Beer with helium

Can you imagine the look on your best friend’s face when, after taking a sip of that beer you offered him, he starts talking like the Smurfs thanks to the helium present in the product? Well, this drink was advertised, although the reality is somewhat different.

On April 1, 2014, Sam Adams Boston Beer launched a very exciting new product. It was called HeliYUM and it was a beer with an alcoholic strength of 5.7 degrees. So far nothing strange. However, the novelty was present in the product’s recipe, which had helium among its ingredients. Something that gave the final product not only a much more pleasant taste and better sensations, depending on the brand, but also had the ability to modify the tone of your voice, just as if you had breathed an entire helium balloon.

It is worth remembering that April 1 is the day of jokes in the United States, in the same way that we celebrate it in Spain on December 28. And although there are videos on Youtube where the effects on drinkers of this particular beer are shown, with the usual whistle voice that helium leaves you, the truth is that this product was nothing more than a joke developed by the brewery. Above all, if we take into account that, today, it is not possible to brew beer with this gas, no matter how much a website offers you to buy beer with helium. To understand the inability to include helium within this formula, let’s start by looking at brewing.

How beer is made

Currently, this drink is prepared by fermenting barley or another cereal in pure water, to which hops are added to give it flavor and improve its preservation naturally. Once the maturation process of the beer has elapsed, necessary for the yeasts to transform the sugars into alcohol, it is ready for consumption and the only thing left would be to add the gas, without which the beer would not be what it is.

To achieve this, there are two different paths. One of them is to add the gas externally, which is the usual system in the beer taps that we see in bars and restaurants. In this case, the gas is obtained from a cylinder that contains carbon dioxide and that is added to the beer as it is served. The other solution is to add pressurized gas inside the tanks where the beer is. Thanks to this pressure, the gas dissolves inside the liquid and is “trapped” in it. This is the technique that is used in canned or bottled beers, being the same technique that is used to make carbonated soft drinks. 

Helium Characteristics

The next thing we need to know are the basic properties of helium . We are talking about a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. In other words, it has no color, it has no taste and it has no smell. Therefore, that flavor improvement that we mentioned at the beginning is not possible. 

Among its properties, there is a lower density than that of air, so if we release this gas it would “fly” and be lost in the atmosphere, unlike other denser and heavier gases, such as carbon dioxide that we have discussed. before. This is the reason why a helium balloon is capable of flying into the sky if we release it. A feature that destroys any attempt to introduce helium into a beer.

The scientific explanation

In order to completely debunk this joke, let’s take a look at the more scientific part of the story. To add helium to beer, it would be necessary for it to be introduced either beforehand, during the brewing process, or at the time of serving. 

One of the properties of helium is its low solubility. In other words, this gas hardly dissolves in liquids, as happens with the carbon dioxide that generates the gas. Therefore, the helium dissolution process in the beer would not be effective and it is most likely that this gas would cause the can or bottle where we store the preparation to explode, due to the characteristics that we have mentioned before.

Something similar would happen if we tried to add helium to the beer afterwards. At the moment that this is added to the drink, it would escape at full speed, due to that lower density of the air that we have been commenting on. Same thing with helium balloons. Therefore, the helium would not remain in the drink and we would not have time to drink it before it was shot out of our beer (by clicking this link you can find some options to choose from). So now you can forget about buying helium to flavor your beer.

The medical explanation

So far we’ve completely debunked the Sam Adams Boston Beer prank. However, aside from the inability to add helium to beer, this prank also limps on the medical side. The reason we talk in a squeaky voice when inhaling helium is that the vocal cords are in a lighter environment than usual. Since the strings maintain their usual tension, this causes that flute-like tone of voice.

However, when we drink beer, or any other liquid, it follows a different path than air. Inside our throat we have two different paths. One is the one that leads to the respiratory system and the other is the one that leads to the digestive system. Therefore, in the hypothetical case that we were able to inject helium into the beer, it would end up in the digestive system and not in the respiratory system, so that effect that we have been commenting on would not be possible. The last nail we need to take apart this prank.

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