Widget (beer)

Widget (beer)

A widget is a device placed in a container of beer to manage the characteristics of the beer's head. The original widget was patented in Ireland by Guinness. The "floating widget" found in cans of beer is a hollow sphere, 3 cm in diameter.


Draught Guinness, as it is known today, was first produced in 1964. With Guinness keen to produce Draught in package for consumers to drink at home, Bottled Draught Guinness was formulated in 1978 and launched into the Irish market in 1979. It was never actively marketed internationally as it required an initiator which looked rather like a syringe to make it work.

How It Works

A can of beer is pressurised by adding liquid nitrogen, which vaporises and expands in volume after the can is sealed, forcing gas and beer into the widget's hollow interior through a tiny hole—the less beer the better for subsequent head quality. In addition, some nitrogen dissolves in the beer which also contains dissolved carbon dioxide.

The presence of dissolved nitrogen allows smaller bubbles to be formed with consequent greater creaminess of the subsequent head. This is because the smaller bubbles need a higher internal pressure to balance the greater surface tension, which is inversely proportional to the radius of the bubbles. Achieving this higher pressure would not be possible with just dissolved carbon dioxide, as the greater solubility of this gas compared to nitrogen would create an unacceptably large head.

When the can is opened, the pressure in the can quickly drops, causing the pressurised gas and beer inside the widget to jet out from the hole. This agitation on the surrounding beer causes a chain reaction of bubble formation throughout the beer. The result, when the can is then poured out, is a surging mixture in the glass of very small gas bubbles and liquid.

This is the case with certain types of draught beer such as draught stouts. In the case of these draught beers, which before dispensing also contain a mixture of dissolved nitrogen and carbon dioxide, the agitation is caused by forcing the beer under pressure through small holes in a restrictor in the tap. The surging mixture gradually settles to produce a very creamy head.


The inventors of generating 'draught' Guinness from cans or bottles - by means of 'sudden gas discharge from an internal compartment' when the can/bottle is opened were Tony Carey and Sammy Hildebrand, brewers with Guinness in Dublin, in 1968.

This invention was patented by them in British Patent No 1266351, filed 1969-01-27, complete specification published 1972-03-08.

Development work on a can system under Project ACORN focused on an arrangement whereby a false lid underneath the main lid formed the gas chamber. Technical difficulties led to a decision to put the can route on hold and concentrate on bottles using external initiators. Subsequently, Guinness allowed this patent to lapse and it was not until Ernest Saunders centralised R&D in 1984 that work re-started on this invention under the direction of Alan Forage.

The design of an internal compartment that could be readily inserted during the canning process was devised by Alan Forage and William Byrne, and work started on the widget during the period 1984–85.

The plan was to introduce a plastic capsule into the can, pressurise it during the filling process and then allow it to release this pressure in a controlled manner when the can was being opened. This would be sufficient to initiate the product and give it the characteristic creamy head. However, it was pointed out by Tony Carey that this resulted in beer being forced into the widget during pasteurisation with consequent very poor head quality. He suggested overcoming this by rapidly inverting the can after the lid was seamed on. This extra innovation was successful.

It is important that oxygen be eliminated from any process developed as this can cause flavour deterioration when present.

The first samples sent to Dublin were labelled "Project Dynamite", which caused some delay before customs and excise would release the samples. Because of this the name was changed to Oaktree. Another name that changed was "inserts"; the operators called them "widgets" almost immediately after they arrived on site, a name that has now stuck with the industry.

The development of ideas continued. In fact over 100 alternatives were considered. The blow-moulded widget was to be pierced with a laser and a blower was then necessary to blow away the plume created by the laser burning through the polypropylene. This was abandoned and instead it was decided to gas-exchange air for nitrogen on the filler, and produce the inserts with a hole in place using straightforward and cheaper injection-moulding techniques.

Commissioning began January 1988, with a national launch date of March 1989.

This first-generation widget was a plastic disc held by friction in the bottom of the can. This method worked fine if the beer was served cold; when served warm the can would overflow when opened. The floating widget, which was launched in 1997, does not have this problem.

As the widget is a plastic material it can cause problems when the can is recycled. Users of cans containing widgets are often requested to remove them before recycling the can.

Other beers with widgets

* Beamish and Crawford
* Murphy's
* Boddingtons (Pub Ale) (Called "Boddingtons Draught" (pronounced 'draft') in the United Kingdom)
* Old Speckled Hen
* Belhaven
* John Smith's (Extra Smooth)
* Timmothy N. Throops extra Dark Draught
* Kilkenny Draught Irish Beer
* Kronenbourg 1664
* Young's Double Chocolate Stout
* Tetley's English Ale
* Worthington Creamflow
* Carling Premier
* Tennents Velvet
* Foster's Lager (In-Can Scuba)
* Tennents Velvet
* Caffrey's


* Carey & Hildebrand,Improved method of and means for dispensing carbonated liquids from containers, UK Patent 1266351, published 8 March 1972 — the true originating invention behind the modern widget.
* Forage, et al., "US patent|4832968|Beverage package and a method of packaging a beverage containing gas in solution". United States Patent 4,832,968. May 23, 1989.

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