Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

August 6, 2013

Water Quality still Medieval

Filed under: science, Soapbox, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 8:57 pm

Batch after batch of mead and brown-sugar based herbal beer was coming out tasting like band-aids. I moved my fermentation to the most temperature-stable spot in the house (under my desk, right next to the thermostat), switched from dish soap to hand soap to rinsing with water and sanitizing with hydrogen peroxide only, threw out my old bottles, and scratched my head.

Then, in Michael Pollan’s newish book “Cooked,” I came across a reference to band-aid flavored beer. A local brewer told Pollan that the flavor is caused by the chemical chlorophenol, and that lowering the fermentation temperature would eliminate it. Since I had lowered the temperature to the minimum my A.C. and cold-prone body could take, I knew that that particular solution would not work in my case. However, I did learn a highly specific tag for my problem, “chlorophenol.”

I used the search term in a homebrewing forum, and found my solution right away. It turns out that yeast make some phenols for their own metabolic purposes, and if there is chlorine in their environment, the yeast will incorporate chlorine atoms into their phenols. The chlorophenol products are typical of what the chemical industry provides for Lysol disinfectant and the microbial inhibitors in medical supplies.

Many of my beer and wine recipes call for boiling up some wort, but then topping up the fermenting jug with water from the tap. This is totally inappropriate — even the top-up water needs to be boiled to drive off the chlorine.

The water out of my Detroit tap is great by municipal water standards — not too hard, not too soft, nor too polluted — but it is chlorinated and tastes and smells kind of like a swimming pool. Now that the idea of chlorine in the water is linked in my head to the ruinous batches, mouthfuls of band-aid, I really don’t like the taste of my tap water.

I need to boil the water before I imbibe it — it’s no longer potable out of the tap in my view. Now wasn’t the point of chlorinating the municipal water supply to clean it up so that you wouldn’t have to filter or boil out the nasty things water can carry? Boiling won’t even remove the fluoride, which most Americans are overexposed to, which causes the softening of tooth enamel and potentially more serious problems (41% of 12-15 year olds suffer from dental fluorosis, caused by overexposure to fluoride through toothpaste and drinking water. Fluoride is also known to soften bone, cause diabetes and other endocrine problems, and decrease IQ, although this is not proven to happen with exposures typical for Americans.)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I have to treat my water with the precautions as a medieval living in a horse-manure-filled, no-sewage-treatment-plant, cholera-infested city. As for the fluoride, that requires more sophisticated interventions (maybe the filter Alex Jones hawks on his radio show. Or mounting a political campaign, tilting against the dental establishment and the industries which sell their fluoridated industrial waste to the water department.)

Okay, it’s better than people dying of dysentery, and I don’t know of a better solution than chlorination. I’m just saying, boil all of your brewing water, and don’t take too much pride from the idea that you might be living better than a peasant living in the superstitious, technologically simple Dark Ages.

Create a free website or blog at