In 2014 a video showing brewer and entrepreneur Jim Koch drinking a helium beer went viral across multiple social media platforms. In the video, the Samuel Adams founder’s speech changes from normal to a high-pitched voice. What exactly is helium beer?
Helium beer is a beer style that is infused with helium gas. The lightness of the helium gas imparts a light mouthfeel to the alcoholic beverage while changing your voice to a cartoonish tone.
This article will tackle helium beer, its science, and how to make it. We will also discuss the health implications involved when consuming this beer style. But first, what is the origin of the helium beer phenomenon?
The History of Helium Beer
As an actual product, Helium beer does not have a solid historical basis. However, the concept of a helium-infused beer has existed for decades as a practical joke.
We can trace the earliest known reference to helium beer back to the 1960s with the publishing of a short story, “The Drunkard’s Walk,” in the science fiction magazine, “Astounding Science Fiction.
In his short story, Fredrik Pohl describes a fictional beer infused with helium. And like a balloon filled with helium, the consumer of this fictional beer floats away into the clear sky.
Fast forward to the 1990s, and there is a resurgence of interest in the helium beer concept. It all starts with a viral hoax orchestrated by a group of prankers. The practical joke involves publishing a false advert for Balloon’s Breath Ale, a helium-infused beer sold exclusively in Oregon.
In the product description, the advertisement claims that the beer is so light-bodied that it needs to be served in an anti-gravity glass.
Despite the absurdity of the marketing material, many people were convinced that the helium beer was real, and the concept gained nationwide notoriety.
Since then, craft breweries have toyed with the idea of infusing beer with helium gas. The latest attempt comes from Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams Brewery.
In a video uploaded on YouTube on April 1st, 2014, Jim introduces his HeliYum helium-infused beer. In the video, he sips his helium beer as his voice changes to the high-pitched notes associated with inhaling helium. His customers join in the fun, and their voices change too. While the video seems convincing, it was uploaded on April 1st, which you know as April Fool’s Day.
Another April Fool’s attempt at the helium beer comes from Stone Brewing, who uploaded a similar video on the same day of the same year. This video introduces the Stochasticity CrHeam, a helium-infused cream ale. Like Samuel Adams’ helium beers, this cream ale also changes its consumer’s speech to a high-pitched cartoonish voice.
Now that you understand the history of helium beer, what is this mysterious brew?
What is Helium Beer?
Helium beer is a style of beer infused with helium gas to give the consumer a unique tasting experience. Since helium gas is lighter than air, it gives off a feeling of lightness or buoyancy when consumed. While the helium is purported to give the beer a lighter mouthfeel, the gas does not change the flavor or taste of the beer.
In the social media era, helium beer really took off between 2014 and 2015. Videos of people tasting various helium beers went viral during this period. Below is another YouTube video that went viral at this time.
The Science Behind Helium Beer
It’s possible to infuse a particular gas into beer. By default, most beers have carbon dioxide infused into them. A brand like Guinness infuses nitrogen into its beers. The nitrogen in the beer can helps replicate the frothy draught experience you expect from a tower faucet.
While nitrogen and carbon dioxide are soluble in beer, helium is not. You can bubble helium gas into a keg or beer can before sealing, but the gas will escape if the seal is broken. Theoretically, you may get a whiff of helium gas and the funny voice effect, but the gas won’t stay in your beer for long.
What’s the difference between helium beer and regular beer?
Helium Beer vs. Regular Beer
The most notable difference between helium beer and regular beer is the texture and mouthfeel. Since helium is lighter than carbon dioxide, a helium-infused beer has a lighter mouthfeel than a CO2-infused equivalent.
Helium does not affect the taste of the beer. Expect the beer to retain its original flavor.
Helium beer releases helium gas which affects voice pitch. Regular beers release carbon dioxide, which has no effect on human vocal cords.
How to make Helium Beer
Before starting, it’s important to note that helium beer is not commercially viable due to the risks involved in the brewing and consumption processes. These impediments are the main reason why helium beer isn’t widely available.
But if you still want to make helium beer at home, follow the steps below:
- Finding the Right Beer: For your base, you need a light-bodied beer. Helium gas imparts a lighter mouthfeel to beer, and it’s best to start with a light base.
- Carbonating Your Beer: Before infusing helium into the beer, you need to carbonate the liquor. You can achieve this effect by bubbling CO2 gas from a tank or using carbonation drops.
- Infusing Helium Gas: You’ll need a helium tank and gas regulator for this step. To infuse helium gas, fill the beer bottle or mug with the gas before pouring in your beer.
- Enjoying Responsibly: It’s important to note that inhaling helium gas is dangerous as it may cause death by asphyxiation. Helium gas is also quite addictive as it imparts feelings of happiness and excitement. While enjoying your beer, try not to inhale helium gas directly from the bottle or mug.
Helium Beer: Frequently Asked Questions
There’s a lot of buzz and controversy online around helium beer. Below are some answers that will put your mind to rest:
Is Helium Beer Real?
While you can infuse helium gas into beer, helium beer is not a real product. Helium gas does not dissolve in beer as well as carbon dioxide or nitrogen. Adding liquid helium to beer is also impossible since the gas vaporizes at room temperature.
While you’ll find many videos online that claim to sell or taste helium beer, most of these clips were uploaded on April Fool’s Day as a hoax.
In the video, the YouTubers confess to altering their voices digitally to achieve the high-pitched voice effect. They also explain some of the dangers associated with inhaling helium gas.
What are the Potential Health Risks of Consuming Helium Beer?
We discourage directly breathing in helium gas from your beer container. Inhaling pure helium can lead to death by asphyxiation. A few minutes of continuous helium exposure can kill.
Some people can get high off helium gas, which causes feelings of happiness and excitement. Due to these effects, helium can be addictive.
While you can infuse helium gas into beer, helium beer is not a viable product due to the health risks it carries. However, these potential problems have yet to stop various craft breweries from using helium beer as an April 1st marketing gimmick.
In high doses, helium is a dangerous gas. Exercise caution when brewing helium beer at home.