The water to wine to milk to beer chemistry demonstration is an interesting and entertaining set of chemical reactions that make a liquid appear to change into different drinks. The first glass contains a liquid that looks like water. Pouring it into the second glass causes the liquid to turn red like wine. Transferring this solution to the third glass forms a milky white liquid. Pouring the white liquid into the fourth and final glass yields a frothy amber liquid resembling beer.
Here is how to perform the water to wine to milk to beer chemistry demonstration and a look at the reactions.
This demonstration uses several chemicals, but it’s your choice of glassware that really makes a difference. Choose glassware that looks like a water glass, a wine glass, a milk glass, and a beer mug. The water and wine glass won’t contain any toxic chemicals, but don’t use the milk and beer glasses for beverages after the demonstration.
- Water (preferably distilled)
- Saturated sodium bicarbonate solution (20% baking soda in water, pH = 9)
- Phenolphthalein indicator
- Saturated barium chloride solution (aqueous)
- Sodium dichromate crystals
- Concentrated hydrochloric acid
- Water, wine, milk, beer glasses
The water, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), and phenolphthalein indicator are readily available, but you’ll likely need to purchase barium chloride, sodium dichromate, and concentrated hydrochloric acid from a chemical supply company.
Perform the Water to Wine to Milk to Beer Demonstration
Usually, this demonstration is set up as a science magic trick, with the glasses prepared in advance. Then, the demonstration is just a matter of pouring liquid from one glass into another.
- Fill the water glass about three-quarters of the way full with distilled water. Make sure the liquid won’t overflow the other glasses. Add 20 to 25 ml of saturated sodium bicarbonate solution. The liquid has a pH of 9.
- Add a couple of drops of phenolphthalein indicator to the bottom of the wine glass. Using 4 drops of a 1% phenolphthalein solution is the recommended amount, but the volume and concentration of indicator solution are not critical.
- Pour approximately 10 ml of saturated barium chloride solution into the bottom of the milk glass.
- Place a few sodium dichromate crystals in the bottom of the beer mug. Prepare the glasses up to this point in advance of the demonstration. Just prior to performing the reaction, add 5 ml of concentrated hydrochloric acid to the beer mug.
- Pour the liquid from the water glass into the wine glass. Pour the solution from the wine glass into the milk glass. Dump the contents of the milk glass into the beer mug.
There are a few variations available for this chemistry demonstration.
- Just before the demonstration, add a bit of dry ice to the beer mug. This adds more bubbles and makes the “beer” look frosty cold.
- Substitute 20% sodium carbonate (washing soda) for 20% sodium bicarbonate.
- Omit the sodium dichromate and use yellow food coloring instead. The resulting color isn’t as amber, but you don’t get any hexavalent chromium, either!
How the Water to Wine to Milk to Beer Demonstration Works
There is a lot going on in this demonstration because the colors changes result from different processes. Obviously, the demonstration is an example of a chemical reaction and a chemical change. It also illustrates exothermic processes, acids and bases, pH indicators, precipitate formation, and gas formation (bubbles).
- Water: Adding baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to water produces a clear liquid that resembles water, but has a much higher pH. Baking soda ultimately dissolves in water in an exothermic process, forming carbon dioxide and water. But, the reaction does not reach its conclusion before adding the liquid to the second glass, so the bicarbonate and hydroxide ions account for the high alkalinity.
NaHCO3 + H2O → Na+ + HCO3–
HCO3– + H2O → H2CO3 + OH–
H2CO3 → CO2 + H2O
- Wine: The phenolphthalein in the wine glass is a pH indicator that is colorless under neutral or acidic conditions, but turns pink or red under alkaline conditions (high pH). Adding the basic liquid from the water glass to the wine glass instantly changes the liquid color.
HIn(colorless)+ OH– → In–(red) + H2O
- Milk: The barium ion from the aqueous barium chloride solution combines with the carbonate ion from the first glass, forming white barium carbonate precipitate. The precipitate turns the liquid the color of milk. Also, note that using up the carbonate changes the liquid pH, turning the phenolphthalein colorless.
Ba2+ + CO32- → BaCO3(s)
- Beer: Hydrochloric acid breaks apart the barium carbonate precipitate in a reaction producing carbon dioxide gas and barium ions. The dichromate ion gives the solution the color of beer.
BaCO3(s) + 2H+ → Ba2+ + H2O + CO2(g)
See the Water to Wine to Milk to Beer Demonstration in Action
If you search YouTube, there are several examples of the water to wine to milk to beer demonstration. This one shows the set up and what to expect. You can tell from the state of the glassware that this chemist uses the glassware only for this demonstration and not for actual beverages.
The water to wine to milk to beer chemistry demonstration is appropriate for a chemistry teacher or chemist. It involves proper safety gear, such as goggles, gloves, and a lab coat, and chemicals not suited for the home. Hydrochloric acid is a corrosive strong acid. Barium chloride irritates the eyes, skin, and lungs. Sodium dichromate is corrosive and toxic. Dry ice, if used, requires insulated gloves or tongs.
After completing the demonstration, place the final liquid in the appropriate waste container according to local regulations. Rinse out the glasses with plenty of water and use them only for this demonstration (never for food). Storing stock solutions for future use is fine.
- Freeman, F. (2004). “Sodium Dichromate” in Encyclopedia of Reagents for Organic Synthesis (ed: L. Paquette). J. Wiley & Sons, New York. doi:10.1002/047084289X
- Shakhashiri, Bassam Z. (1983). Chemical Demonstrations: A Handbook for Teachers of Chemistry (1st ed.). University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN: 978-0299088903.
- Wittke, Georg (1983). “Reactions of phenolphthalein at various pH values”. Journal of Chemical Education. 60 (3): 239. doi:10.1021/ed060p239