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My friend, who has a severe sulfite allergy, wanted to try some of my beer. I had to refuse because I wasn't 100% sure that there weren't sulfites in it.

How are sulfites introduced to beer? I was under the impression that they are usually added as a separate preservative compound. What preservatives (that could reasonably be used in homebrewing) might contain sulfites?

Is there any chance that other ingredients used (in a simple all-grain, minimal- or no-flavoring brew) could introduce sulfites into a beer?

Cheers!

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1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Wine makers (and some cider makers) use sulfites for two purposes:

  1. To kill, or at least reduce the viability of, undesirable micro organisms like wild yeasts and bacteria.
  2. Inhibit oxidation when racking, bottling and storing wine.

Brewers generally don't use sulfites. Beer wort is sterile prior to pitching yeast, so there's no need for 1. Beer is not normally aged in the bottle, and the head of CO2 in a carbonated beer will help avoid oxygen contact, and hence oxidation.

So there's usually no added sulfites in home brewed beer. That doesn't mean that there are no sulfites. It could be that malted barley or hops contain some small amount of sulfites. Or your water supply could have trace amounts. I'll leave it to someone with a better understanding of organic chemistry to answer that aspect of your question.

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Water may contain sulfates, but I'm pretty sure there are no sulfites. Likewise, I'm not aware of any sulfites in malted grains. –  Denny Conn Sep 5 '12 at 15:34

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