On Sulfites

As I learn more about fermentation on a commercial level, the issue of sulfites has come up for me. I’ve never added sulfites to my mead; it’s an extra ingredient that I never really needed. I wasn’t even sure what it did, though I know it was surrounded by a sort of enigmatic haze that it’s bad for humans; I vaguely remembered warning labels from wine about sulfites.

Sulfite is a salt, its chemical formula is SO3. It is naturally occurring, but it also is routinely added to commercial ferments. When added to a fermentation, it stabilizes the ferment where it is: the yeast dies, the fermentation process stops, and the sulfites resist oxidization and act as a preservative of the brew. Sounds reasonable, especially in a commercial setting; using sulfites prevents unanticipated fermentation after bottling (the last thing a commercial brewer needs is one of their bottles exploding in a customer’s face), and makes each bottle more consistent over time.

The problem is, some people react to sulfites similarly to having an allergic reaction. These people should avoid consuming excess sulfites, though exposure to some naturally-occurring sulfites is almost inevitable.

I still don’t think I’ll ever use sulfites for my homebrews, there is just no need for it. And philosophically, I don’t like the idea of “killing” my beverages, regardless of the specific questionability of sulfites themselves. For commercial brews, I can understand why it is used.

Plus it’s not so simple than just choosing not to use sulfites: if a commercial brewer decides not to use them and claim “no sulfites” on the label, then they must submit a sample of the brew for testing, to ensure that it truly does not contain sulfites. It’s not as simple as saying “we have added no sulfites” to a particular brew.

I haven’t decided yet if I’ll use sulfites for the Bardic Brews Meads that I will release with UFF. Watch this space.