Nitro: The Return of Summer Porter
A versatile beer for an unpredictable climate
Sense of place has a powerful effect on the way we experience food. Close your eyes and imagine you’re about to eat a delicious raw oyster on the half-shell. The shell feels cold, rough, and rocky. The aroma is briney; you’re hit with sea salt spray, and a bit of that mysterious aquatic “funk.” For a second, you can smell, taste, and even feel the ocean — a walk along the shoreline in Marshall on a crisp, overcast day.
Now open your eyes. You’re eating a PB&J in your cubicle at work, or perhaps you are actually dining on seafood — albeit at your local Red Lobster. You’re who-knows-how-many miles away from that special place on the Pacific Ocean that, just a second ago, was on the tip of your tongue.
That same kind of magic can happen in beer. From the emotional place conjured by ice-cold, skunked green bottles of lager in the tropical heat of Southeast Asia, to the very literal place found in the microflora of authentic Belgian lambic, a good beer — or, rather, an interesting beer — should take you somewhere.
Nitro Summer Porter, is a nod to San Francisco’s infamous summers and the ever-changing weather in the city. It’s a versatile beer for an unpredictable climate.
Our newest can release, Nitro Summer Porter, is a nod to San Francisco’s infamous summers and the ever-changing weather that we experience here on the northwestern edge of the city. This cheeky little beer marries the lower alcohol and smooth drinkability of an English Dark Mild with the warming chocolate and roasted flavors of a Robust Porter. It’s a versatile beer for an unpredictable climate.
The inspiration for this beer — originally known as Summer Porter — struck in June 2015, on a typical summer morning in the Presidio. My ride to work was short but scenic. A light mist wove its way through the cypress trees but quickly retreated as I dropped down past the stables and onto Crissy Field. The brewery was surrounded by a plain, gray sky and a blanket of fog was draped across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was brewing weather.
At this time, we were brewing Fort Point’s original core four beers: KSA, Villager, Park and Westfalia. Apart from Westy, these could all be considered “lighter” beers: KSA is nice on a hot day, but doesn’t do much to warm you up. We needed a beer that was appropriate to drink in brewing weather — a beer that was rich in character, yet not overwhelming, and still appropriate to drink if/when the fog burned off later in the day.
Double Roasted Crystal is the star of this beer…combined with roasted malt, the flavor is almost cola-like, with undertones of chocolate, toffee, and dark dried fruit.
And that’s how what we now call Nitro Summer Porter — more on the nitro part in a minute — was born. Its composition is fairly straightforward: Maris Otter malt provides the firm, nutty foundation you’ll usually see in classic English-style ales, while a combination of roasted malts creates a deep ruddy black color with mahogany highlights. The star of this show, however, is Double Roasted Crystal, a malt made by the family-owned English malt house Simpsons. On its own, this malt imparts rich flavors of caramel, plum, and raisin while also casting a brownish-red hue to the beer. When combined with small amounts of roasted malt, the result is almost cola-like, with undertones of chocolate, toffee, and dark dried fruit. Hops get some time off in Nitro Summer Porter, as this beer is entirely malt-driven. Balance, however, is key to our beers, so we do use a small amount of classic English East Kent Goldings hops for a touch of bitterness, then a bit of Australian Ella hops to mix in some subtle fruit accents.
I’ll try not to get much more technical, but there is one distinct change to this year’s Summer Porter that’s worth mentioning: the nitro. Most beers primarily contain dissolved carbon dioxide. It’s responsible for bubbles and effervescent texture, also known as carbonation. Nitrogenated beers contain both nitrogen and carbon dioxide, usually in a proportion of around 70 to 30 percent, respectively.
Guinness is probably the most well-recognized example of a nitrogenated beer. Nitrogen is what creates that cascading wave of tiny bubbles, the thick, creamy head, and the soft and supple texture of the classic Irish stout. Nitrogen is much less soluble than CO2, so when the pressure drops as the beer tap is opened, that nitrogen comes rushing out of solution, forming those tiny bubbles and creating a thick, creamy foam. The lower proportion of CO2 and presence of nitrogen in the beer creates a softer mouthfeel compared to the prickly, acidic carbonation of a regular beer.
There’s a really unique and simple satisfaction that comes from drinking a nitro beer — it’s like putting on your favorite sweatshirt.
So why add all this complicated science to an award-winning beer? (Side note — Summer Porter won a silver medal in the 2015 Great American Beer Festival.) Pursuing the nitro experiment was partly driven by our own curiosity and desire to take on new challenges, but for the most part it was just that we never want to stop trying to improve our beers. There’s a really unique and simple satisfaction that comes from drinking a nitro beer — it’s like putting on your favorite sweatshirt. The taste and texture are smoother and more nuanced, revealing parts of the beer that you otherwise wouldn’t normally pick out. It’s also fun to look at, and who doesn’t like a goofy foam mustache after that first big sip?
Nitro Summer Porter is available on draft and in cans starting this August, until the sun returns later in the fall. In order to achieve that cascading effect in our cans, we drop a small amount of liquid nitrogen into the can just as we seal the lid. Over time, this nitrogen will dissolve into solution, but there’s one trick you can do right before you enjoy the beer in order to get that nice creamy nitro head. Start by chilling the can to around 36° Fahrenheit — the colder the better. Then invert the can five or six times using a steady but not sharp rocking motion. After that, open the can (expect a louder than usual snap as all that gas escapes) and pour directly down the center of a pint glass. The beer should be actively cascading with tiny bubbles and, after a minute or two, will form a nice creamy beige head. Then enjoy!