Concerning metallic reaction in my boil today

Hi all,

So, I had a bit of a metallic reaction in my boil today, and I’d like people’s opinions on whether or not I did something terrible to my beer. Here’s what happened:

I have a new hop spider, and I thought it would be a cool idea to buy a heavy stainless steel weight to put into the hop bag to weight it down. So I bought a big chrome steel ball bearing off of amazon:

It worked really well, but when it came out of the boil, the surface had definitely reacted. You can see in one of my uploaded pictures the ball bearing that went through the boil (on the right) and the second one that I have, that is brand new. The second photo I have is of the stain the reaction left of on the hop bag.

Anyone care to chance a guess at what the reaction was? Did I just get chromium in my beer? I’ve done a bit of googling, and hexavalent chromium would be serious bad juju for consumption.


I don’t like it one bit. If you had put in a copper ball, or a stainless ball, and it came out tarnished then I’d be less concerned. But Chrome is just a plating, and you don’t know the quality/chemical properties of the chrome let alone the ball if the plating did come off. I wonder though if it’s just tarnished or if the plating actually did lose its bond.

You could always contact the company and tell them what happened, the application you used it in, maybe mention the cooking times/ph of the wort. They may advise you that this type of chrome plating is food safe, or the opposite. The company is from Georgia, but I’d bet the balls were manufactured in China.

To be clear, this is a stainless steel ball. From the Amazon description: "The finest quality chrome steel produced in accordance with the highest industry standards. These high precision G25 ball bearings are hot forged from bar stock. Modern furnaces with precisely controlled atmospheres and temperatures are used for heat treating to assure uniform hardness and proper microstructure for each stainless steel ball. "

I don’t believe it has been plated. All stainless steel has chromuim in it. Rather, the Amazon page indicates that the finish is “Smooth Polished”. So, I’m thinking that this is just stainless steel passivation. But contacting the seller is definitely the best idea.

Well, here is the response from the vendor:

Leaning towards keeping the batch…

I’ve used a stainless barb like this … -k123.html to weigh down my hop bag in the boil kettle. It took on a similar tarnished look afterward.

Ok, so, I don’t know if anyone is really interested in this thread besides me, but I decided I would follow up with how I made my decision to keep the beer, in case anyone has a similar dilemma in the future. This is decision making process I went through:

First, is there some freaky metal plating on the ball that may have reacted and gotten in to beer?

Answer: No, according to both the website and the vendor, the mirror finish is created by a very fine polishing process.

So, if the ball is all just steel - AISI E52100 according to the website - is it still possible that it had something in it that was harmful to health?

Well, according to eHow - … steel.html - the steel in this ball is made of carbon, chromium, iron, silicon, manganese, phosphorus and sulphur. Carbon, iron, silicon, manganese, phosphorus, and sulphur can all be found in food. Since I would have only been getting trace amounts from the ball, I don’t really have to worry about those. That leaves chromium. Chromium is found in food too, but when it exists in a certain valency state - hexavalent chromium - it is toxic and carcinogenic.

So, does the ball contain hexavalent chromium?

No, not according to the British Stainless Steel Association - - which states that chromium in solid steel will not be hexavalent, except in very rare circumstances not present in beer.

So, I’m drinking it!

Cool, thanks man! That assures me even more.

Well, it sounds like you did your homework and made an informed decision. That’s cool that they got back to you so fast, and based on their response you explained exactly what you were using it for. I do agree that if its a stainless steel polished ball then there’s little to worry about.

That doesn’t really explain the metallic stain on your bag. Something came off, seems strange to me.

That doesn’t really explain the metallic stain on your bag. Something came off, seems strange to me.[/quote]

I know, man, that’s my last lingering doubt. My only idea, not knowing enough chemistry, is that the polished surface of the ball has a lot of exposed metal that hasn’t been passivated (which as far as I can tell is basically tarnishing), and that it oxidized some during the boil. I think I am going to try boiling it again in another bag in water, and see if it continues to react. If it was a one time thing, no biggie. If it is going to continue to happen, I’m going looking for honest-to-god food grade stainless steel - 304 or 316 grade. I might also try boiling in a weak starsan solution to mimic the acidic pH.

But, anyways, thanks for the advice!

Did you clean it with oxy or pbw before putting in the boil? There may have been some residue from the polishing process? Anything that’s been machined may have some oil on it?

I don’t know for sure but I always PBW all new metal prior to use, kettles, elbow, connectors, QDs, my chiller, etc.

Not to burst your bubble but the brew may not be out of the woods yet if that’s the case. I’d certainly ferment it out, carb it and try it though.