2 O'Clock Tasting
Left Hand Brewing Company


As we learned on our brewery-hopping trip to write our newest book, >Make Some Beer: Small-Batch Recipes from Brooklyn to Bamberg, Colorado is home to some outstanding beer. Which is why we couldn't wait to give Left Hand Brewing Company, featured in the book, and its lineup of beers a try.

Left Hand may be best known for its nitrogen process of carbonation; the brewery just recently attempted to trademark the term "nitro" for their beers. Left Hand first introduced the Milk Stout Nitro, arguably the most recognizable of the nitro series, at the Great American Beer Festival in 2011. Now, the brewery also bottles a nitro version of the Sawtooth Ale and Wake Up Dead Russian Imperial Stout. The nitrogen certainly adds a different element to its lineup -- check out what we though of the nitro series, plus the CO2 versions, below.

  1. Stranger Pale Ale

    5% ABV

    Left Hand's flagship beer pours a pretty light honey color, but smells of florals and citrus Meyer lemons -- we couldn't get enough of the aroma. While the beer starts with a malt sweetness upfront, it ends with a slight spiciness, thanks to those rye malts. The Cascade, Williamette, and Centennial hops provide just enough bitterness in the finish. At a sessionable 5 percent ABV, we envisioned drinking a Stranger Pale Ale on a hot summer day.

  2. Sawtooth Ale

    5.3% ABV

    This American-style ESB is everything we'd hope for from an ESB. Its light copper color hints at a caramel and sweet brown sugar aromas, making us believe we'd taste something nutty. The hops and malts are perfectly balanced, with just a hint of spice from the Magnum hops. It almost lends to a certain earthiness and floral character at the end of the beer.

  3. Sawtooth Ale Nitro

    5.3% ABV

    As part of Left Hand's tradition of going nitro, Sawtooth Ale Nitro is the exact same beer as the CO2 version, but carbonated with nitro. Left Hand says that nitrogen gives its beers a smoother mouthfeel, which we immediately noticed. The smaller bubbles made it feel like a denser, heavier beer, but the same floral and hop characteristics as the CO2 Sawtooth Ale still came through. Instead, it almost felt like drinking a creamier version of the same beer, which intrigued us to try more.

  4. Milk Stout

    6% ABV

    We were all familiar with Left Hand's Milk Stout Nitro before our tasting, but had never given the original Milk Stout a try. And it was just as we were hoping for: a rich espresso color with a big tan head, aromas of chocolate, coffee, and roastiness, and big roasted coffee and creamy flavors throughout. It ends with a slightly hoppy finish, making it feel like the complete package. Despite its rich, full-bodied taste, it still felt like an easy-drinking stout we'd reach for again and again.

  5. Milk Stout Nitro

    6% ABV

    The beer we were all waiting for: we admit, we didn't get the correct pour that Left Hand recommends for its nitro beers (watch the video, it will blow your mind). But we still found a big, billowing head reminiscent of whipped ccream on top of an Irish coffee. The Milk Stout Nitro was only slightly darker than its Milk Stout brother, looking almost like a can of cola. The nitro pays off especially in the taste; it adds a certain silkiness, smoother mouthfeel to an already smooth stout.

  6. Wake Up Dead Russian Imperial Stout Nitro

    10.2% ABV

    This nitro beer was our wild card of the tasting. Jet black with hints of a deep mahogany, the beer's aromas were overwhelmingly boozy, bordering on medicinal or chloraseptic. And the taste was another punch in the mouth: very big and boozy, making it hard to taste almost anything else. We did detect small notes of licorice, raisins, and coffee, but the alcoholic content hid most of those notes. With the same nitro mouthfeel we came to expect, it was a smooth drinking, albeit mouthpuckering, stout to taste.