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How to make clearer homebrew

Posted by on November 21, 2011

clear beerA common complaint I hear from homebrewers is that they can never get their beer as clear as they want it to be.  When brewing those pilsners, lagers and kosch-style beers, we often want them crystal clear, but it can be difficult to accomplish.  And no one wants an amber ale that is as cloudy as a wheat beer.

Clarity in your brew does not usually affect the taste, but when brewing certain styles, people will expect them to be clear, and let’s be honest, presentation and appearance are also important parts of a good beer.  But remember, some styles should be cloudy.  Wheat beers, for example, are expected to have a haze from the high levels of protein in the wheat.

So what can you do to make your beer more clear?  Below are some tips you can use to brew that crystal clear beer you’ve been looking for.

Irish Moss

Irish Moss (or as I like to call it, seaweed) is an adjunct that will help proteins in your wort settle out and fall to the bottom of your kettle when you are cooling the beer.  Proteins are the leading cause of haziness and irish moss will help them coagulate so that they are not transferred out of your kettle and into your fermentor.  You can aid this by whirlpooling or simply leaving the last bit of wort in the kettle.  Simply add in a pinch with about 15 minutes left in your boil.

wort chillerYou can also use Whirlfloc tablets, as these are the same thing – basically condensed irish moss already packaged into tablets that are the right size for a 5-gallon brew.

Chill Wort Quickly

Cooling your wort from boiling down to yeast-pitching temperature quickly will help in the facilitation of “cold break,” which is an occurrence that also results in coagulating proteins and tannins and dropping them to the bottom of your kettle.  To do this, I would recommend investing in a wort chiller (building an immersion chiller is super easy!).  The goal should be to bring your 5-gallon batches down to room temperature in about 15 minutes to get a good cold break.

Use Grain With Less Protein

If you are an all-grain brewer, a simple way to help fight the haze is to simply use grains with less protein content.  But which grains have more/less protein than others??  If you think about the types of beer that are supposed to be cloudy, this will help you out.  For example, dark malts, flaked barley, and wheat all contain a higher amount of protein.  Your base malts, like two-row, do not have much protein.  So when brewing a light, clear beer, stick to mostly base malt and only the amount of specialty grain that is needed for color and to match the style.

Use High Flocculation Yeast

Flocculation is how quickly a type of yeast strain will fall out of the beer after fermentation is completed.  If you are looking for a clear beer, you want a yeast with a high flocculation rate so that it will drop out of the beer more quickly.  White Labs and Wyeast both give flocculation rates for all of their yeast strains on their websites.

Lager Your Beer

Any type of beer can be lagered (cold storage).  Ales as well as lagers can go through a lagering phase.  Once fermentation is completed and your beer has reached it’s final gravity, you can cool it off to close to freezing.  This will cause a lot of the remaining particulates, such as yeast, proteins and tannins to drop to the bottom of the fermenter more quickly than if it is stored at room temperature.  However, if you are bottle conditioning (or keg conditioning) your beer, you will not want to do this until they are fully carbonated because the yeast will go dormant at these low temperatures.  If you are force carbonating in a keg, you can lager the beer prior to transferring to the keg, leaving any trub at the bottom of the fermentor.

Fining Agents

Fining agents work by attaching to the yeast, protein and tannins, assisting in coagulation and literally dragging them all to the bottom of the fermenter.  These can be added after the beer has finished fermenting and prior to kegging.  Again, you don’t want to do this until the yeast have finished their job, because this will pull them out of suspension, so this is not a viable option if you are bottle conditioning your beer.

One of the simplest fining agents is plain gelatin.  Just dissolve it in warm sterile water and add it to the secondary fermenter prior to kegging.  You can also get other specialty fining agents from your local homebrew shop.

Recommendation

Clearly (no pun intended) you do not need to use all of these methods on every beer you make.  Just keep them in mind and use as needed, especially on those brews that should be crystal clear.  I personally recommend using a wort chiller and cooling your beer quickly, and I always “cold crash” my beer for a day or two prior to kegging.  This is basically a shortened lagering period just to drop everything to the bottom.  Irish moss is also inexpensive and easy, as well as very affective.  By using a combination of the methods outlined here, you should not have to worry about hazy beer again!

If anyone has had success with any other methods, feel free to share in the comments section below.

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3 Responses to How to make clearer homebrew

  1. Matt

    Chris – One new product that I believe deserves mentioning is White Labs’ Clarity Ferm (link to pdf here: http://www.whitelabs.com/enzymes/Clarity-Ferm.pdf). It is said to prevent chill haze that commonly forms in homebrew served below 55′Fish that is caused by the polyphenols and proteins coagulating during cold storage. An added benefit – it also makes your beers “nearly gluten free” I’ve heard. Other than that one addition – great article.

    • Chris

      Matt – glad you brought that up. I have used clarity ferm in the past (admittedly, with the hops of brewing a gluten-free beer, not as much for clarity). And while it definitely works well at clarifying your beer, I don’t see it as being worth the cost. You can’t find it at most homebrew shops, and when you order it, it ends up costing you an extra $1-2 per 5gal batch. Most of the other methods listed earlier are less expensive and just as affective.

      If I were brewing a lot of lagers and pilsners, I may invest in clarity ferm, but for normal use, I find it to be more trouble/cost than it’s worth.

      …but that’s clearly just my opinion, as it is a great product. I should have mentioned it in the article!

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