Like myself, you probably first came across the helium beer phenomenon by watching the videos on the internet that went viral. When I first saw the videos of these guys drinking the helium beer and their voices changing l not only got a good laugh out of it but I immediately started researching how to brew this fun beer.
I actually owned a nano brewer/brewpub at the time and thought it would be great to brew it and serve it in our taproom. How much fun would it be to have a taproom filled with people talking in high-pitched helium-induced voices?
I will admit I was skeptical at first, I had a hunch this was some sort of prank. But I gave it the benefit of the doubt and started to do some research because as we all know the craft beer world is chock-full of innovative and strange concoctions.
For example, you need to look no further than the marijuana-infused beers, there was a time when they said it would be impossible to brew them.
Even at my brewpub, we had a wacky weds every week where we would brew 1 keg of some sort of strange concoction, we tried a bunch of different things, the two that stand out the most in my mind was a mountain dew ale and a gummy bear ale. Not my type of beers by any means but people loved them and I envisioned people coming from miles away to try the voice-altering helium beer.
So What is Helium Beer?
Well, as much as I hate to say it and much to my disappointment my initial gut reaction was correct. As of right now helium beer with its voice-altering effects is nothing more than a prank. The videos you have seen are nothing more than very well-orchestrated April Fool’s Day jokes.
But before I dash all of your dreams of having a night of heliuminated beer-induced fun there is actually a very slight glimmer of hope this style of beer could come to fruition. The scientists at Chemical & Engineering News have gone to work to see if it is indeed possible to infuse beer with helium and I am pleased to say they had “some” success; and who knows what that will mean down the road.
Before we get into the results of their study it is important to understand what exactly a helium beer would be if it were possible to make such a beverage.
How Do You Make Helium Beer?
The first step in the process would be to make a beer in the normal fashion. Beer is made with malted and crushed barley grains, hops, water, and yeast.
Very much like making tea, the first step in the process is to mix the crushed barley grains in warm water and allow them to soak in order to extract the starches and sugars out of the grains.
The grains are typically soaked in 149 – 153 degrees Fahrenheit water for at least 60 minutes. After which the grains (just like the tea bag) are removed from the water leaving behind a sugary water mixture called wort.
Next, the wort is boiled for 60 – 90 minutes and during the boil, additional ingredients such as hops are added to the wort to give it certain flavors and aromas.
After the boil has completed the wort is cooled as quickly as possible, transferred to a fermenting vessel where brewers yeast is added and the whole mixture is allowed to ferment for on average 2 weeks. At the end of the fermentation process, you now have uncarbonated aka flat beer.
The last step in the process is to carbonate the beer. You can naturally carbonate with priming sugar or you can do so by infusing it with gas. Most beers are carbonated with CO2 or carbon dioxide. Others will be nitrogen-infused. Guinness Dry Irish stout is an example of a beer infused with nitrogen. The nitrogen creates a smoother creamier mouthfeel than CO2.
Now the interesting thing and where the glimmer of hope comes from is that helium has similar solubility levels as nitrogen, meaning that perhaps a beer could indeed be infused with it; and this is what the crew at C&EN attempted to do.
How to Infuse Beer with Helium
Because helium and nitrogen are similar in regards to their solubility the team at C&EN decided to try this experiment on a stout. They proceeded to force carbonate the stout in the usual fashion except they used helium as the gas.
What I found very interesting about this experiment is the level of gas they put into the beer. If you are going to carbonate using CO2 there are a few ways you can do it, one of them will get your beer fully carbonated in 2 days. To do so you raise the level of gas you would typically use from approximately 13 psi to 35psi for 24 hours and then shut the gas off for 24 hours and let the CO2 absorb into the beer.
With this experiment, they turned the helium up to 50psi for 5 days. That amount of gas over that amount of time should have been more than enough to carbonate the beer fully (if not too much) if it was indeed possible to do so.
What they found was that although the beer had a nice creamy head it was completely flat with no carbonation and even more disappointing was that it had none of the voice-altering effects we were all hoping for.
So there you have it. The facts are you can indeed make helium beer but there really is no point in doing so at this time unless you like a flat beer that costs more in gas to make.
But stay tuned because if the interest and intrigue in this style of beer continues to remain as high as it has for the last few years my money would be on some innovative brewer somewhere figuring out a way to make this prank into a reality. So who knows one-day helium beer might just be coming soon to a taproom near you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where Can I Buy Helium Beer – To my knowledge, there are presently no brewing companies selling it. This would be due to the fact that it makes no sense from a price standpoint to make it due to the additional cost of helium gas, not to mention the beer would be flat and would not produce the high-pitched voice effect buyers would want.
Is Helium Beer Real – The answer is yes and no. Yes, it is possible to “carbonate” a beer using this gas but the end result is not as depicted in the viral videos that started this phenomenon, which leads us to the last FAQ.
Who Started this Phenomenon – Back on April 1st in 2014 Samual Adams started this viral trend by releasing a video claiming to have brewed the first-ever beer made with helium. The video is called: Introducing Samuel Adams HeliYUM.
Very shortly after, in fact, on the same day Stone Brewing claimed to have also brewed a beer with helium, but they claimed to have been able to double dry hop theirs resulting in more tropical characteristics. The video they are released is on youtube and called: Stochasticity: crHeam Ale
Both videos claimed your voice would change after drinking their beer, and as a result, both videos went viral and many people were fooled into believing their claims, and demand for the beer style took off.
The following year on the same date the same thing happened again, reigniting the hype. This time around Berkshire Brewing company decided to get in on the action and released their own video claiming to have brewed a helium IPA.
Another popular video was also released around the same time by German youtube celebrities Die BierProbierier. It appears to show Alex & Ralk taste testing the Sam Adam version. It once again generated a ton of hype over this concept and helped to create the phenomenon around this concept that we are still witnessing today.
There you have it you know now all there is to know about helium beer. I trust you enjoy this post and stay tuned if we ever hear any updates on this and whether someone was finally successful in brewing one we will let you know.
Cheers, Big Robb is Out!
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