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Obviously, most beers are carbonated with carbon dioxide, while some stouts/porters are "carbonated" with nitrogen.

I was curious if there has been any notable experimentation with other gasses to "carbonate" beer. If nitrogen can introduce a "creamy" texture to a beer, I would think that other gasses would also be able to introduce their own characteristics on beer. If any of these experiments have done, what characteristics do these other gases impart?

I'm sure cost would be an issue for certain gasses that would prohibit its use in beer, but for purposes of this question, cost is irrelevant.

As an aside, what is the correct term to use, as opposed to "carbonate", for a question of this nature?

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fyi, Nitrogen alone wouldn't do much for the beer - it's barely soluble. It's the small amount of carbon dioxide used alongside it that still gives a head to the beer. – mdma Apr 30 '14 at 8:16
Nitrogen will not make the beer creamy. It is simply used to push the beer at a higher pressure than can be done with CO2 since nitrogen won't dissolve into the beer. The sensantion of creaminess happens because the beer is slightly decarbonated by pushing it out at such high pressure. – Denny Conn Apr 30 '14 at 15:47

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Here's a list of some common gasses and their solubility in water at standard pressure and various temperatures.

CO2 dissolves ca 3g per gas kg of water at 5°C. Nitrogen is 0.027g for the same conditions, so in round figures about 1/100th the solubility.

A carbonated beer is a supersaturated gas in solution, having more gas dissolved than would be normally possible for the temperature and standard pressure. (When kegging or bottling, the CO2 is applied at much higher pressure than standard atmospheric pressure.) This means the gas is easily brought out of solution, such as by shaking or with nucleation points.

For other gasses to give any similar affect, they would have to be:

  • soluble in reasonable quantities
  • non-toxic (rule exempt for halloween-beers!)
  • non-irritant
  • non-flammable
  • and for aesthetics and pleasurable beer, it should be odorless or smell pleasant.

Looking through the list, there are no other gasses that meet these criteria.

If we remove the need for high solubility, then that opens up to Nitrogen and Helium. Helium could be used in place of Nitrogen to create a mixed beer gas. I couldn't say ahead of time how the beer would taste, only that you might get a high-pitched voice that you find more and more amusing with each glass! :)

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+1 Awesome and thorough answer. – Lynn Crumbling May 1 '14 at 13:33
"you might get a high-pitched voice that you find more and more amusing with each glass!" - hope it was only a joke, but for the sake of future visitors: this is not true. Helium is not soluble enough to create any effect you could notice. And if you don't care for science, think money. No one ever released such beer, despite the hype YouTube clips created. – Mołot Nov 10 at 19:39

So I know this is old but I thought I'd comment. Not that mdma's great answer really needs any follow up but... I'm going to throw in my two cents.

Under sufficient pressure a small amount of co2 reacts with the water in beer and turns into carbonic acid. If you compare the slightly more tart taste of a beer compared to its flat counterpart you are tasting trace amounts of carbonic acid. Not necessarily a bad thing for most beers which are acidic anyway. However, porters are typically less acidic. some have pH's greater than 7. A gas that doesn't dissociate (inert) helps keep the pH up. N2 isn't the best choice, but it's a really good one. In gas analysis, such as mass spectroscopy where an inert gas is required. Nitrogen is the goto gas due to it's affordability. Helium is better.less soluble in anything since it can't dissociate. I would think it would work really well, for porters at least. Really expensive though.

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"...and turns into acetic acid" I think you mean carbonic acid. "some [porters] have pH's greater than 7" Where did you hear this? I'm not sure it's even possible to make a beer by traditional processes with this high a pH. – Franklin P Combs Nov 8 at 0:36
You are right. I did mean carbonic acid. My comment about the pH of porters was referenced from the principals of brewing science, by George Fix – mreff555 Nov 9 at 13:36

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