Whether you’ve just finished a tiring day at work or you’re down the beach on a beautiful summer’s day, there’s nothing quite like a cold beer to unwind and let the stress of everyday life go away for a few minutes.
It’s one of the most common rituals around alcohol consumption, with almost everyone having enjoyed a beer at some point in their lives.
But, despite its popularity, is beer a potential danger? Can your cold drinks in the summer sunshine turn to burning hot ones due to the alcohol content in them?
This guide will take an in-depth look at the flammability of beer, including its chemical make-up, the fermentation process, and cooking with the popular alcoholic beverage.
What Makes Something Flammable?
Firstly, it’s important to establish exactly what makes something flammable. Flammability is the ease of which things catch fire, with a liquid generally considered to be flammable if it catches fire below 100℉ or roughly 38℃.
The temperature at which a liquid such as an alcoholic drink catches fire is known as the “flashpoint”. This can vary from drink to drink depending on the alcoholic percentage. The flashpoint of pure ethanol (the alcohol found in alcoholic drinks) is 55℉ or 13℃.
However, the flashpoint of most drinking alcohol is much higher than this. In order to get a drink to catch fire at its flashpoint temperature, you’ll need a source of ignition - usually either a flame or a spark.
The autoignition temperature - the temperature at which alcohol catches fire by itself - is much higher around 680℉ or higher.
Chemical Make-Up Of Beer
While there are some exceptions around the world, the majority of beer is made up of water, yeast, ethyl alcohol (ethanol), malt, hops, and sugar. The end product for most beers is 4-7% alcohol by volume.
It’s worth keeping in mind that some beers are brewed for their low alcohol content. On the other hand, there are others which are incredibly strong - too strong some may argue - as much for brewery bragging rights rather than the actual taste of the end product.
For example, a beer called Snake Venom has an enormous 67.5% alcohol by volume.
While examples such as these would certainly be flammable with such a high alcohol content, the vast majority of beers are nowhere near that level of alcohol content. Take Budweiser, Heineken, or Stella Artois for example.
These popular beers are all around the 4.5-5% mark, so significantly lower than some of the ultra-strong concoctions produced by independent breweries.
Most traditional beers are made up mainly of water. Therefore, they’re not flammable. The combination of alcohol and water is only flammable when sufficient alcohol is present, and in the majority of beers, there’s nothing like enough alcohol to make this happen.
Can Beer Ever Catch Fire?
As mentioned above, most beers and ales won’t catch fire due to a low alcohol percentage and high water content. Anything around 4-7% provides very little risk in terms of its flammability.
In long-standing bartender tradition, beer is even used as an ingredient to add to high-alcohol cocktails in order to stop them from being flammable.
Fermentation Process Of Beer
Beer isn’t flammable while it’s producing alcohol (ethanol) during the fermentation process. The only exceptions are if you make a major mistake during the process or you’re aiming to make one of the strongest beers in history.
If neither of these are the case, you won’t need to worry about your beer producing enough alcohol to be flammable.
Flammable vs. Combustible
As explained earlier, beer isn’t a flammable liquid. However, it’s considered to be combustible (prone to burn easily) under the hazard mitigation protocols provided by many breweries. Despite this, it remains highly unlikely that you’d ever be able to combust a beer in normal conditions.
To do this, you’d need to go completely out of your way, even if using an industrial process.
Cooking With Beer
Given that beer isn’t flammable and far from easy to burn, you’d have thought that it would be perfectly safe to cook with. This, however, isn’t quite the case.
It’s possible to evaporate the water from the dish that you’re cooking and leave just the alcohol behind. In theory, it might then be possible to set fire to the remaining alcohol in the pan.
In practice, however, it’s unlikely that your beer will catch fire in cooking. So, if you really want to try using the alcoholic beverage in your next dish, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about from a flammability perspective.
Just make sure that you’re sensible in your approach and don’t use an excessive amount of beer.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Percentage Alcohol Is Considered Flammable?
The percentage of alcohol typically considered flammable is 40-50% alcohol by volume, or 80-100 proof. You can still set fire to drinks with lower amounts of alcohol, but they’ll auto-extinguish quickly due to their high water content.
With drinks that are moving towards 60 proof or 30% alcohol by volume, it’s too dangerous to try lighting them at all.
So, while it’s possible that some of the strongest novelty beers will be flammable, they are few and far between, and usually much more expensive too.
Why Is Ethanol Flammable?
Ethanol is an alcohol formed by ethene and water. As is the case with the majority of alcohols, ethanol is flammable as it combines with oxygen to give off carbon dioxide and water, as well as a variety of waste products.
Is Bud Light Flammable?
Like the majority of beers, Bud Light isn’t flammable and won’t catch fire. This is because of its low alcohol percentage and high water content. Most Budweiser beers are between 4% and 5% so don’t have anywhere near enough alcohol to ignite or sustain a fire.
Does Setting Alcohol On Fire Make It Stronger?
One of the main reasons people set their alcoholic drinks on fire is to alter the flavor. Burning alcohol will lower the liquid content in the drink, subsequently creating a richer and tastier drink once condensed.
So, setting alcohol on fire can sometimes produce a beneficial warmth; enriching the flavor and warming the drink up for you.
Why Isn’t Water Flammable?
Water is made of two elements, hydrogen and oxygen. While hydrogen is a flammable element, oxygen isn’t. As a result of this, you can’t burn pure water, which explains why many people use water to put out fires rather than starting them.
It’s worth noting, however, that you can break down the hydrogen and oxygen by putting energy into it. This is usually in the form of an electric current.