Beer Department: Debunking the myth of “Helium beer” once and for all

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Since April 1 is April Fool’s Day, I feel that this a good time to address one of those pesky misunderstandings about beer that just won’t seem to go away: helium beer. The myth is that there are one or more beers out there that are imbued with helium rather than carbon dioxide or nitrogen. Beer drinkers are keen to try this bizarre-sounding beer, excited to try a beer that also makes your voice high pitched. Our staff gets asked about the availability of helium beer from time to time and we even receive the occasional email inquiring as to where it can be purchased. The problem is, and I can’t stress this enough, helium beer does not, never has, and never will exist. Helium beer is no more a reality than the Loch Ness Monster, unicorns, or the strange old wives’ tale that swallowed pieces of bubblegum take years to digest. None of these are remotely grounded in observable reality, and yet, they persist. So where did the myth of helium beer get started?

As compared to the other myths I just mentioned, helium beer is a relatively new phenomenon and unique to the internet, that grand tool of disseminating misinformation to the masses. A few years back, several brewers from a few highly esteemed breweries, including Stone Brewing Co., began circulating videos of them drinking beer that was purported to be helium beer while their voices drifted ever higher into the stratosphere. These videos quickly went viral, garnering tens of millions of views and untold shares across platforms like Facebook and YouTube. The issue is that it was all an elaborate prank; just the brewers having a bit of fun. The video effect of their voices becoming high pitched was achieved either through post-production software that manipulated the audio or seamless editing that allowed the brewers to suck down actual helium between takes. In the brewers’ defense, they may not have anticipated how seriously people would take the videos or how widely they would spread, but there’s no going back once you unleash that can of worms. So here we are, with a seemingly intractable hoax that continues to rear its ugly head. When I tell inquiring customers that helium beer doesn’t exist, they often don’t believe me and I thus have resorted to explaining the science to them.

The primary reason why helium beer can’t exist is that helium is completely insoluble in water. While CO2 and nitrogen are both, to varying degrees, soluble and will thus stay in solution once injected, helium will not. Helium is lighter than air and would, therefore, rise up and exit the beer completely. That’s really the crux of it: helium is insoluble in water and thus will not stay in beer. It’s that simple. And no, you can’t add liquid helium to a beer either. Helium changes from liquid to gas at -220 degrees Fahrenheit, so even adding liquid helium to beer in a carefully controlled laboratory setting wouldn’t work. The temperature would need to be so cold that the beer would instantly freeze solid. Given that helium gas wouldn’t stay in solution in beer and liquid helium has to be so bitterly cold that it would freeze beer, we can rightfully and unequivocally conclude that the laws of physics and chemistry dictate that helium beer is a scientific impossibility.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume that someone had earned a Nobel Prize for defying the laws of science and wanted to craft a helium beer. Helium is actually far more dangerous than inhaling a balloon might suggest. Helium replaces oxygen in your body and does so on a gradient, thus the more helium you breathe, the faster you will lose oxygen in your body. The worst thing that can happen from inhaling a balloon is you’ll get dizzy and temporarily pass out. Once unconscious, you’ll stop breathing helium and your blood oxygen levels will return to normal. However, prolonged exposure to concentrated levels of helium can actually pose a hazard for suffocation if your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. There have actually been deaths reported from helium overdoses in very rare, unusual circumstances. Given the risk associated with helium, I’d be willing to bet that our various government regulatory agencies would never dream of approving a beer with these kinds of risks.

So there you have it, a (hopefully) succinct exploration of why helium beer simply cannot exist. So the next time someone strikes up a conversation about it, you can politely inform them of just how wrong they are. Besides, Jungle Jim’s has way too many delicious beers that don’t have helium in them. Stop by and grab some. Cheers!

Eric, Eastgate

Certified Cicerone®

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