Is Helium Beer real? Maybe ...
Perhaps you heard it on Facebook and are looking to try and find where you can buy some, or maybe you just watched a viral video and think it’s too good to be true. The truth of the matter is that helium beer makes it rounds a couple of times a year, and every time it’s nothing more than an amusing hoax.
If you check the date the company or individual initially uploaded the Youtube videos or posts, you’ll often see that it’s April 1st (April Fool's Day). Even a few major breweries have gotten in on the April fools’ fun, pretending to have crafted some helium beer and (suddenly) developed high-pitched voices.
But what is it, where did it come from, and just how do they get the helium in the beer can? Keep reading if you want to know the hard truth.
What is Helium Beer?
The premise behind helium beer is just what it sounds like. How amusing would it be if you took a drink of beer, and when you talked, it sounds like you just sucked all the helium out of a balloon? That’s the foundation behind helium beer.
Each trickster puts their twist on how they managed to “crack the code” to brew some helium beer, and some have even gone as far as creating fake videos that show “their voice changing” after drinking some.
Unfortunately for the amusement of us all, helium beer is nothing but a hoax, and even worse, it’s impossible for it ever to become a reality. If you’re not too depressed to keep reading, the science behind the hoax is rather interesting, and so is the history of the prank.
It is interesting to wonder what abv and ibu measurement a proper helium beer would have ...
Why Helium Beer is Just a Hoax
You might be wondering why the hoax hasn’t turned into a reality after all this time. After all, so many people are interested in the hoax that it would be ultra-profitable to brew some helium beer, right? The problem is that it’s not just challenging to brew helium beer; it’s completely impossible. Trust us, we'd drink it and review the beer if we could.
Don’t believe us? Keep reading for a crash course into beer chemistry.
The purported concept behind helium beer is that the manufacturer replaces the carbon dioxide used to carbonate beer with helium. This carbonation is a crucial part of the brewing process. There are just a few problems with using helium instead of carbon dioxide, the biggest being helium’s solubility with water. Simply stated, it isn’t water-soluble.
That means as soon as you try to aerate the beer, all the helium will rise straight out the top. The helium would leave the beer long before you ever got a chance to drink it. If you think you can add liquid helium to your beer and mix it that way, think again.
Helium doesn’t turn from gas to liquid until -220 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course, if you tried to get your beer that cold, it would merely freeze solid. These are all things that you know, it’s why you can put helium gas into a balloon without fear of it turning into liquid helium, but it’s not something you're thinking about when you see a funny video of someone’s voice turning squeaky after they drink a beer.
While it might be funny, the sad fact is that the science won’t allow helium beer to become a reality, unlike Guinness, blonde ales, or your favorite IPA. But that won’t stop future home brewing pranksters from trying to convince people of the possibility for years to come!
Who Pretended to Brew Helium Beer?
A few different companies pretended to brew some helium beer, and each one has added to the lore that is helium beer. Samuel Adams (Boston Beer Company) and Stone Brewing Co. are the two biggest names that dipped their toes in the hoax market, but tons of microbreweries have done the same thing in an attempt to get their brand on the map.
One of those other microbreweries is Berkshire Brewing Company. A Massachusetts brewery, BBC thought it would be hilarious to get in on the fun back in 2015 with their "Helium IPA". Check it out.
The hoax is so common and so widespread that Snopes fact-checked Samuel Adams' claim of producing HeliYum, a helium infused beer. Of course, Snopes labeled it as satire, as Sam Adams never tried to sell a product as “helium infused beer,” and they even stated in the video and post that no such beer existed.
Stone Stochasticity Project Cr (He) am Ale
Stone Brewing kicked off the helium beer trickeries in 2014. The owners created a long-winded, scientific-sounding, four-minute video describing how they had managed to produce “helium beer.” They named the project “Stone Stochasticity Project Cr (He) am Ale,” a very scientific-sounding name that helped suck in even more believers.
While the video convinced tons of people, the problem is that it was nothing but a ton of malarkey. No such beer existed, and they posted the video on April 1st. While they intended to drum up a bit of a following, they could never have expected to gain the amount of traction they did.
Aiding in Stone Brewing’s trickery, a ton of viral videos emerged of people “drinking” the beer shortly after the company released the video. Not only could people find a video from the brewery about it, but they could also track down dozens of videos of people drinking the beer and having their voice change after drinking it.
None of it was true, but it created a strong illusion that the beer was real. Furthermore, Stone Brewing wasn’t the only brewery pretending to make a helium beer; companies and tricksters were bombarding people with information about a cool new beer that would be the life of the party. The only problem was that it didn’t exist.
Sam Adams HeliYum
We don’t know if they were working together, but both Stone Brewing and Sam Adams released the idea of a helium beer on the same day, April 1st, 2014. Sam Adams claimed that their helium beer had an incredibly unique “mouthfeel.”
Furthermore, they claimed that it aided in the taste of the beer as one of the noble gases and allowed for a much longer shelf life, and that its unique refraction provided “brilliant clarity.” They cleverly named the product “HeliYum,” and social media went nuts for it. Of course, none of that was true, and they even stated that in the video and subsequent article.
There’s just one problem in today’s social media-obsessed society; tons of people only skim headlines. Since it was coming from a major brewery, tons of people shared it without realizing it didn’t exist. It was the perfect recipe for a viral sensation in today’s headline obsessed world.
It’s why all these years later, most craft beer websites will still field questions on where they can find some helium beer, whether through Sam Adams or another brewery. It’s also why those questions will always keep coming year after year.
Chemical & Engineering News
Before we go too far to debunk it, C&EN gave it a shot and rigged up a helium beer test, since solubility levels of helium and nitrogen aren't far off from one another. Helium turns out to sorta work for a beer, but not nearly in the ridiculous manner that the internet would have you believe.
According to Chemical and Engineering News, "Our helium stout produced a creamy, stable, well-proportioned head, which persisted through the last sip. The mouthfeel was smooth, with very little of the bubbly texture normal carbonation brings. In other words, other than the nice head, it was pretty much flat. That said, it was similar in fizziness to Guinness poured from their nitrogen-infusing draught can, which we had on hand to compare. In aqueous solution, carbon dioxide converts into carbonic acid, giving carbonated beverages an extra bite. Helium does no such thing, which gave the helium beer additional smoothness relative to a conventional carbonated brew."
As cool as a keg of helium beer would be, it’s not that just someone hasn’t made it yet; it’s that it never can be made. So, beer lovers, if you’ve been holding your breath that someone would make this hoax a reality, or you’re just finding out now that it’s not real, the sad fact is that it never will be.
The best you could do is put helium in the top of a can of beer before sealing it, but all that would do is allow you to suck the helium out as soon as you open it. It’d be a one-time party trick that wouldn’t have any effect on the taste of the beer, and it’d be hard to pull off.
When April 1st rolls around next year, don’t fall for the claim someone finally figured it out, the chemistry simply isn’t there.