instant frozen beer
June 2, 2005 10:18 PM   Subscribe

When I was in college, beer was a central part of my life. In fact, we did all sorts of interesting things with beer, besides simply drink the stuff. One particular stupid-beer-trick that a friend did frequently - but which I have never been able to exactly replicate - intrigues me. Physicists and amateur scientists, lend me your eyes:

This friend would put a bottle of beer in a freezer for a certain length of time - ALMOST long enough to freeze it, but not quite. He'd get it very, very cold but it would stay liquid, and not slushy or hard. Then he'd take it out, very carefully open it - this is a glass bottle we're talking here - and then, with the bottom of a second bottle, give it a good rap on the top - straight down on the mouth of the almost-frozen bottle. What happened next seemed to be magic - in the course of 2-3 seconds, a cross-hatched crystalline lattice of frozen beer would form inside the frozen bottle, from the bottom up, and you could see the crystals reaching up and once they reached the top the thing would be frozen solid. Not just slushy, but solid. I assume there was some weird kinetic reaction that caused this to occur, but for the life of me I don't understand how. Can anyone explain?
posted by luriete to Science & Nature (22 answers total)
IANAPG, but...

I can only assume this is a combination of two tricks:
(1) the trick where you chill a carbonated beverage to the point where, upon opening and releasing the C02, it freezes
(2) the old stand-by bastard trick of bumping the top of a beer bottle with the bottom of another, forming the bumped to foam uncontrollably ("It's a boy!").

I can envisage how doing both may result in your crystals -- and it sounds cool! But as the disclaimer says - IANAPhysicsGeek.
posted by coriolisdave at 10:36 PM on June 2, 2005

This previous discussion regarding soda covered it pretty well.
posted by teg at 10:55 PM on June 2, 2005

Although the link that answered everything seems to be broken. Dang.
posted by teg at 10:57 PM on June 2, 2005

Best answer: The beer is below the freezing temperature, but there is not enough contamination for the ice to form. The bubbles of carbon dioxide released when the bottle is hit act as nuclei for ice crystal growth in the supercooled beer. Same thing happens in reverse when water is microwaved in a smooth container but won't boil until hit.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:00 PM on June 2, 2005

Response by poster: Link worked for me. Thanks, Teg! Supercooling it is/was. Good to know.
posted by luriete at 11:00 PM on June 2, 2005

Response by poster: WGP, that must be it. Your (very simple and easy for me to understand) description matches what they called "supercooling" in that other thread that teg refers to.
posted by luriete at 11:01 PM on June 2, 2005

I discovered this by accident. There is nothing like drinking super-cooled beer on a hot summers day. Unfortunately, you only have about 6 seconds to drink before the beer is frozen solid and no more will come out, but man, the stuff you do manage to get inside you before then, feels wonderfully cold!
posted by -harlequin- at 11:19 PM on June 2, 2005

Also the pressure in the beer bottle helps prevent it from freezing before it's opened. Which is why you won't cause the beer to freeze if you hit the bottle sharply before you open it. See also this discussion.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:08 AM on June 3, 2005

This happens with water, too. I often leave bottled water in my car, and during the winter, the exact same thing happens.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 8:56 AM on June 3, 2005

I remember discovering this as a kid, with bottled apple juice. Nice to know why!
posted by Gortuk at 10:01 AM on June 3, 2005

I did this once by accident, and I was like "wow...". Anyone have any recommendations on how to recreate this? I don't exactly have a way of monitoring the temperature of the liquid inside my freezer. Is there some way that I can estimate the time it will take for a liquid to reach this magical point; where it is not frozen, but upon opening it will freeze? That'd be cool to know :-)
posted by Sonic_Molson at 10:16 AM on June 3, 2005

weapons-grade pandemonium's explanation makes perfect sense when you also consider what happens when you do what your friend does to a beer bottle at normal temperature. It's a fun trick to play on the unsuspecting.
posted by jmd82 at 10:31 AM on June 3, 2005

So here's the real question. Is the beer drinkable after you thaw it?
posted by grateful at 11:06 AM on June 3, 2005

Is there some way that I can estimate the time it will take for a liquid to reach this magical point; where it is not frozen, but upon opening it will freeze? That'd be cool to know :-)

The original question is misleading in this respect -- the beer would never have frozen... just leave it in for a long time.
posted by nthdegx at 11:44 AM on June 3, 2005

nthdegz - Are you saying a bottle of bear won't freeze in the freezer? I beg to differ.
posted by Cosine at 12:05 PM on June 3, 2005

I use Smirnoff Ice, which is a little different from beer, but is quite drinkable after you thaw it.

I imagine it depends on the bottle and cap and beer itself (ie the brand) as much as anything. I know that the Smirnoff Ice I just mentioned is easy - it will not freeze until the cap is off, so I just leave it in the freezer overnight. Maybe my freezer is below freezing, but not below freezing enough? I imagine the alcohol in Smirnoff Ice acts basically like anti-freeze, so my freezer must already be pretty cold.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:14 PM on June 3, 2005

hmmm... maybe my freezer is extra cold but Smirnoff is exactly what I was thinking of, I've frozen it solid several times by leaving it in too long.
posted by Cosine at 12:20 PM on June 3, 2005

Response by poster: I experimented last night with a bottle of Heineken in my very cold Amana. In at 8 pm, checked it at 7 am and it was still liquid inside, with heavy frost on the outside. Will take it out tonight & perhaps be able to drink it.
posted by luriete at 1:57 PM on June 3, 2005

That is so strange, I believe you but it's really strange. I have some experience with this because I am a freak about drinking things as cold as possible so I know that every freezer I've ever had has been the same way, as follows:

Vodka, Rum, Etc - Thickened a fair bit

Jaeger - Almost getting slushy

Various liquers - frozen fairly solid

Port (20% alc) - frozen solid

Wine - frozen solid

Coolers (7%) - frozen solid

Beer - frozen solid, in some cases to the point of popping the cap off in the freezer
posted by Cosine at 2:47 PM on June 3, 2005

I've noticed that if a bottle will freeze if the cap got bumped (even though it looks fine).

But that presumably can't explain it. Try turning your freezer down (uh.. up) - I'm wondering if something like pressure, not a lack of crystalyzation point, may be preventing the freezing, or some other situation where if the freezer is cold enough, that restriction is overcome. Maybe the freezer does need to be set at a sweet spot?
posted by -harlequin- at 6:14 PM on June 3, 2005

I just wanted to note that I have independently replicated these results this evening with bottles of Red Stripe.
posted by Eamon at 10:06 PM on June 3, 2005

Are you saying a bottle of bear won't freeze in the freezer? I beg to differ.

No, I'm not saying that.
posted by nthdegx at 4:41 AM on June 4, 2005

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