Explosive Cocktail Foam




About: Artist in Residence at Pier 9, currently exploring a vast array of new tools with which to injure myself.

Have a blast at your next cocktail party by serving drinks topped with explosive hydrogen foam!

WARNING: Playing with explosive gases is very dangerous. You probably shouldn't do it. Especially if alcohol is also involved. The follow instructions describe exactly how to go about making this fun and exciting party drink garnish using cheap household objects purely as a theoretical exercise. It would be downright foolhardy to actually make and serve any cocktails covered in this tasty, lemon-scented, non-toxic foam, no matter how awesome they would appear or how popular they would make you*. I hope we have an understanding.

How does this all work?

It's all very simple: We'll use egg whites to make a light froth, just like when making meringues. This froth, however, won't be full of air bubbles. Instead, it will be full of a 2:1 mixture of hydrogen and oxygen gas. As I'm sure you know, hydrogen can get a little over-excited when it's around oxygen, needing little provocation to explode in a clean-burning ball of fury, producing heat, light and water (2 H₂ + O₂ → 2 H₂O). In the context of our beverage foam, this explosion will produce a bang, a flash, a splash and an ever-so-slightly diluted drink.

Unless you happen to have a tank of hydrogen sitting around at home, you'll need to make your own. The easiest way to do this is by passing an electric current through water, splitting the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen (2 H₂O → 2 H₂ + O₂). This requires little more than a plastic bottle, some tubing, two pencil leads and a DC power supply.

I spent a long time experimenting with different methods to collect a reservoir full of hydrogen and then whip it into a drink. After building and testing a system of nested and partially submerged interlocking cocktail shakers, I eventually came to the conclusion that the best way to get a good large-bubbled foam is just to let the gas flow directly from its source (i.e. water) into the foam without any additional whisking, whipping, beating or shaking. This method is extremely straightforward, but only lets you produce a small amount of explosive foam at a time. Given how explosive hydrogen is, that's probably for the best.

This sounds complicated. How long will it take?

It's really not complicated at all. You could set this up in less than an hour. You shouldn't, because it's dangerous. But if you do, you should wear safety goggles and have a fire extinguisher to hand. Let's get cracking!

*Very awesome and very popular.

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Step 1: Getting Electricity Into Water

First of all, you'll need to choose a DC power supply. I used an old laptop power brick with a 20V 2A DC output.

You'll also need to find a pair of suitable electrodes to conduct the current into the water. Ideally these should have a non-reactive surface such as graphite. Or platinum, if you're feeling fancy. I scraped the copper coating off a pair of graphite welding electrodes to produce two inanimate carbon rods. A few pencil leads bundled together would also do the trick.

Wrap a wire around the end of each electrode and connect them to the positive and negative terminals of your power supply.

Step 2: Bottling It

Poke a pair of holes into the base of a tall plastic bottle. The holes should be on opposite sides of the base so that the electrodes do not touch each other and create a short circuit. Hot glue the electrodes to the inside of the bottle, keeping any exposed metal wiring on the outside of the bottle so it doesn't get wet (better yet - cover the exposed wiring up with heat shrink tubing).

Use what will seem like an excessive amount of hot glue to completely seal the holes in the bottle, leaving the wires trailing out. You can never have too much hot glue.

Step 3: Your Shiny New Reactor

You should have something that looks a little bit like this, although perhaps more stable and with neater wiring.

Step 4: The Outflow Pipe

Now you need to a way to channel the gases from the bottle into your foam. In a typical hydrolysis set-up, you would try to collect gas from the anode and the cathode into two separate containers. Here, however, you want to collect a mixture of the two gases (hydrogen and oxygen), so you can use a single tube to collect all the gas produced from the water.

Drill a hole through the bottle's lid, insert some flexible plastic tubing and go crazy with the hot glue again.

You're almost ready to test your equipment! If you fill your bottle with pure water, you'll find that it doesn't conduct electricity all that well. Add several tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda to help carry electric charge through the water. You could also use table salt, but it carries the risk of producing small amounts of chlorine gas.

Fill the bottle with water, screw the lid on tightly and check that you don't have any leaks. Now try hooking it up to your power source and submerging the free end of the plastic tube in a cup of soapy water. You should soon see bubbles forming. If you touch a match to these bubbles (keeping the flame well away from the sealed bottle of flammable gas!), they should explode delightfully.

Step 5: Bubble Mix

Now that you have a source of explosive gas, you need something to blow it into. Egg whites are excellent at holding bubbles at room temperature, and the addition of a little acid increases their stability. Combine half a teaspoon of lemon juice with three egg whites and whisk them together with a fork. Make sure you're using a clean, soap-free bowl or jug and don't let any yolk into your mix.

Step 6: Foam Party

Clean any soap from your plastic tubing, make sure the tube is full of air* and submerge the free end in your lemony egg whites. If you have a fat separator jug, it makes an excellent tube holder. If not, just hold the tube in place by hand or by tape.

Turn on your power supply and get bubbly!

Just to drive the point home: If you're actually doing this, please be very careful. Don't use any vessels that can shatter. Keep the hydrogen/oxygen mixture away from any flames, heat sources or electrical appliances. Even static sparks from clothing could potentially ignite these gases. Make them in small amounts and make sure you know where they are. Cover any squishy parts of yourself you consider worth protecting.

*You want an air gap to make sure the liquid contents of the bottle do not mix with the egg whites.

Step 7: Serving Suggestions

After a few minutes, you should have collected a sizable clump of bubbles made of egg white and explosive gas. Carefully spoon them from their container onto the surface of your cocktails. Be sure to wipe the spoon clean each time to avoid contaminating your egg whites with your cocktail ingredients.

Step 8: Go Out With a Bang!

You're all set! If any one of these foamy cocktails comes near an open flame, it will fire like a gunshot. Expect a lot of shrieking (hopefully gleeful) and laughter (hopefully maniacal). Enjoy yourself and, as always, let me know how it goes!

General tips:

  • Make your guests aware that their cocktails contain raw egg whites.
  • Thinner cocktail glasses will allow you create a deeper foam, making for a more impressive explosion.
  • If you use a sparkler as a fuse, make sure it hangs down from the glass so that sparks don't hit the foam until the last possible moment.
  • Serve and ignite the drinks as quickly as possible; the bubbles will bust or deflate if you leave them too long.
  • Line up a row of explosive cocktails next to each other and light the one on the end for a chain reaction.
  • Warn your guests what's going on and let them take part in the fun!
  • Get creative! Experiment! For example, I'd love to see someone try a variant of this as a garnish to food, using a delicious savory xanthan gum gel instead of egg white.

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    30 Discussions

    Alex in NZ

    9 months ago

    Neat cell for producing the gases. Thank you for sharing it :-)


    3 years ago

    There is a much better source of carbon electrodes than welding-rods or pencil leads: a 6V lantern battery. Here in the UK many big supermarkets have a container for customers to ditch their dead batteries. Grab one; it's free! The lantern battery has 4 big cells inside. Each cell has a cylindrical zinc case ( also used in home-brew electrochemistry ) and a 4 inch long rod of graphitic carbon ( the anode) about the thickness of a pencil. They even crimp a brass cap on the top which you can solder to.

    Brilliant 'ible, BTW!


    3 years ago

    Alcoholics, red hot metal, glass, flame and hydrogen. What could possibly go wrong? I want to be nice, but this looks exceedingly dangerous.

    3 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    Oh no! Not exceedingly! But rather potentially. Use common sense when you are blowing up your shots!


    Reply 3 years ago

    Common sense and alcohol don't know each other very well.

    There are still family stories involving my childhood hydrogen science project. There is even a Canadian yarn color named after me, "Don't worry mom, I know what I am doing. Hydrogen is safe."

    I tease. You know I'm going to try this.


    Reply 3 years ago

    As am I. Just built an 50kW waste oil burner for melting aluminium. After having half of my yard on flames this seems like nothing :). Watch out when refilling...


    3 years ago

    The mixture of hydrogen and oxygen gas is called Brown's gas.


    3 years ago

    Very Funny.

    It sounds wonderfully dangerous.

    very cool


    3 years ago

    A good source of very thick, very pure graphite rods is the art supply store. Several companies make "woodless pencils", 1/4-5/16" thick solid graphite rods with a lacquer coating. They come in a variety of hardness levels, and can easily be sharpened in a standard pencil sharpener to a very nice point...or you can blunt them just as easily with a piece of sandpaper. They're inexpensive and easy to get online. Just strip off the lacquer on one end and clamp on a wire and there you go, nice cheap high-quality carbon electrode.

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    Help me out here. Why do you need the carbon electrode? Why not use just a wire or any metal electrode? The gas evolved is still just hydrogen and oxygen, right?


    Reply 3 years ago

    Oxygen will oxidize the metals instead of collecting as a gas.


    3 years ago

    If I were to do this I would keep the hydrogen and oxygen separate and combine them at the last moment with a y connector at the foam end. I'm a bit skittish about sealed containers of explosive gas.

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    Err... Both gasses are pretty dangerous--albeit, not explosively dangerous... But, still, if you are worried over a couple of cubic inches of explosive gas, I hope you don't own a gas stove or water tank...


    Reply 3 years ago

    There is a big difference between flammable, combustion-supporting, and explosive. I wouldn't hesitate to put a spark to a sealed bottle of pressurized hydrogen, because it wouldn't react, although, if there's a leak, the flame is transparent and you can only detect it from the heat or the ripples in the air. I wouldn't hesitate to put a spark to a sealed bottle of pressurized oxygen, because that would just make my spark glow brighter. But I wouldn't want to put a spark to a bottle of pressurized hydrogen and oxygen, because I wouldn't enjoy picking plastic fragments out of my body.


    3 years ago


    How about a layer of tequila over banana milkshake?!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This is one of those "why didn't I think of that" ideas... the possibilities are many - and probably increasingly dangerous. Consider what you would have with chilled bubbles passed through jello that's just beginning to set; and ice cream, if properly made, contains a lot of gas (air)... did you try whipped cream?

    But please don't forget that safety of the people and things around you is far more important than being clever.

    3 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    My original idea was to make a "Hydro-Gin Fizz" by shaking a creamy eggy cocktail mix in a sealed cocktail shaker full of hydrogen. After eventually figuring out how to do this without any leaks or accidental cocktail dilution, I found that the foam it generated was just too smooth (i.e. lots of tiny bubbles) to burn well.

    To properly whip the hydrogen/oxygen mixture into cream, I'd need to either compress the gas into a siphon (rather risky) or find a way to whisk it while it's inside a sealed container. I've been experimenting with the idea of using magnets to spin a whisk inside a cocktail shaker using an external motor, but haven't perfected it yet. Updates will follow once I've cracked it!


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    You could use a magnetic stirrer ! To go further on the chemistry side :)

    Great I'ble by the way, and happy new year !