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Physics of an Exploding Beer


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OK, I'm 37 years old and have drank thousands of beers, but I still haven't completely figured this out.

Every once in awhile, you take a first sip from a bottle of beer and there is a rush of foam that exudes from the bottle onto yourself or the floor; the beer explodes. This has happened to me countless times and sometimes in awkward social situations. I'm sure it has happened to you too.

Explain this to me like I'm a 16 year old lightweight. I figure it has something to do with an improper first sip that is too much of a suck. However, it's hard to recreate this occurrence in my home laboratory. Please help. How and why does this happen?

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It is not so much the actual sip that causes the problem, but more likely the way in which you moved the bottle in taking that sip. Have you ever had someone come along and strike the top of your beer bottle with the bottom of their bottle? The same result occurs.

Striking the bottle, or a rather sudden sloshing around of the beer inside the bottle at just the right frequency when taking the sip, causes a vibration in the fluid. This vibration is a pressure wave, much like a sound wave. If you studied sound waves in school, you may recall that the waves have areas of high and low pressure (compressions and rarefactions). The solubility of CO2 (or any soluble gas for that matter) is affected by the pressure. When the pressure is low, not as much CO2 can be dissolved and thus the "extra" precipitates out or suddenly becomes undissolved. This is the overflow of foam you are experiencing.

ETA: If you want to avoid such an "awkward social situation", be careful to avoid any jerky sudden motions with your bottle.

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ETA: If you want to avoid such an "awkward social situation", be careful to avoid any jerky sudden motions with your bottle.

or just, you know.... pour it into a glass.
or just, you know.... chug the whole bottle instead of taking just a sip.
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