Got Gas? An Explanation of Beer Can Widgets

Getting a beer from the tap is one of the great pleasures of beer enjoyment. But what can you do if you are at home and you don’t have your own tap from which to pour? An invention called a Widget has you covered!

According to Wikipedia:

A widget is a device placed in a container of beer to manage the characteristics of the beer’s head.

The head is the bubbly portion above the liquid when the beer is poured. The head is a big reason for the increase in beer enjoyment when obtained from a tap rather than a bottle.

What exactly is a Widget?

That’s not a ping pong ball… it’s a Widget! (Photo via Wired.com)

Invented by Guinness, the widget allows for pub type enjoyment of beer in your own home. It is a small plastic ball filled with nitrogen gas. It also has a small hole in it. Placed into the beer can, the widget floats patiently while waiting for you to crack the beer open.

When a can with a widget is opened, the nitrogen escapes the ball and infuses the beer with tiny bubbles that become nucleation points. This allows the CO2 to separate from the beer and build the beautiful and creamy head. There is a beautiful cascading effect where the bubbles near the edge of the glass actually move downward. Watching the fine bubbles cascade and form a smooth delineation between beer and head is one of the most enjoyable things about pouring beer.

How should I pour it?

When I enjoy a widget beer I usually crack it open and pour it straight down into the middle of the glass. I have never had a widget beer overflow on me. But apparently I am doing it wrong.

Let’s learn how to pour a widget beer from the Guinness Master Brewer, Fergal Murray.

UPDATE: This video has been made private since I posted this article.

Did you notice the cascading bubbles? So beautiful!

What beers have widgets?

UPDATE June 4th, 2015: I originally had an image here but I had mistakenly only linked to the original blog post from where it originated rather than provide textual credit in the caption. I have received permission to use the image and I strongly recommend you read the Beer With Widgets article from Chris Forman at Burgers And Beer Food Reviews. He does a great job (much better than I did) at explaining the widget as well as providing reviews of the beers in the image. Chris, please accept my apology. Here is the photo that Chris captured:

Photo Credit: Chris Forman of burgersandbrewsfoodreviews.blogspot.com

Notice anything about those beers? All of the beers in Chris’ image are English, Irish, or Scottish. (Note: He used a separate image for Guinness, which otherwise would have joined these beers)

I have had all except the Tetley’s and the John Smith’s as shown above. The most recent was Old Speckled Hen. Of those shown above I would saw my favorite is the Boddington’s Pub Ale.

There are breweries here in the US that are starting to utilize nitrogen in their beers. One of those is Left Hand Brewing which makes a Nitro Milk Stout. These do not use a nitrogen widget. Rather, they are already infused with the nitrogen, which gets busy once the beer is opened.

The foamy head and smooth characteristic of nitro beers is one that produces a love/hate relationship with many people. I happen to love a smooth nitro beer and I am looking forward to more nitro beers being available. Do you have any preference about nitro beers?

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Posted on January 21, 2014, in Breweries, The Barley and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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