In this blog post, we take a look at how breweries use gases and why nitrogen monitoring in breweries is more essential than you initially might think…
Brewers Journal reported at the start of October (2016) that there are now around 1,700 breweries in the UK… an 8% increase since 2015, and a 65% increase since 2010. Demand for craft beer is at an all time high with local micro-breweries popping up across the country.
The increase in breweries means that the variety of beers available has greatly increased. Not only are there a range of flavours, colours and aromas to try, but the gases used to put bubbles into beer can vary too.
Although carbon dioxide is traditionally used in breweries to put the bubbles into beer, nitrogen gas can also be used too.
Why use nitrogen in beer?
Some breweries use a mix of nitrogen and carbon dioxide (usually a 70/30 mix) to put bubbles in their beer, particularly stouts, pale ales and porters. Beers which are nitrogenated are less acidic and taste creamier.
Some breweries offer beers as both carbonated and ‘nitro’ variants, so that customers can try both and see which they prefer.
When the nitrogenised kegs are sent to the pubs, a nitrogen/carbon dioxide mix can be used to deliver the beer to the taps, as opposed to pure carbon dioxide.
Cans of nitrogenated beer normally have a hollow plastic disc or ball in them known as a ‘widget’, as well as a very small amount of liquid nitrogen which evaporates and pressurises the can, compressing nitrogen in the widget.
When the can is opened, the pressure in the can drops and the nitrogen gas in the widget causes bubbles to rise to the surface of the can, forming the head on the beer.
The dangers of nitrogen
Nitrogen gas is not toxic, but it does replace oxygen in the atmosphere, which can cause problems if there is a nitrogen gas leak. The atmosphere normally consists of 21% oxygen and even a small drop is enough to cause harm. The US-based Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) deem 19.5% to be the minimum acceptable oxygen level and a drop to 15-19% is enough to impair coordination.
If a brewery is using carbon dioxide as well, a leak of CO2 can also be fatal. Both gases are colourless and tasteless, meaning that they can be very hard to detect.
Nitrogen monitoring in breweries – which gas monitors to use?
If you need to monitor levels of nitrogen in a brewery, you are best monitoring levels of oxygen in the atmosphere.
The Analox O2NE+ is an easy to use oxygen depletion monitor which can be used to detect nitrogen leaks.
However, if you also use carbon dioxide in your brewery, a dual monitor may be the most cost-effective solution.
The new Ax60+ is a wall-mountable multi gas monitor which can be used to monitor both levels of oxygen and levels of carbon dioxide. The system is fully customisable, meaning it is ideal for everyone – from the smallest craft brewery, to the largest international beer brewer.
If you’d like to know more about nitrogen monitoring in breweries, please contact us today. You can also purchase a range of our gas monitors for the beverage industry online.