important because they have become foundations for the future of other beers to be made after them, but experimental brews push the boundaries of what beer should be and how they should be made.

It also factors in the inclusion among international brewers and gives more budding businesses in the beer market a chance to succeed alongside long-standing and well-known names in the industry.

"Seeing the average beer consumer getting excited about craft beer is really exciting," says Kean. "People are not just going for the generic domestic lager anymore. Then seeing the economic impact it has on the community is amazing. The speed at which the beer community is growing is incredibly fast. Sometimes, it feels like we're on a rollercoaster, holding on with white knuckles."