Here in the UK when driving along any country road you will likely pass a pub advertising that it sells fine ales. This doesn’t mean, as you might expect fine in the sense of good or high quality. It’s an indicator that the beer the pub sells is crystal clear due to the use of finings added by the brewer to the cask.
In most instances if you go to a pub or buy a bottle of beer in the shops then you expect nothing other than a crystal clear beer (although that tradition is slowly being challenged by the current crop of trendy craft breweries). Why would your home brewed beer be anything other than crystal clear too?
How To Clear Your Home Brew
In this post we are going to look at some of the reasons why beer can be murky or cloudy. I will give you some pointers on how to make sure your beer is top of the class in terms of clarity.
First off the bat there is nothing wrong with cloudy beer in terms of taste and flavour it is exactly the same. In fact extremely hoppy beers or beers that have been heavily dry hopped are thought to benefit in terms of aroma if there is a high protein content which would undoubtedly cast a haze in the beer. In some styles of beer such as wheat beers and dark beers you will struggle to get them clear at all. So what causes cloudiness.
Cloudiness is caused by one of a few things, there are hazes caused by bacteria which are classed as biological hazes and there are non-biological hazes. Biological hazes caused by bacteria are the result of less than adequate sanitation procedures. They cannot be corrected, only prevented by increasing the effectiveness of your santising regime for future brews.
Non-biological hazes are most often caused by compounds or particles that are introduced from the ingredients of the beer. Yeast particles that are in suspension for example or from proteins and tannins from the grains themselves. Some grains such as wheat have higher levels of protein which makes a clear beer harder to achieve.
You may notice that your beer that has been in your fridge for a while which was once previously clear, now when serving is cloudy. This is known as chill haze and is caused again by proteins precipitating in the beer. When taken out of the cold the proteins redissolve leaving you with a clear beer again. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if your home brew is cloudy but below here are some tips on achieving the coveted crystal clear beer.
Cool the Wort Quickly
By cooling the wort down quickly after boiling you create a cold break which means lots of the proteins in the wort coagulate together and drop to the bottom of the kettle. This is easily achievable with a wort chiller and has the added benefit of speeding up the whole brew day meaning you can pitch sooner.
Chilling the wort quickly helps to coagulate proteins and tannins together. The binding of particles in this way means they sink easily through the wort. When you run the beer into the fermenter most of the proteinous matter can be left behind in the kettle which leaves you with a clearer beer.
Use Irish Moss And A Fining Agent
Irish moss is a type of seaweed called carrageen. All you need to do with it is add a small amount to the wort at the end of the boil. It may sound peculiar to add seaweed to your brew but be assured you won’t get any salty, iodine tastes from it.
Other fining agents include something called isinglass which if you are funny about seaweed is worse in comparison. Isinglass is made from a byproduct of fish swim bladders, which is an obvious thing to put in beer right. Well it is if you want a clear beer. It is used widely by commercial brewers simply because it works quickly and efficiently.
Gelatin is another popular fining agent, adding around half to one whole sachet prepared according to the packet instructions is enough for 5 gallons of beer. If you are using gelatin you can add it one or two days before bottling or kegging.
Fining agents and Irish moss all work on the same principle in that they encourage smaller molecules to stick together and form larger particles which are more likely to settle out of the beer.
Consider Your Yeast
One thing that I will mention here is the type of yeast you use will have an impact on the clarity. When selecting a yeast strain look at the information on flocculation.
If the rate of flocculation is high the yeast will settle out quicker. If you are concerned about clarity you want to select a highly flocculant yeast strain which will settle out better. Some styles of beer require a certain yeast strain, I wouldn’t pay too much attention to flocculation rates if the style of beer needs a particular yeast. I would rather use the right yeast for the right style beer and sacrifice the clarity.
Cold Crash The Beer
If you have the ability to chill the beer at the end of fermentation to low temperatures below 5°C, this will aid the clearing of the beer. Suspended particles and yeast will drop out of suspension as the beer is chilled. Of course chilling down a fermenter will require refrigeration so unless you have a fridge to ferment your home brews in cold crashing may not be possible.
Cold crashing in this way also helps to prevent chill haze later on after the beer has been bottled.
Does Having A Clear Beer Make It Taste Better?
The answer to this question is no. Unless there is a microbial haze caused by bacteria, the taste is going to be the same whether the beer is hazy or clear. The real issue here is how you perceive the beer, 95% of the beer you buy in shops or pubs up and down the country is crystal clear.
People in the UK have become accustomed to clear beers so when confronted with a slightly murky beer it’s different from the norm. The fact is though, brewers have to add finings, cold crash fermenters and manipulate the beer by filtering it to get it clear. All of this doesn’t change the flavour only the way it looks. It could be argued that some of these measures remove flavour, so is it worth it?
The answer is, it’s up to you. A lot of what you taste is affected by the way something looks, if you prefer clear then try some of the method above.
In my house, a bit of irish moss and a cold crash is enough, if there is a slight haze I’m not fussed, if the beer tastes good is my top priority the way it looks comes second.