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Does Draught Beer Contain Formaldehyde?
December 1, 2005 10:24 AM   Subscribe

BeerFilter: I've been told by 3 separate bartenders that draught beer has formaldehyde in it, that's why they only drink from bottles. A Google search shows at best that there may be two reasons for formaldehyde being in beer. (1) Can manufacturing and (2) ethanol breakdown. Are either harmful enough to avoid draught beer?

One article, here about can manufacturing says that in "the old days" formaldehyde was used, but today other washes take it's place.
Another article here (about 1/3 down the page) suggests formaldehyde is a common byproduct of ethanol, which should be in all beer.

Are these the same chemical things, or enough to change my habits? Should I only drink bottles to oxymoronically "drink healthy"?
posted by petebest to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
On the second page, it actually says (in a roundabout way) that methanol (not ethanol) is converted to formaldehyde. There should not be any harmful levels of methanol in any beer.
posted by easternblot at 10:51 AM on December 1, 2005


Much of this urban myth can be attributed to breweries in China, Korea etc where higher levels of formaldehyde were detected. Read more here.
posted by brautigan at 10:55 AM on December 1, 2005


bartenders want you to drink bottled beer...it's more expensive, and they don't have to wash a glass.
posted by cosmicbandito at 11:06 AM on December 1, 2005


Yeah, this has got to be BS. I have seen far too many bartenders drink draught beer. The beer that goes into the bottle is the same that goes into most kegs. You need to go to better bars (brewpubs) and drink better beer (micros or Guinness or Sam Adams).
posted by Ber at 11:32 AM on December 1, 2005


B.S. If it were true, it would be easily verifiable via Google, and nobody would be drinking draft beer.
posted by mkultra at 11:38 AM on December 1, 2005


Nothing on Snopes, either. Either your bartenders are wrong or they've been adding formaldehyde to their kegs.
posted by mikeh at 11:40 AM on December 1, 2005


Well as near as I can tell there are several fronts that would lend some credence to the theory that there's formaldehyde in beer.

1) as mentioned above, there are a few Chinese breweries who use it as a clarifying agent. Bleah.

2) It was used early on in the manufacture of aluminum and steel cans, but they don't do that anymore.

3) Even if they did, draught kegs are recycled, so you'd only have the first or maybe second keg with any trace amount.

4) It's possible naturally occuring "useful urea formaldehyde nitrogen compounds" show up in the liver and are probably delivered by beer.

And it certainly wasn't easily verified by Google, and bottles are more expensive, so there's that too.

So afaik, draught beer is A-OK.

thanks!
posted by petebest at 11:43 AM on December 1, 2005


I would, however, stick to bottled beer if to guarantee a healthy beer if your local bar is a bit suspect. Draught beerlines should be cleaned every 7 days. After 10 days you should see the crap that builds ups in the lines with beer basically going cloudy with a "foosty" smell evident in the glass. And an improper clean makes it very easy to get a tainted pint, either chemically or moudly.
posted by brautigan at 11:53 AM on December 1, 2005


I would, however, stick to bottled beer if to guarantee a healthy beer if your local bar is a bit suspect. Draught beerlines should be cleaned every 7 days. After 10 days you should see the crap that builds ups in the lines with beer basically going cloudy with a "foosty" smell evident in the glass. And an improper clean makes it very easy to get a tainted pint, either chemically or moudly.

My friend used to work cleaning taps in college (it was a great job; make your own schedule -- the bartender usually pours you a couple beers -- gotta test the tap -- sometimes you get tipped). However, he'd tell me to avoid some places because their taps were set up in such a way that the lines couldn't be cleaned (most of the time this was because they were real long, and went out to the cellar or something). He also mentioned that occasionally there'd be big ass tapeworms that would somehow get into the taps, and just sit there, guzzling away beer until they became large enough to be discovered. As I'm writing this now, that sounds like bullshit, but still, I love the image.

glick glick glick glick glick TAPEWORMS
posted by fishfucker at 12:03 PM on December 1, 2005


Tapeworms?!? Not in my experience, but uncleaned beerlines are the grossest prospect. After 10 days the beer goes cloudy and starts to smell, even a fresh keg will provide beer full of organisms. And yeah, the first pints from a freshly cleaned line are ones to be savoured, find out when your local does there's and drop by just as they finish, the freebie "tester" is a well loved tradition.
posted by brautigan at 12:13 PM on December 1, 2005


there'd be big ass tapeworms that would somehow get into the taps

Oh, lord. I'm pretty sure that's not possible. Tapeworms are parasites, not free-living organisms.

TO the bigger question: This sounds like a standard folklore product-contamination legend. Has all the hallmarks. But I haven't found a reference for it yet. Here's Cecil Adams on whether Budweiser contains chicken hearts - I know it doesn't seem related, but it is. Not only is it a wonderful contamination legend, at the bottom, he tells you where you can get an informational report called "Chemical Additives in Booze" from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
posted by Miko at 12:30 PM on December 1, 2005


Think of it this way: what's more likely, that a brewery would add a dangerous chemical (only) to draft beer or a bartender would steer you towards something that requires less effort on his part?
posted by tommasz at 1:14 PM on December 1, 2005


Huh? Formaldehyde makes you go blind. As petebest said, methanol is converted to formaldehyde, and that is one of the problem with backyard distilleries: It is possible to brew beer with some methanol in it if done at incorrect temperatures and other incorrect variables. In turn, this can turn into formaldehyde whose by-products as broken down by your body can cause blindness.
posted by jmd82 at 2:24 PM on December 1, 2005


Much of this urban myth can be attributed to breweries in China, Korea etc where higher levels of formaldehyde were detected.

This was accepted as truth by pretty much everyone here in Korea back in the mid- to late-90's, and the dire chemical foulness of the draft beer at the time seemed to confirm it. Although the beer is better than it was (but is still no great shakes), many foreigners still take it as gospel. I don't know how urban-mythy it is, or was, here in Korea though.

It is true still that most Korean drinking establishments that serve draft have no idea that they should keep their lines clean, or how to do it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:12 PM on December 1, 2005


This is coming from the dark recesses of my memory, so it will be a bit vague, and a bit related to this question.

About six years I had a flatmate who was the chief chemist for an upmarket "organic" cosmetic company. He was involved in formulating their products.

He told me that one of their ingredients, which was not listed on the label (and did not have to be), broke down over time to form formaldehyde, which then preserved the product. He also may have said that this was a common practice, and he thought that the main benefits from moisturisers was the formaldehyde acting to "preserve" the skin.

Unfortunately I cannot remember what the chemical was, but perhaps it is possible that this technique is used for other products. If the levels are low enough for it to be safe to rub into your face, perhaps they are also safe enough to drink.
posted by hifimofo at 5:50 PM on December 1, 2005


I do know that formaledehyde is a common compound used in household textiles -- ie, upholstery, carpeting. So I'd wager that whatever you'd get in beer (if that's true) pales in comparison to the lifetime exposure you get in your own home.
posted by Miko at 6:07 PM on December 1, 2005


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