Science Experiments with Wine, Water, Milk and Beer


For an entertaining introduction to chemistry, show your friends that it’s possible to transform water into wine, wine into milk, and milk into beer. While you can’t actually drink any of the substances, you will marvel at how completely the fluid can change in appearance. The basic experiment starts with a glass of simple water, which you pour into a series of glasses so that the substance goes through three chemical changes. However, some variations also exist, if you have limited time or materials and wish to do a simpler experiment.

For the basic “water into wine into milk into beer” experiment, you actually do not start with water at all but with sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), which is a weak base. For the first step of the experiment, you pour this substance into the “wine glass,” which should contain a few drops of a phenolphthalein indicator. An indicator, such as phenolphthalein, is a substance that changes color depending on the acidity of the environment. Since the sodium carbonate is a base, or alkaline, it will turn deep red when it mixes with the phenolphthalein. However, remember that you are not dealing with real water or with real wine. In fact, phenolphthalein is highly toxic, so you should avoid touching it and absolutely not drink the solution.

After you have impressed your audience by changing water into wine, pour the Na2CO3 and phenolphthalein solution (your “wine”) into a third glass. For the most dramatic effect, make this one a tall drinking glass, the sort that you would drink milk from. Inside this third glass, you should already have BaCl2, or barium chloride. When the “wine” mixes with the barium chloride, a chemical reaction will take place, as the chloride ions react with the barium ions. As a result, some barium carbonate is formed (BaCO3). This is a white, solid precipitate. As a result, your “beverage” will now appear opaque and white, just like milk. Bear in mind that barium chloride is also toxic when inhaled, ingested, or touched. Therefore, avoid touching or sniffing the solution.

Finally, you can transform the “milk” into “beer.” First, you should have a beer stein prepared with a small amount of hydrochloric acid (HCl) and some bromothymol blue indicator. Bear in mind that hydrochloric acid is highly caustic, so you should practice extreme care in handling it, never touching the substance directly. Always wear eye protection and protective gloves, and avoid breathing the fumes directly. When you pour the “milk” into your beer stein, the barium carbonate that was created in the milk glass will react with the strong acid. As a result, the reaction will produce barium ions, water, and carbon dioxide gas. As the gas bubbles rapidly rise to the surface, they will resemble the head on a glass of beer. Meanwhile, the bromthymol blue will turn a yellow-brown color in the presence of acid, just like beer.

Another experiment focuses on changing between water, wine, milk, and “fizzy lemonade.” This time, you begin with potassium manganate, your “water”. Pour this solution into a first glass, which contains sodium thiosulphate and barium chloride. You will see your mixture turn from clear to a deep red color, just like wine. Next, pour the “wine” into a third glass, with barium sulphate, to show the wine turn into “milk.” Finally, pour the resulting mixture into a fourth glass, which should contain a small amount of sodium carbonate. When the acidic sodium thiosulphate “milk” mixes with the sodium carbonate, the solution will turn nearly clear, with lots of fizzy bubbles.

Another simple and popular experiment lets you simply change “water” to “wine.” A shorter variation on the full water-wine-milk-beer process, it’s ideal if you have limited time or materials. For this chemical reaction, start with a glass of water and add a small amount of sodium hydroxide to make the solution slightly alkaline. Put a few drops of phenolphthalein in the second glass, just as you did for the water-wine-milk-beer experiment. When you pour the water into the second glass, watch as the solution goes from clear to deep red. Another variation of this experiment displays the same apparent “magic,” but uses different materials. For this experiment, make a solution of vitamin C, dissolved in water, as well as iodine. Make another solution of water, hydrogen peroxide, and starch. At first, the solution will just turn a slight milky color. As the vitamin C reacts and “consumes” the iodine ions, the iodine begins to react with the hydrogen peroxide, turning the solution a deep bluish red, just like wine. In fact, the reactivity of iodine with vitamin C also makes it a good substance for experiments that test the vitamin C content of various foods.

If you want a simple experiment that doesn’t require many materials, you can simply do the “wine to water swap” experiment. You will merely need two small glasses, a bit of heavy paper (like cardstock), some water, and some wine. Fill one glass with water and the other with wine. Cover the water glass with the paper and flip it over to sit atop the wine glass. Quickly remove the separator and watch as the wine rises to the top and the water moves to the bottom. The impressive “switch” is because of wine’s relatively lighter density, causing it to rise while the water sinks.