If you drink English ales in America, you’ve probably bought a can containing a widget, a plastic device that releases nitrogen into the beer when the can is opened, creating a thick head and signature creamy body. (Tetley’s and Boddingtons are the most common examples.)
Coventry Cream Ale, the latest “nitro” release from Baltimore’s Oliver Brewing, manages to copy the texture of those beers without dropping a widget into a tallboy can. Instead, says brewery co-owner Justin Dvorkin, “we bring the beer to a very low amount of carbonation, then we dose with a large measured amount of liquid nitrogen” before it’s sealed.
While Oliver offers nitro drafts at its pubs, including Baltimore’s Pratt Street Ale House and Ale House Columbia, Coventry Cream Ale marks only the second time Oliver has released a nitro can. The brewery recommends a “hard pour”: dumping the contents of the can straight into a pint glass rather than slowly pouring down the glass’s inside wall. After the beer settles, it reveals a dark ruby-amber color and a thick, finger-width head that sticks around for most of a pint.
This is a traditional and fruity English bitter, full of sweet caramel and biscuity malts. The main ingredients come from across the pond: Oliver’s house yeast is Ringwood, a strain that’s a staple of Yorkshire ales; the lemon and slightly minty flavors that shine through result from a combination of Kent Goldings, Bramling Cross, and famous and floral Fuggle hops. Compared to non-nitro ales, Coventry Cream Ale is smoother and less prickly; brewer Stephen Jones says the nitrogen takes the beer in the direction of a traditional cask-conditioned ale, which is poured without extraneous carbonation. “I’ve always thought of nitrogenation as a way of mimicking cask,” he says.
The texture also hides the strength. While I would have thought this was closer to a session (low-alcohol) beer, it’s actually 6 percent alcohol by volume. That’s stronger than a similar ale would be in Coventry, the English city where Jones earned a biochemistry degree and worked in a brewery. But hey, in America, we do things a little differently.
Oliver Brewing’s Coventry Cream Ale. oliverbrewingco.com. $10.99 to $11.99 per four-pack of 16-ounce cans.