Blinded by Science: I Can See Clearly Now!

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March 25, 2016 by fhsteinbart

beer clarity

Beer on the left before fining, beer on the right after fining. Which beer would you choose?

Whenever people ask me how I get sparkling clear beer, I have to ask them what it is that they really want to know. Clarity may be only one issue, but the largest causes of clarity issues in beer fall into three broad categories: proteins, tannins, and yeast. Proteins come from the grain, and also from the yeast during fermentation. Using a highly flocculent yeast will often lend to clearer beers naturally over time. Also, carrageenan, also known as Irish Moss (which is neither ~ it’s actually seaweed!) can be used in the kettle to help drop out proteins from grain, and result in clearer wort, which makes for clearer beer. Calcium salt additions will also improve clarity by assisting with the formation of the hot break. Quickly cooling the wort before fermentation is also another great way to achieve higher wort clarity by getting the cold break to precipitate out. Once you’ve chilled the wort it’s time to pitch the yeast. Most home brewer’s don’t give much thought to the flocculation characteristics of their yeast, but they should. Typically flocculation and attenuation are inversely proportional, with most yeast, but there are exceptions, and you should carefully consider all the specifications of any given yeast to make sure that it will not only do the job as intended, but will also drop out fairly quickly. Post fermentation finings can also be used with particularly hazy beers that won’t clarify naturally over the course of time. I highly recommend using the one-two punch of Brewer’s Gelatin, and Polyclar. Just a half tablespoon of each into chilled sanitized water until the gelatin forms “fish eggs” like expansions. Then raise the temperature to 140°F for 30 minutes to pasteurize it, and add to your finished beer and allow to settle. After a few days, you should have crystal clear beer that you can rack off for packaging and consumption. Most green beer flavors are caused by the inclusion of the above referenced substances, and using the regimen I recommended above will result in clearer beer that is cleaner beer, and will also taste better! Filtration can also be used as a final step, but remember this: filters not only remove hazes and cloudiness, but also remove the things that you want in beer. Things like flavor, aroma, and body. So its a fine line that you have to draw when trying to get better clarity with your beer. So use lower protein malts, or do a protein rest, use kettle finings, get a good hard calcium rich boil, use a wort chiller to quickly chill your wort, use a highly flocculent yeast that will get the job of fermentation done quickly, and use cold side finings like gelatin and Polyclar when necessary. Also, as a last resort, filtration for those stubborn beers that won’t respond to the above referenced efforts. Good brewing practices always result in good beer being brewed, so keep at it!



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