In this episode we discuss the various ways that you can achieve the “nitro effect” when pouring and serving Nitro Coffee. This seems to be one of the most elusive and sought after tricks of the trade that many people have problems with, but as you’ll learn in this episode, it doesn’t have to be hard and it certainly isn’t hard to make it happen.
Highlights & Takeaways
Old school method: Akin to homebrewers method of force carbonating a keg of beer.
New school method: Use a “Quick Cascade” Keg Lid to reduce the time in a keg under nitrogen pressure.
Use and purpose of a check valve disconnect to prevent back flow of liquid into the gas lines / gas system.
What we mentioned on during this show
Episode 16 Transcript
Brendan: Hey there, welcome back to the Drips and Draughts Podcast. As always I’m Brendan Hanson and I’ll be your host today.
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Alright, so as I mentioned a moment ago, we don’t have any guests scheduled for today, so I’m going old school, it’s just me today. But hopefully, be able to provide you guys some information and some education on one of our new products that we’ve been offering, that’s been getting great feedback so far. And this is a product that has really simplified the process of making Nitro Coffee.
Nitro Coffee as you all know, is one of those things that still has that big buzz around it. And it’s probably only going to get bigger because of the fact that Starbucks just announced that they’re going to start serving nitro coffee in about- I think it was 200 of their locations. So now that you’ve got Starbucks promoting nitro coffee, there’s going to be a lot more people that are learning about nitro coffee and seeking it out, wanted to try it. So now is a good time to get into nitro coffee. Starbucks is the advertising machine that can help fuel your coffee business.
One of the selling points that I’ve seen or heard so far, is the fact that- well, as most of you know nitro cold brew, nitro coffee is generally served black, you’re just getting that creamy texture and that creaminess from the nitrogen that’s in there. So you’re serving a black coffee which is relatively low calorie. And that’s what I’ve seen in one of these ads, is you’re getting a 12 ounce glass of coffee that only has five calories or whatever their calorie count was, it was single digits or whatever it was.
So combined with big chain starting to promote nitro coffee and all the buzz around craft beer and draft beer, nitro coffee is going to be a great addition to any coffee shop out there, because let’s face it, it caters to a different crowd. And if you’re catering to a different crowd, you are potentially increasing your market.
All right, enough about the big guys and building and increasing your market. Let’s get into today’s episode, where we’re talking about our New Nitro Coffee Quick Cascade Keg Lids.
If you’re listening to this episode, you’ve almost certainly tried cold brew coffee. You’ve probably tried nitro coffee and you’re either thinking about getting into making nitro coffee or you’ve tried making nitro coffee potentially unsuccessfully. And I say unsuccessfully, because this is one of the most common questions that we do get is, “I’ve got my draft equipment, I’ve got my keg, I’ve got my nitrogen tank, I’ve got the coffee in the keg, I’ve got it, I’ve got the pressure cranked up, but my coffee is pouring flat. I even have a stout faucet and it’s still just coming out the style faucet flat. What’s going on?”
So the reason that so many of us have problems pouring a creamy frothy cascadian cup of coffee the first time we try it, is because you essentially have to get the coffee to absorb the gas that you’re using, the nitrogen gas. And nitrogen isn’t a very soluble gas, in comparison to CO2, which is used in beer and sodas, nitrogen is not very easily dissolved into liquids.
So historically, what we did in order to nitrogen in our coffee and what we suggested that people do, was basically shake their keg, agitate their keg. And we adapted this from home brewing, before we were kegging our coffee, we were home brewers and after we made a batch of beer, after we brewed the beer, let it ferment for two weeks and then got it into a keg. We didn’t want to wait two more weeks for that beer to carbonate, which is about how long it would take, if we just let it sit under carbon dioxide pressure and let it naturally carbonate.
So we started using a method that’s known to home brewers as Forced Carbonation.
And what Forced Carbonation is, it’s basically cranking up the pressure on your keg of beer higher than what you’re serving pressure is going to be and agitating the keg at the same time. So what you’re trying to do is, basically infuse the beer with more carbon dioxide than it can handle, which essentially turns your two week waiting period into a one or two day waiting period. If you’re curious about forced carbonation or how forced carbonation looks and works, hop on to YouTube and just type in Force Carbonating or How to Force Carbonate a Keg, and you’ll see a lot of videos pop up, a bunch of dudes home brewing beer and a bunch of dudes, shaking five gallon kegs.
So getting back to coffee. When we started kegging our coffee and trying to infuse the nitrogen, we basically use the same process. And it definitely works to get the nitrogen into the coffee faster. And that’s one of the first ways that we began creating nitro coffee. We basically turned the pressure up to about 40 PSI, we lay the keg on its side and we’d rock it back and forth for five minutes. Only difference being nitrogen is not very soluble. So you do that once with a keg of beer and it’s probably going to be carbonated the next day, it’s going to be ready to go for you.
With coffee and with nitrogen you do that once and you’re probably still going to have flat coffee, with coffee and nitrogen, you’ve got to do that once every four to six hours for about, I’d say a 48 hour window. You’ve got to hop in there and you’ve got to shake that keg between six to eight times in a 48 hour window, in order to get it properly infused with nitrogen. As you can imagine that’s a lot of work. Especially, if you’re dealing with a lot of kegs. Not only is it a lot of work, but it could be dangerous, if your gas line is short, if you’ve got a nitrogen tank that’s sitting right next to you, maybe you knock your nitrogen tank over, just really not the best method to get that nitrogen into the keg.
So another similar method to this Force Carbonating the Keg, that I’ve only heard about, I haven’t seen it, I haven’t tried it, I haven’t been able to verify that this actually has happened or exists. But I’ve heard this from a couple people now, and I should say that I’ve only heard this applying to two and a half and three gallon kegs, but it’s basically taking the forced carbonation method and speeding that process up even more by putting the keg into a paint shaker. So attaching it to a nitrogen hose and putting the keg in a paint shaker and just letting that thing go for- I really don’t know how long, probably, 5, 10, maybe 15 minutes and getting it to the point where it’s fully infused with nitrogen.
I’d like to say that I’ve tested this and tried it out but I haven’t, I really haven’t. Cary and I have looked into paint shakers and that’s probably one of the most limiting factors of this is paint shakers, cheap ones started a few hundred dollars and if you’re looking to get something that’s a little more industrial and a little more safe looking that’s not going to want your keg out somewhere, you’re looking at spending a couple thousand dollars. It’s not something that’s entirely feasible, at least not for the average person out there.
If you’ve got a larger coffee shop and you’ve got a- I don’t know a nice R&D budget, maybe grab a paint shaker and call me up, I’d like to do a video podcast on that. I’m sure the audience would like that too.
All right. So the adapted method of force carbonating, I guess you’d call, Forced Nitrogenating. It works but it is a lot of work, it is a lot of effort and it’s not as quick as it could be. And that’s why we’re now working with and selling these quick cascade lids that we’ve made.
And what these quick cascade lids are? They basically replace the lid on your corny keg, they’ve got ball lock connection on the top. So you’re attaching your gas hose rather than the in lip post, which sits above the level of your beverage, coffee in this case, you attach your gas hose to the lid itself and then the lid, it’s got a piece of high pressure line that goes all the way down to the bottom of the keg. And on the end of that high pressure line, there’s a half micron diffusion stone and that’s kind of where the magic happens is, in that diffusion stone.
So when you’re applying gas pressure to your keg, rather than all the gas just being in the headspace of the keg, at the top of the keg, the gas is coming out of the bottom in this or through this diffusion stone, which is a half a micron and it’s basically creating all these tiny bubbles, essentially agitating your coffee for you. So you’re not having to shake the keg. So all the gases coming in from the bottom and it goes up through the coffee, so all your coffee is being permeated with these tiny micro bubbles and you’re basically able to speed the process up from a couple weeks, to a couple days if you agitate the keg, to under 30 minutes, if you’re using one of these diffusion stones.
And where the magic really happens with these things, is when you start pouring the coffee. Obviously you’re going to pour out of a stout faucet, you’re still serving at a high pressure and it’s the stout faucet that gives you that rich creamy pour. But when you dry out of the stout faucet what happens is, is rather than the gas is just coming through the normal gas in post which sits above the level of the liquid, when you pull that liquid out, rather than just pushing more nitrogen into the headspace of the keg, you’re basically pushing gas in through the bottom of the keg and it’s agitating that liquid. As you’re removing liquid through the faucet, you’re replacing that space with gas, that’s coming up through the bottom of all of the remaining liquid. And that’s kind of agitating it in line.
So pour after pour, you’re getting good creamy cascading pours, like you want from nitro coffee. You’re not seeing that low in that cascading, thick, creamy pour that you might see, if your keg isn’t fully nitrogenated.
We’ve done some testing with these, you can check out a video on the website. That basically shows us fully charging up a keg in about 20 and we’ve gotten great feedback so far. We’ve got quite a few clients who are using these and they are just raving about them. No longer having to shake kegs, no longer having to wait. They’re basically just filling their kegs with cold brew, putting one of these quick cascade lids on, pressurizing it and they say, they’re pretty much ready to serve at that point, you just give it some time.
Just a couple things I want to mention with these quick cascade lids. You are foreseen a lot of gas pressure through the high pressure line, through that diffuser stone that’s at the bottom of the keg. So it’s best to slowly turn up the pressure, start at 5 PSI, go up 3 to 5 PSI every couple minutes. Because what would happen or what could happen, we’ve tried this, it hasn’t happened to us, but what could happen is, if you just turn your pressure up to say 40 PSI and you hook it up to that thing and you turn it on at that pressure, you could blow that diffusion stone off of the high pressure hose inside your keg.
Thankfully, it will be inside your keg, but if you blow it off the high pressure line, it’s not going to be doing its job, you’re basically going to be blowing giant bubbles into the keg and it’s not going to have the same effect as going through that half micron diffusion stone.
Another thing I want to mention is that, if you’ve got multiple kegs of nitro cold brew, you probably going to want one of these lids for each of the kegs that you’re trying to serve nitro cold brew from. We’ve had a few people call us, they’ve said, “I put the lid on, I nitrogenated my keg through it, it was pouring great, then I took it off and I put it on my next keg and I tried to do that one and the first keg stopped pouring well.” And the reason that happens is because when you nitrogenate your keg, you’re getting it up to 35 PSI, 40 PSI. You’re getting a lot of pressure in there and when you pull the lid off or in order to pull the lid off, you have to remove all of that pressure. So you’re basically undoing all of the work that you just did, you’re taking all that nitrogen out of the keg. So you pull that lid off and you replace it with another one and then you’re going to repressurize it.
You’ve potentially done two things. One, you’ve obviously let a lot of nitrogen out. You’ve let a lot of oxygen in probably, which is never good, it could change the flavor of your coffee. And two, in addition to exposing the keg and the coffee to oxygen, you’ve exposed the keg and the coffee to the outside environment, which something could have fallen in there, whether it would be a dust particle, there’s a lot of things that can happen when you’re exposing your keg to the outside environment. You don’t want any mold growing in there, you don’t want any bacteria growing in there.
So the fewer times that you have to open your keg, the better off you are.
So to wrap this up, you’ve got a lot of options when you’re trying to nitrogenate your coffee, in order to serve nitro coffee.
Cary and I have tried pretty much everything short of the paint shaker method. We’ve tried- when we started, we used CO2, then we moved to beer gas, then we moved to 100% nitrogen and we’ve done all the forced carbonation methods, we’ve tried higher pressures, we’ve tried colder temperatures, we have done it all. And these quick cascade keg lids, these have been the best method.
As I said before, those who have tried them, have been giving us great feedback, though the times we’ve used them, all the testing we’ve done, they’ve worked great. It’s a good product, it does what you wanted to do. So if you want to learn more about the quick cascade keg lids, you can do that at dripsanddraughts.com/lids that will forward you to the product page on keg outlet, and on that product page, there’s a demo video that shows a time lapse of the process of nitrogenating a keg of cold brew coffee and getting it to serve nitro style in under 20 minutes. So it shows you how it works, how to use it and basically the speed at which it happens.
All right. I think that’s about going to do it today. If you’re looking for our show notes for this episode, you can go to dripsanddraughts.com/16.
Thanks for joining me today. I’ll see you again next Friday on the Drips and Draughts Podcast.
Mentioned in this Show
Corny Kegs | Nitrogen Regulators | Stout Faucets
“Quick Cascade” Nitro Coffee Keg Lids