Metabisulfite as Dechlorinator

Chlorine is the enemy of good beer made with tap water.  Chlorine reacts with phenols to form chlorophenols, chemical flavors reminiscent of a band-aid, harsh and very detrimental to beer’s flavor.  I don’t react well to harsh flavors so for years I’ve tried to drive them out.  The final frontier was the chlorine in tap water.

Our tap water here in Aurora is good for brewing and very low in disinfectant – the role chlorine plays.  The city uses both chlorine and chloramine, a more complex, more stable chlorine disinfectant and one much harder to get rid of.  Boiling or simply letting water stand will get rid of chlorine or chlorine dioxide, another gaseous disinfectant sometimes added to tap water.  But chloramine is persistent and reacts to form chlorophenols.  And it is much harder to get rid of.

Three primary ways are available to homebrewers to get rid of chlorine in tap water.  Reverse osmosis (RO) filters for home use are available and they get rid of everything.  The water comes out close to pure, so close you can treat all the ion concentrations as zero, chlorine included.  At some point, I’ll likely consider getting an RO filtration system and building my brewing water for each style but for now, I have other things to invest in.

Larger breweries use activated charcoal filtration.  Activated charcoal filters are available for home or RV use and I used one for years before learning that the water has to be in contact with the filters for a significant amount of time to remove chlorine and chloramines.  Long story short, these filters alone are not likely to remove all the chlorine in your water unless as a stage in a RO filter.

The easiest and cheapest way I’ve found to dechlorinate is using metabisulfite, either potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite, commonly known as Campden tablets.  Ground and added to tap water, a single Campden tablet is sufficient to dechlorinate 20 gallons of water and at that concentration, has no ill effects on yeast.  I generally use 10 gallons of water for a typical brew so I just grind up the tab and add it with my brewing salts.  The net result is the chlorine and chloramine is reduced to near zero and the reaction forms a negligible amount of chloride and sulfate, with some sulfite formed that will boil off.

When I started using this procedure, I noticed quickly that I could smell the chlorine before adding the metabisulfite but not afterward.  This was not enough.  So I got some chlorine test strips and ran the test.  I checked my water before adding the metabisulfite.  The concentration of total chlorine was about 5 ppm.  After adding the metabisulfite, the concentration was close enough to zero that the strips could not detect chlorine.  That’s good enough for me.

I still detect a lot of chlorine at Homebrewer’s Night, when I sample beers from several homebrewers at our local homebrew shop.  It’s so quick and easy to remove chlorine, it should be one of the steps in every brewer’s brew day, at least those of us using municipal tap water disinfected with chlorine.  A ground-up Campden tablet is our key to smoother beer with no chemical flavors.


Cloning Yuengling

It’s been a while, hopefully I haven’t lost my dozen or so followers.  If you’re still around, thanks for bearing with me.  Life has been crazy.

I’m still brewing!  In the near future I’ll be showing off my new electric brewing system but for now, I wanted to talk about an experience I had cloning Yuengling’s classic lager.  The backstory:  My daughter’s boyfriend has a friend, a chef we know at a rather nice restaurant, that loves Yuengling.  Unfortunately it’s not distributed in Colorado so we can’t get it.  The friend, I’ll call him Chef, had some of my beer at a party.  We talked and the subject of Yuengling came up.  Long story short, I said I’d try to clone it.

A few notes on cloning:  You can’t.  I really prefer the term “inspired by” to cloning simply because I can’t reproduce a large brewery’s processes, my equipment is orders of magnitude smaller.  Also there’s the issue of ingredients.  Larger breweries contract for malts and hops, I take what’s available at the local homebrew store.  And another comment on ingredients:  If you’re brewing a lot of beer, you can’t formulate a recipe using “the best ingredients.”  You want the average, the ingredients that will most likely be around from season to season.  We can, because if we can’t get the specific brand or quality of malt, no big deal.  Yuengling can’t get the malt they need for the classic lager, their business suffers.  So when you go to clone a commercial recipe, keep in mind that you might actually be using better ingredients than the original brewer.

Okay, now to the cloning process.  First step, taste it.  Yuengling is dry, minerally, medium-light bready malt (European bread, not Wonder) with some crust-like flavors, balanced between hops and malt with a bit of late hop finish, more Bohemian like than American, meaning herbal-spicy rather than citrus-pine.  Good place to start.  Next is to go and see what Yuengling themselves say about the beer.  Quoting from their website:

Famous for its rich amber color and medium-bodied flavor with roasted caramel malt for a subtle sweetness and a combination of cluster and cascade hops, this true original delivers a well-balanced taste with very distinct character. Born from a historic recipe that was resurrected in 1987, Yuengling Traditional Lager is a true classic.

Not much help, but it did tell me about the hops used.  When I checked, they had some information on the grist that tells me it is primarily two row and Munich, with some Caramunich.  Being a “traditional American lager”, corn must be in it, validated by my taste tests noting a light body and “corny” flavor.  It’s 4.5% ABV, giving me an idea of what the gravity should be, and it’s not very bitter.  So here’s the recipe I came up with:

Amount Fermentable PPG °L Bill %
5.5 lb American – Pale 2-Row 37 1.8 50.3%
3 lb American – Munich – Light 10L 33 10 27.4%
0.75 lb German – CaraMunich II 34 46 6.9%
1.5 lb Flaked Corn 40 0.5 13.7%
3 oz German – Acidulated Malt 27 3.4 1.7%
10.94 lb Total

Amount Variety Type AA Use Time IBU
0.6 oz Cluster Pellet 6.5 Boil 60 min 13.6
0.3 oz Cascade Pellet 7 Boil 20 min 4.43
0.3 oz Cascade Pellet 7 Boil 10 min 2.65
 Show Summary View

Mash Guidelines
Amount Description Type Temp Time
21.6 qt Infusion 150 °F 60 min
Sparge 170 °F 10 min
Starting Mash Thickness: 2 qt/lb

Other Ingredients
Amount Name Type Use Time
2 g Gypsum Water Agt Mash 1 hr.
1.2 g Whirlfloc Water Agt Boil 15 min.

Attenuation (custom):
Optimum Temp:
50 – 55 °F
Fermentation Temp:
53 °F
Pitch Rate:
1.5 (M cells / ml / ° P) 414 B cells required
Yeast Pitch Rate and Starter Calculator

The links are to the recipe on Brewer’s Friend.

So I brewed it.  Fermented at 50 degrees until complete, lagered a month at about 32 degrees, bottle-conditioned, then tried side-by-side with one of the precious cans of Yuengling.  The color was close to spot-on, coppery red with a persistent off-white head.  The flavors were close – the original was drier and much more mineraly than mine, malt was very close, there was some finishing hop flavor in the original that mine did not have, likely a bit of Cascade in the last ten minutes of the boil.
Quite a few of the “clones” I could find on the Web included Crystal malts, mine did not.  Crystal has a sweetness not present in the beer and to me seemed inappropriate.  So I came up with Caramunich instead, and got a pretty close copy.