From the HBD Archive
From: hplabs!polstra!jdp (John Polstra)
Subject: Re: Pete Soper on Aluminum
Date: 1990-05-04 16:37:19 GMT

I knew I'd regret fanning the embers of the aluminum controversy again :-(

In HBD #412, Pete Soper <> writes:
> John Polstra writes:
> > 2. The amount of aluminum that you get from using aluminum cookware
> > is negligible. You get far more aluminum from a single Tums (or
> > other antacid tablet) than you get from a year of using nothing but
> > aluminum cookware.
> Seeing as how you've gone out on a limb, I'll join you and we can try
> out this saw I brought.

Well, actually, it was UC Berkeley that went out on the limb. I was
just paraphrasing their article as well as I could remember it.

> You have forgotten the drastic difference in pH between normal foods
> and wort.

As has already been pointed out in this forum, wort is much less acidic
than many foods, e.g., tomato sauce. Also, wort is not cooked for as long
as many sauces and soups.

> What does the inside of your pot look like above and below the high
> water mark? Is it shiny below and the usual dull color of oxidized
> aluminum above?

Mine looks pretty much the same above and below.

> And I suppose that the aluminum compound you get from cooking with
> aluminum is the same compound as found in Tums ...

Well of course it's not the same compound that is found in Tums. If it
were, my homebrews wouldn't cause hangovers :-).

> ... (with very tight chemical bonds)?

Do you have information I don't about the nature of the chemical bonds in
Tums? Table salt (NaCl) could be said to have very tight chemical
bonds. But when it is dissolved in water, it breaks down easily into
the component ions, Na+ and Cl-. If my rusty memory of chemistry serves
(now I *am* going out on a limb), the breaking of chemical bonds and the
consequent dissociation into component ions is practically the
*definition* of "going into solution".

> But it is interesting to read that you taste no difference.

I didn't say that. I said I haven't noticed any off flavors/aromas that
seemed to be related to the aluminum. Neither did numerous judges in
various competitions.

I've never done an A-B comparison of identical brews boiled in aluminum
vs. stainless steel. Maybe I could taste the difference then. Maybe

> Others have said the impact on beer flavor is drastic.

I have never heard *anybody* say that the impact was "drastic". The
warnings I have heard and read were more along the lines of, "boiling
in aluminum will subtly alter the flavor of the beer in a negative
way." I'll accept that without argument, and you may recall that in my
original posting I began, "Yes, stainless steel is better than aluminum
for brewing beer." I'd rather have stainless steel, but the fact that I
don't hasn't caused me any real problems.

My argument, on which I do not waver, is that the effects from boiling
in aluminum are either nonexistent or so minor as to be negligible for
practical homebrewing purposes. As I wrote before, "aluminum is not
*that* bad."

My advice: If you already have an aluminum pot, use it and don't
worry. If you can't afford stainless steel, buy aluminum and don't
worry. Direct your efforts and dollars toward the many more important
aspects of brewing, such as: sanitation; obtaining the freshest
ingredients; proper balance between malt and hops; appropriate water
treatment for the style of beer you are brewing; fermentation
temperature control; sparging technique; etc., etc., etc.

- John Polstra jdp@polstra.uucp
Polstra & Co., Inc. practic!polstra!
Seattle, Washington USA ...{uunet,sun,pyramid}!practic!polstra!jdp
(206) 932-6482

PS - One more thing: wort boiled in aluminum is less likely to scorch.
That is why the best stainless-steel pots are clad with aluminum on the
bottom (outside).

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