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Winemakers often add potassium metabisulphite to the finished product for two purposes: To prevent further yeast growth (so that they do not eat the remaining sugars) and as a preservative, to prevent oxidation.

Since oxidation is a big concern for brewers, do any homebrewers out there add sulfites to your beers, in order to prevent oxidation and staling? If so, what are the relevant concerns, and has the result been good?

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I first heard about the idea here: thebrewingnetwork.com/shows/475 –  Dustin Rasener Feb 17 '11 at 17:31
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Winemakers don't add k-meta to stop fermentation before the wine is dry. K-meta is not strong enough to do this. Winemakers use potassium sorbate to do this. K-meta does prevent oxidation. It preservative qualities lie in its ability to stop other bacteria & wild yeast from ramping up and spoiling the wine. At the levels used (25-50 ppm), it's not strong enough to stop a runaway wine yeast train. –  JackSmith Feb 17 '11 at 18:10
    
Hey I got a great video on replacing Campden tablets with potassium metabisulfite solution here: youtube.com/watch?v=CayBv64erfs –  Wine Brewer Aug 26 at 5:29

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The only thing I use potassium metabisulfite for in brewing is the dechlorination of my tap water.

I use k-meta in winemaking for several purposes:

  1. To stop the naturally occurring wild yeast and bacteria on the grapes immediately after crushing. After sulfiting the must to ~40ppm, I let it rest for about a day before pitching my cultured yeast. This first sulfite addition doesn't map well to brewing because the wort is boiled, thus driving off any baddies.
  2. To prevent oxidation.

    • Wine is bulk aged for years, then bottle aged for years more. Oxidation can really take hold in that time frame. Most beers are consumed within a few months.
    • Wine is racked from carboy to carboy up to a half-dozen times before it's bottled. Each racking potentially exposes the wine to oxygen. With beer, you rack zero to two times (none if your fermentor has a spigot, once if you need to rack to a bottling vessel, twice if you secondary). The potential oxygen exposure is much less in brewing than in winemaking.

Finally, messing with sulfites in wine is a pain. If you don't monitor your free and bound SO2 levels, you can over-sulfite your wine, ending up with a strong rotten-egg taste, or under-sulfite it, resulting in oxidized wine. It's a necessary hassle in winemaking, one that I'm glad I don't have to deal with in brewing.

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Excellent and knowledgable answer, thanks for that. –  brewchez Feb 17 '11 at 18:41
    
I recommend you listen to the Brew Strong podcast mentioned in my comment on the question. The brewing scientist they talked with suggested that brewers should consider using it, but I think he was referring to commercial breweries. –  Dustin Rasener Feb 17 '11 at 18:51
    
That one's been on my short list. I started listening to it on the ride home today, but didn't get all the way through. It sounds like that Dr. Bamforth guy doesn't know what he's talking about. /sarcasm –  JackSmith Feb 18 '11 at 1:58
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I finished listening. Dr. Bamforth had three recommendations for commercial breweries to delay staling - use SO2, reduce O2 in finished product, and store as cold as possible. He said he'd found that SO2 works to reduce staling agents in beer the same way it does in wine. That said, I still feel that for a homebrewer, the risks & hassle of sulfiting beer far outweigh the potential reward, given that I don't have a problem with staling. The wine I make has to stand up to years of aging and multiple rackings, the beer doesn't. –  JackSmith Feb 18 '11 at 18:09
    
To anyone who wants to try using SO2 (campden, potassium metabisulfite) - be sure you only add this after fermentation has completed. If you add it before or during fermentation, the yeast will generate H2S (rotten egg smell). –  JackSmith Feb 18 '11 at 18:11

I spent 2 years experimenting with adding campden in an attempt to discern it's effects on oxidation. I finally stopped doing it after noticing no difference. That told me that either the campden did nothing or that I didn't have any issues for it to correct.

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I make wine and beer and I use sulfite solution for sanitizing my equipment and bottles for both beverages.

I haven't added sulfite to my beer specifically to prevent oxidation though I would imagine that the residual that's left from my sanitizing does help prevent that from happening.

I know wine yeasts have built up a tolerance to sulfites which is why you can add sulfites to fermenting wines and be okay, it just kills off any wild yeast or other microbes that may be present. I'm not sure if beer yeasts have this tolerance.

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Be careful using sulfites for sanitation with beer. They're fine for wine, but beer has less alcohol and a lower pH. Sulfites can be iffy for beer sanitation due to that. –  Denny Conn Feb 17 '11 at 22:43
    
Thanks for the info, I've yet to have an issue with it, but maybe I'm just lucky. –  Mattress Feb 17 '11 at 22:57
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@Denny: You probably meant this, but beer has a higher pH than wine. Red wines are typically in the 3.3-3.5 range, while whites are typically 3.1-3.3. Beer is typically closer to 4 or even higher. k-meta is more effective in wine because of wine's lower pH. Winemakers often mix citric acid into their k-meta sanitizing sprays to increase its effectiveness. That said, I sanitize with star-san for both beer & wine. –  JackSmith Feb 18 '11 at 1:55

I can't imagine why you would do this, although I will check out the show and amend my answer if I receive enlightenment.

In three years and sixty plus batches, bottled and kegged I've never had oxidized stale beer.

You just have to be careful in handling the beer to prevent oxidation, in racking, transfer to keg or bottling bucket.

Furthermore, you can't naturally carbonate if you prevent yeast growth. Wouldn't matter in kegging at least.

Oxidation is NOT a huge concern. It's one of those things you have to be careful of but I honestly can't imagine anyone finds this an overwhelming enough concern to add a (albeit safe) chemical to their beer.

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What is the longest that any of your beers has aged? –  Dustin Rasener Feb 17 '11 at 18:19
    
I'm going to guess that it isn't longer than 3 years :-) –  travis Feb 17 '11 at 20:22
    
I've been brewing for three years. The oldest beverage I have is mead, which is about three years old. –  TinCoyote Feb 17 '11 at 23:43

I know this is an old post, but I would like to add a point to the discussion. Oxidation in beer is primarily a concern for heavily hopped styles. From my understanding and experience, oxidation leads to diminished returns on hop aroma and staling of the hop compounds. Since dry hopping often involves racking to secondary, I think metabisulfite added at this stage (and at bottling) would make a significantly hoppier and fresher tasting DIPA that could hold up to the time it takes to age in bottles. Any thoughts?

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Asking this as a separate question is the best way to get answers. –  Tobias Patton 3 hours ago

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