Millennials and the nitro drink trend that won’t fade away

January 16, 2020

There’s a reason millennial opinion is so important. It’s not because millennials are the biggest living generation, and it’s not because they’ve got major spending power, although those are compelling reasons as well. It’s because millennials tend to like awesome things like the glocal food movement, craft breweries, and independently owned coffee shops, so to pay attention to what millennials are loving is to pay attention to the best emerging food and beverage trends.

The ongoing beverage trend that everyone from global beverage brands to local restaurant, bar, pub and coffee shop owners need to be on is undoubtedly nitro drinks.

One look at Instagram and the wildly popular – and visually gorgeous – #nitrocoffee, #nitrocoldbrew and #nitrobeer hashtags will show you just how far this beverage trend has spread across hot and cold drinks alike. And as explained below, we don’t see an end to millennial’s fascination with these inherently sippable beverages. But first, a quick primer on nitro.

A nitro drink for all: beer, coffee, tea & soft drinks

Nitro drinks are beverages that have been infused with nitrogen gas, plain and simple. The nitrogen infusion process produces a rich, silky texture and a thick and creamy foam head. The most famous example of a nitro drink is the Guinness Stout. Picture it: that perfect pour with the reverse cascade of froth that creates a sepia ombre before settling into the trademark dark stout with an addictively sippable foam topper.

The Guinness nitro is renowned indeed, and now, decades after the Irish beer giant first put nitrogen to use in beverages, the technology has caught on in everything from hot coffee, cold brew, craft beers, Matcha tea, Thai tea and even soft drinks.

Beer foam print

While local establishments have been early adopters of this technology, much to the delight of their loyal customers, the bigger brands are now getting in on the action. Starbucks offers nitro cold brew and will launch a dark cocoa nitro drink in the fall, Dunkin Donuts offers nitro coffee, Pepsi is launching what it calls the first nitro cola, and Sam Adams has begun releasing nitro beer, to name a few of the major players dabbling in nitro drinks. No matter what you like to sip, there’s a nitro drink that will suit your tastes.

The chemistry of nitrogen’s drink appeal

The appeal of nitro brew coffee, nitro beer and other nitro drinks is three-fold as they have a textural appeal, a taste appeal, and a visual appeal.

Carbon dioxide or C02 is what has been traditionally used to add carbonation to beverages. It creates that familiar fizzy texture and releases aromatics, allowing you to smell your beverages. C02 is highly soluble in beverages, which means it dissolves well in water and comes out of solution relatively slowly. This is what creates those large bubbles that result in a fizzy texture in a drink.

Nitrogen, on the other hand, is about 50 times less soluble than C02. So, when nitrogen gas is infused into a beverage it comes out of solution quickly, forming smaller bubbles and a finer fizz that manifests as a smooth, slightly thick and velvety texture with a foam head.

coffee foam print

The silky texture and foam head are a significant part of what makes nitro drinks so irresistible, turning a thin beverage you might normally gulp down without a second thought into a creamy drink that you savor, taking the time to truly enjoy it.

Nitrogen infusion creates beverages with a sweeter taste, even without the addition of sugar or sweeteners. Unlike C02, nitrogen doesn’t create any acidity, removing the aspect from a beer or coffee’s flavor profile. This also makes nitro coffee and beer easier to drink for those who might otherwise struggle with acid reflux or stomach issues.

In addition to the improved mouthfeel and taste, nitro beverages are visually remarkable and should always be served in a clear glass or cup, allowing customers to enjoy the frothing process. The Nitro Pepsi video below does a sweet job of visually dramatizing this experience.

The nitro drink + bev-top media love story

Millennials are constantly in search of something new, something that exceeds its own hype, something they’ve only ever seen in the hashtags they follow on Instagram. Nitro drinks deliver that through their superior taste and mouthfeel. But there is another rising drink trend that is perfectly suited to the sensibilities of millennials which makes a perfect match for nitro: beverage-top media.

nitro drink foam print

Bev-top media printed through devices such as the Ripple Maker provides businesses with a whole new opportunity to engage their millemnial customers, as the soft foamy head on nitro drinks makes an ideal canvas for serving up these high-resolution designs.

With bev-top media, innovative businesses can elevate the already-excellent nitro drink experience to one that begs to be shared on social media and to increase drink sales.

A creamy nitro drink topped with a cute selfie or a photo of a beloved pooch is essentially a millennial’s dream beverage experience. For proof of both how much customers love it and how well this technology works with nitro drinks, you can check out the #stoutie hashtag on Instagram which features photos printed atop  pints of Guinness Stout.

When nitro is no longer novel

Not every beverage trend is worth tracking and trying, of course. Not every pour-over needs to take a full four minutes, there’s no real reason for a wine to be orange, and you can feel free to leave bacon out of your cocktail recipes, for example.

But some food and beverage trends gain momentum because they make perfect sense, creating an end product that has a better mouthfeel, taste and appearance. That is precisely the case with nitro drinks. It likely won’t be long before these sweet, creamy beverages transcend trend status to become mainstays. Thank the millennials for it. They know what’s good.

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