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You consider yourself a fan of beer and tried ambers, seasonals, reds and the like. Drink mass-produced beer and you rarely ever drink anything with the word “light” in the name. You are open to giving almost anything a shot.
Craft beer is starting to make a massive presence in the world of brews. Craft beer, by definition, is a beer that is made in a non-traditional way, often in small breweries. There are people who have taken up the mantle of creating small breweries in their garages or basements in order to make their homemade craft beer.
One element common in craft beer is innovation. Craft beer is known for being different from traditional beer in offering flavor combinations that may be a little unusual and, in some instances, downright strange. One brewer created a beer peppered with “moon dust,” while another brewer infused pizza flavor in a bottle of stout. Yes, these are actual creations made and consumed by real people. These are not hoaxes.
However, there is one type of craft beer that seemed to take the country by storm in the last few years. Helium-infused beer became a sensation with one video a few years ago and has blown up into an urban-legend among beer crafters and breweries alike. What is the deal with helium beer and why are so many people trying to get their hands on it?
Where Did All the Talk About Helium-Infused Beer Start?
A few years ago, in 2014, the company that makes Sam Adams beer teased a new flavor of beer on their website, which was supposedly set to release “soon.” The beer was called HeliYum, and the company spokesman stated the beer was going to be a “radical, extreme new beer that leverages the wonderful properties of helium.”
Wait, what? What are the wonderful properties of helium beer drinkers would want to have comingled with their favorite brand of hops?
1. Helium Makes You Silly
Of course, almost everyone is familiar with the side effects of breathing in helium. If you’ve never seen your Aunt Edna sucking on a helium balloon after a party, you aren’t missing much. However, you probably have known someone, maybe even you, who has taken a few deep breaths of the clear and odorless gas. What happens next? You spend the next few seconds talking like a chipmunk. It’s funny. You make yourself and your friends laugh hysterically. It’s all good, clean fun, right?
Helium inhalation sadly is not always so fun. There are instances where people, especially children, have gotten sick from helium exposure. Some have even died primarily because helium intake in large amounts can reduce the amount of oxygen you’re getting. Since inhaling oxygen is essential for life, breathing in anything that might make you not get enough oxygen can be bad.
You know yourself if you’ve had too much of a good thing when it comes to helium: you might feel light-headed or even sick. You might go home with a headache that had nothing to do with the beer you were drinking. Maybe you weren’t even drinking any that night.
It is the silliness that most people associate with helium that has brew makers and drinkers excited at the prospect of a beer filled with it.
2. HELIUM-INFUSED Beer Can Therefore Make You Silly
The idea behind Sam Adam’s teaser was the prospect that helium could be injected directly into the beer, causing the pleasant side effects of silliness without inhalation. If that is the case, merely sipping on a beer would make even Uncle Pete sound like Alvin the Chipmunk in a matter of a few sips. The possibilities of fun lead people to get behind and embrace the idea that helium could somehow be added to beer to increase the fun factor.
3. Helium-Infused Beer Had Nothing To Do With Taste
While a lot of other infusion innovations have to do with adding different flavors into beer, the idea of adding helium did not. Helium is an odorless, tasteless gas that would do nothing to the beer except perhaps bubble it up a bit. There would be no additional benefit to creating such a concoction except for the aforementioned voice-changing and silliness.
What Happened to the Helium-Infused Beer?
A day after Sam Adams put out their statement about the helium beer, the Stone Brewing Company released a video depicting a tasting of their version of helium beer aptly named Cr(HE)am. The video went viral in a matter of hours, and people started inundating the two companies with requests for details about the beer. The video confirmed that the helium-infused beer would, in fact, take a childhood novelty and turn it into an adult beverage. Not only that, but the crafters at Stone Brewing Company came out with a list of all the amazing food pairings that would successfully accompany the helium beer and even add to the flavor of it. These pairings consisted of such kid classics such as Funyuns and macaroni and cheese.
The calls from Stone Brewing Company and the group at Sam Adams for more details on the release of the helium beer went unreturned. The two companies remained silent on the issue. The cloak of secrecy draped over the project was turning out to be too much for some people to bear.
Small crafters decided to try their hand at creating helium beer. They decided the best way to do it would be to inject it during the brewing process somehow, thereby allowing the gas to be released as the drinker consumed the beer. The problem with this was they didn’t know how to do it. Helium is a gas. Even though it exists in liquid form, its temperature is too cold to be integrated into another liquid. It would cause the entire thing to freeze in a matter of seconds.
By the way, helium is the most abundant ingredient in cryogenics. It makes up over half all cryogenic labs. In case you weren’t aware, cryogenics is the process of deep freezing something in the hopes of reviving it later. In physics, it is observed that freezing temperatures cause molecules to slow down or stop. This slowdown creates a hardening or freezing effect on the object. Think about the change from water to ice. Liquids are defined as such because of the free-flowing molecules. Once those molecules are frozen, they band together and create a solid. In the case of fluids, however, once the frozen object is exposed to heat, it melts and returns to a frozen state. Cryogenics is using helium to take that a step further to preserve human tissue in the same way.
While that was a roundabout way of saying it, helium will turn any liquid to a solid. It will also do so very quickly. This property isn’t exactly ideal when trying to drink said fluid. Brewers and crafters were stumped.
The Science Behind Why Helium-Infused Beer Isn’t Possible
Here are some scientific facts as to why helium cannot be infused into beer:
- Helium is not soluble in water and so it is also not soluble in beer. It is impossible to carbonate beer using helium as you can with nitrogen or carbon dioxide.
- Adding liquid helium to beer is not possible as it turns from a liquid to a gas at -220 degrees F. This would result in freezing the beer.
- Even if it was somehow possible to add helium to beer, it would cause gushing because, as we’ve already mentioned, helium is not soluble in beer.
The bottom line is, science has proven that helium-infused beer is simply not possible.
The Realization of the Helium-Infused Beer Tease
The video of the helium-beer test was still circulating the Internet, creating a kind of call to arms for beer drinkers. At some point during the hype, some scientists finally weighed in and revealed the cold, hard truth: introducing helium to beer would cause it to become very cold, very hard, very fast. It was an impossible undertaking scientifically.
Beer drinkers weren’t accepting of this truth. They had seen and tasted brews that were groundbreaking, ones once thought to be impossible to create. Helium-infused beer was going to stun the scientific community and the world with their incredible project.
It took some time before people started noticing the silence on the part of the manufacturers was not going away. There were no other videos or news releases that had come out since the first two. The timing of the two releases, March 31, 2014, and April 1, 2014, was finally illuminated by a few inside the circle of the beer community. These were probably elaborate pranks put out by these two breweries just in time for April Fool’s Day.
Many beer drinkers around the world were stunned and sad that they had been had. They no doubt gathered around and consoled each other with actual beer, all the while talking about what could have been had the helium-infused beer been a real product.
In the years that have passed, the helium-infused beer debate has still raged on. When scientists came out and denied that the helium-beer comingling was possible, some beer makers took up the challenge and tried to prove them wrong. Shockingly, they were able to combine helium and beer, but more in the way carbon and beer are combined. Instead of infusing the beer with the gas and the silly side effects of it, brewers were able to make the bubbles and head larger. That was the extent of the success of helium-infused beer. Until such a day when the impossible becomes possible, the debate between fact and myth will rage on in pubs, bars and garages across the world.
Featured Image: CC by, Graham Hills, via Flickr.