Helium beer has been in the media since the 1960s, mainly as a practical joke amongst beer drinkers. The concept was that you could drink a helium-infused beer and feel floaty with a high-pitched voice. In this article, we dive into details on how real this beer is and if you indeed get the effects commonly attributed to it.
It first came to limelight in the sixties, inside a short science fiction titled “The Drunkard’s Walk” by Fredrik Pohl. Since then, it’s been a common idea for pranksters and even beer businesses. However, through these decades of pranks and brilliant beer inventions, beer drinkers still wonder if helium beer is real or even possible.
What is Helium Beer?
A helium beer is supposed to be an alcoholic beverage infused with helium gas. This helium beer, when taken, should heighten your level of excitement and give you a cartoonish voice. However, scientific claims have debunked this belief of cartoonish voice as it’s not possible to have that much gas in a bottle or can to cause that effect.
Is A Helium-Infused Beer Real?
In 2014, a Stone Brewing Company representative and the Samuel Adams Brewery (Boston Beer Company) founder, Jim Koch, both posted videos of themselves drinking helium beer. These YouTube videos quickly went viral across social media platforms as they showed their voices change in pitch after a gulp of the beer. While thousands of people thought these companies had found a way to create helium beers, it turned out to be an April Fool’s Day joke.
In the video by Jim Koch, he introduced the supposed beer infused with helium gas as the HeliYum beer. They claimed it had a much longer shelf life and gave brilliant clarity. The other video by the Stone Brewing company introduced a supposed cream ale with infused helium called the Stochasticity Cr-he-am ale. Although an April Fool’s joke, both beer companies sparked controversy and tons of videos online debating the realness of a helium beer.
If you’re still wondering if there’s a purchasable helium beer somewhere out there, the simple answer is no. You’ll only find hundreds of videos of people trying normal beers and manipulating the videos to imitate the effects of helium. Some of the effects of infusing helium gas into beer include a changed voice pitch, a highly light-bodied beer, and a much lighter mouthfeel.
So, why haven’t beer brewing companies been able to produce a marketable helium beer?
Why Can’t Beer Companies Make Helium Beer Real and Marketable?
With the huge amount of interest shown by beer drinkers and companies, one would think there’d be a breakthrough in making helium beers already. However, since the 1960s, when this idea was brought up, no one has seemed to crack the code. The reason for this is quite simple and detailed in the following paragraphs.
First, one of the most important steps in brewing beer is the addition/dissolving of carbon dioxide. This dissolved carbon dioxide is what brings fizziness and a refreshing taste to your beers. Why it’s so popularly used to carbonate beer is because carbon dioxide is highly soluble in water. On the other hand, Helium is 700 times less soluble than carbon dioxide.
This makes it quite hard to use helium gas to aerate beer or even keep it locked in a beer bottle. No matter how hard you try, helium will always escape into the hair seconds after exposure. The chemistry behind these solubility levels is that carbon dioxide has a molecular mass of 44g/mol/, making it substantial and pressurizable. However, helium has a molecular mass of 4g/mol, making it one of the lightest noble gases ever to exist.
Beer lovers have also debated that helium is of similar solubility to nitrogen, and nitrogen is what’s used by Guinness to produce their Nitro beers. Nitrogen is soluble at a temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit and a pressure of one bar. But to get helium to be as soluble, you might need to liquefy it into liquid helium. While this might work, there’s just a problem with the temperature at which this can happen.
Adding liquid helium to beer and keeping it that way can only be done at a temperature of -220 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, unless you want to eat your beer in solid chunks of ice, you can’t add liquid helium to your beer. So, as one of the least soluble gases to ever exist, undissolved helium (if any) will always disappear upon infusion into your helium beer bottles.
Has A Helium Beer Test Being Done Before?
While carbonated beverages are popular in the beer market, there’s the exception of Guinness, which uses Nitrogen to make non-carbonated beers. When Guinness cracked the use of Nitrogen, it gave hope to the beer community on using helium. So, Chemical & Engineering News tested the feasibility of a helium beer under controlled conditions. Based on many technicalities, such as variations in temperature and pressure, Chemical & Engineering News resolved that you could infuse helium into beer.
In their reports, they claimed their helium beer gave a stable, creamy, and well-proportioned head. This creaminess lasted to the last sip, similar to what you experience with a regular Guinness beer. They claimed that the mouthfeel was smooth, but the helium beer was quite flat.
Normally, carbon dioxide converts to carbonic acid, which gives your regular beers a certain kick. The beer with Helium infusion by Chemical & Engineering News had a smooth, uniform taste from start to finish. Also, their helium beer gave no floaty feeling or a high-pitched voice after consumption.
How Do You Infuse Helium Into Craft Beer
As you already know now, you can’t buy helium beer anywhere in the market; you can only try to make the fictional beer come to life. If you somehow got a hold of a helium tank, then you can follow this process to make your own helium-infused beer. It’s a safe process, and companies have used gases like nitrogen and carbon dioxide instead for decades. So, if you must, these are steps to take in making your own helium beer.
Get Your Barley
Virtually every beer brewing process starts with crushed malt barley. Malt barley is where you derive beer from, and it starts by mixing it with pure distilled water. If you want the best beer quality, use clean water and premium barley. First, grind the malted beer, mix it thoroughly with warm water, and mash to turn it into a puree.
This mixture helps you extract the sugars needed for your beer brewing process. The sweet liquid you get from these sugars is known as the sweet wort. For the rich and malty flavor you experience in beers, have a barley container ready. It should be dark brown and must have been toasted beforehand at around 232 degrees Celsius.
All of these are combined with hops and other ingredients you want to influence your beer’s flavor. On combining, boil them for 90 minutes and let them cool.
Add Your Yeast
A huge component of any beer brewing process is the yeast. It’s so important that companies usually develop their own brand of yeast. This yeast lets your ingredients ferment, and you can control the fermentation duration to get your desired consistency and flavor profile. As a rule of thumb, let it ferment for at least two months.
Get The Helium Gas
In other beer processes, the above step is followed by aeration with carbon dioxide. But in the production of helium beer, you’d need the helium gas. You’d need to aerate the beer bottle first with helium gas before adding the beer. On addition of the beer in the bottle, the helium gas bubbles are expected to fall to the bottom and then form a foamy head/topping.
This process of the gas falling downwards would be natural to a gas like carbon dioxide. But in the case of this noble gas, you’d need special conditions and equipment to make that happen. For instance, you would need a pressure tank to bring this helium beer to fruition. The minimum amount of pressure you’d need to have any hint of helium’s solubility is 7 psi above atmospheric pressure.
This pressure will only dissolve 40 parts per million of helium gas to dissolve and remain in that beer. So you’d need an efficient pressure tank to dissolve this or more than that to get a helium beer. At the end, you should get a beer with uniform smoothness and a creamy texture.
How Do You Store And Serve Helium Beer
After a maybe successful attempt at creating your own helium beer, there’s the challenge of how to store and serve it. But before that, your helium beer needs to start certain tests. For instance, beers are taken through sensory tests, mash conversion/iodine tests, first running tests, yeast checks, fermentation checks, and shelf-life tests.
If your craft beer passes these tests, then you can worry about containers to keep it in. Typically, since the helium gas is dissolved with high pressure, you can store it in cans, bottles, and kegs. However, they’re best stored and served in kegs that use a special type of taps. These taps are such that they have holes to allow helium bubbles to filter out so you can have a consistent, creamy head.
As established by Chemical & Engineering, consistency is the only thing that changes with a helium-infused beer. Do not expect any floaty or voice-changing effects.
Differences between a Regular Beer and a Helium Beer
Contrary to what you’ve seen in prank videos about helium beer, they’ll look and taste similar to a regular beer. This is because the gas is responsible for primarily two things: the refreshing taste and the texture. With a helium beer, you should expect a beer with uniform consistency and smoothness. The beer pours with fewer bubbles, and the foamy head will also be filled with fewer bubbles, giving you a creamy feel.
In addition, the taste will be quite different from the carbonated beverages because carbon dioxide ferments into carbonic acid which gives your beer a bite. With helium beer, it’s the same taste you get from the start of brewing to the end.
The taste that your helium beer acquires will be based on the hops, malt, extracts, yeast, and other special ingredients you decide to add to your beer.
Health Hazards Of Using Helium In Your Beer
While helium is quite unreactive and gives you cartoonish voices when inhaled, it has its health hazards. First, inhaling pure helium can cause one to asphyxiate to death. Since helium is mostly insoluble, there would be undissolved helium gas that would escape from your bottle, can, or keg as you open it.
Secondly, helium gas is known for its euphoric effects, which gives you a feeling of “high.” This makes it an addictive gas, and at high doses, it can be fatal. The technicalities required to make the helium beer and these health hazards are some of the reasons why brewing companies haven’t ventured into making purchasable helium beer.
Frequently Asked Questions On Helium Beer
Can you buy helium-infused beer in the market?
The simple answer to this question is no. However, you might think there are secret bottles or cans of helium beer outside due to the viral videos of Stone Brewing Company and Samuel Adams Brewery. The fact remains that these supposed videos of helium beer were only made for an April Fool’s Day joke. There’s no HeliYum or Stochasticity Cr He Am Ale anywhere online or offline to buy.
Can I make my own helium beer?
You can try making your helium beer, but the technicalities and health risks attached are quite much. The equipment you have to use, the temperature you’d have to maintain, the amount of pressure, and the tests such beer must go through can be overwhelming. Also, the health hazards attached to using the gas are quite serious for a bottle of beer.
Does helium beer stand a chance of being made in the future?
The world evolves every day in technology and innovations, and just maybe, the helium beer might come to life. However, other gases stand a chance of being used first due to their better solubility compared to helium gas.
What is the origin of the helium beer?
The first mention of helium beer can be traced to the 1960s in the short fiction by Fredrik Pohl. However, the beer wasn’t made popular until 2014 when Jim Koch of the Boston Beer Company and Stone Brewing Company made the viral videos as a joke.
The Helium beer is all about groundbreaking innovation in the beer-making industry. As such, you will enjoy this article on the Nitrogen beer pour and this list of corn-free beers for non-lovers of corn.
With this, you know everything possible about the acclaimed helium beer. For now, it remains a hoax till we see innovations that actually bring it to life. When the time eventually comes, we can claim the helium beer real and marketable in the beer market.