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Helium Beer Debunked

Helium Beer Debunked

Helium beer isn’t a real thing, much to the dismay of fans of squeaky voices around the world. What started off as an April Fool’s Day prank in the beer world deserves slightly more explanation. To help get helium beer debunked, let’s first expose a simple fact: helium isn’t soluble in water. That is to say, helium does not react with water or other substances. That means you can’t carbonate beer with it. Simple as that!

The myth of helium beer was first spun by a pair of viral videos released on April 1, 2014. The videos featured, respectively, The Boston Beer Co. co-founder Jim Koch in one and quality assurance manager at Stone Brewing Co. Rick Blankemeier in the other. Their “HeliYum” and “Cr(He)am Ale” were supposed to have the magical quality of giving a beer enthusiast a high voice. Yet, like the "fizzy lifting drink" in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, helium beer is only a fantasy.

Helium is colorless, odorless and tasteless. It doesn’t add special qualities to beer. Technically, you could add helium to beer with a helium pump. But that wouldn’t change how the beer tastes or behaves – and it would not give you a squeaky, high-pitched voice (sadly).

Helium gas quickly dissipates. This is because helium is the second-lightest element after hydrogen. If you pumped helium into beer and then gulped down the drink, it’s doubtful as to whether you could get enough helium in your mouth to change your voice. People who want to hear their voice get to an Alvin and the Chipmunks register usually gulp down helium from a balloon.

Furthermore, adding liquid helium to a beer isn’t a good idea since it would freeze the beer solid. Helium becomes liquid at -452°F. That extreme level of refrigeration is very expensive (and totally impractical).

After Koch and Blankemier popularized the myth of helium beer, beer enthusiasts carried on the joke. Many drinkers made and shared videos of them drinking nonexistent homemade or commercial helium beers. The idea of a brewery helium beer ad has also become a bit of a tradition. In 2015, Berkshire Brewing Company shared a video of its Helium IPA that opened with an open beer bottle slowly filling a balloon.


 

 

Chemists Attempted Helium Beer

In 2015, a team from Chemical & Engineering News attempted to make helium beer. They got help from a chemist and homebrewer, Kevin Wepasnick, a surface scientist at Anderson Materials Evaluation. Wepasnick decided on a cream stout beer style that ferments for about two weeks.

The first step of the brewing process involved adding hops to the pre-fermentation beer, or wort. Next, Wepasnick fermented the mixture for about two weeks in standard plastic and glass equipment. At this point, the density of the beer dropped, and it stabilized. The yeast had converted the sugars to alcohol.

Wepasnick then kegged the beer and chilled it under 50 psi (pressure per square inch) of helium pressure for five days. After that, Wepasnick dropped the pressure to a standard serving pressure, 7 to 10 psi. The final step was to tap the keg. The resulting beer had a creamy and stable head, as well as a smooth mouthfeel. Yet it was flat.


Nitrogen: The Superior Noble Gas (For Beer)

Like helium, nitrogen is a noble gas, but it has a very different effect on beer. Usually, a beer becomes carbonated when the yeast converts sugar to alcohol. The yeast’s action also produces carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide, which converts to carbonic acid, gives a standard beer its bubbles, flavor and aroma. Nitrogen helps a solution form more bubbles as well as smaller bubbles than carbon dioxide. This gives a nitrogenated beer like Guinness a smooth mouthfeel.

A typical nitro beer is bubbly, aromatic, and creamy. It’s everything a helium beer could be but isn’t.

So next time you see a video about someone drinking a brew that causes their voice to become extremely high-pitched, just know that there’s some trickery going on – since you know that helium beer does not – and cannot – alter your voice.