A little while ago, my friend Justin called me with an out-of-the-blue question: what beer do I drink most? Well, for the ones I can remember, it’s the relatively easy-to-find Samuel Adams Boston Lager. He then asked me to compare it to Guinness. “What’s the difference between the two of them?”
Immediately, I started rolling out words like “mouth-feel,” “head-retention,” and “body.” I like the bite it has versus the softer, chewiness of a draft-style Guinness.
“Right, the crisp versus the velvet,” he agreed.
That’s when the room went dark and the Mad Scientist adjusted his half-cocked spectacles, his gigantic, sinister shadow projected against the wall as lightning tore through the sky… “So, what if you could swap their bodies?”
After the lights came back on, I thought that what Justin was asking wasn’t too far off from where modern brewing production and last century’s kegging innovations have left us today. Carbon dioxide charges up the local draft at your favorite watering hole. Macro-brewed bottles and cans leave the production line with carefully measured atmospheres inside. Guinness (and other pub favorites) rolled out with nitrogen-charged “widgets” to capture that just-poured creamy perfection right from the six-pack.
So if the air we drink comes from something other than a colony of flatulent yeast, that is, from pressurized tanks and widgets, what’s stopping us from swapping bodies and seeing how the flavors stand up against the gas that makes them fizz.
After a few beers and a little more brainstorming, we came up with a great idea — drink more beers. Then we put together a little experiment (or “exbeeriment” if you will… and if you won’t, we’ll find someone who will). Can you switch the bodies and still get an enjoyable potable? Only science can help us now. Read on, MacDuff!
STEP ONE: Sam Goes Flat
We took a bottle of Sam Adams Boston Lager and put it under vacuum in a Foodsaver canister and ran the pump three times.
STEP TWO: Pump It Up
Once the Sam was flat, we poured the limp imbibable into whipped cream dispensers, one with an NO2 (nitrous oxide) cartridge, and one with a CO2 (carbon dioxide) cartridge. Then we poured a couple beers into ourselves. Following the directions for the whipped cream dispenser, we twisted on the gas for each canister to let the liquid inside dissolve the gas from the cartridges.
STEP THREE: Put out the Fire
Our burning curiosity (and thirst for science experiment beer) was ready to be extinguished, so we lined up our Frankenlagers along with a control (Sam right out of the bottle) to see which one would rise to the top.
We had five samples of the Boston Lager.
- NO2 fully charged in the canister
- NO2 with excess gas released from the canister
- CO2 fully charged in the canister
- CO2 with excess gas released from the canister
We found that the control (sample #1) stayed true with a medium body and typical crisp flavor and mouthfeel. The head was dense and slowly disappearing. Our second sample tasted a lot like a beer from a mostly dead keg. It seemed to pick up a metallic taste and the body was thin. The head was nice and lacy, though. Third on the list was the decompressed nitrous oxide lager. It had a nice flavor carried by a creamy body. The sample glass was left with a light and even lacing of head. The fourth sample really delivered a stronger caramel flavor. However, the body was quickly dying. Before it went completely flat, the fully-charged CO2 sample #4 had a very even and clean head, almost like the sheet of suds on top of a sinkful of water and dish soap. Sample 5, seemed to be as close to the original as we would get from the other 3 recharged beers.
Yeah, you can mess with the bodies of your favorite beer by modifying the type and concentration of gas dissolved in the brew, but would it taste any good? Our favorite turned out to be the 3rd sample. The excess gas was released from the canister, allowing the beer to dispense as it would under its own dissolved gas power. The head stayed put and out of all the samples more carbonation remained visible after 10 minutes. The flavors carried very well over a blanket of velvety bubbles which seemed to mellow out any of the residual bitterness.
So, there you have it — science has served up another way to enjoy our favorite beers. I hope this will inspire a new world of renovated ales and face-lifted lagers in the years to come, and if not, I just hope you all learned something today. If you did, please email me at AskAHomebrewer@gmail.com, because I think I can get a government grant for this kind of thing.