For some styles of beer, such as the Bavarian hefeweizen and the Belgian witbier, cloudiness is to be expected. The average consumer, however, has come to expect beer to be crystal clear — or “bright” as it’s known among beer geeks and professional brewers. Clarity has more influence on aesthetics than flavor, but since the appearance of a beer is the drinker’s first impression, it’s an important factor in assessing beer quality. To avoid your friends raising their eyes at your cloudy homebrew — and to achieve better scores at homebrew competitions — it’s important to know how to clarify your homebrew beer.
What Makes Beer Cloudy in the First Place?
Before we can talk about clarifying or clearing your homebrew beer, it would help to understand a little bit about what’s making the beer cloudy. Cloudiness in homebrew can come from a few different sources:
- Malt can contribute proteins, fatty compounds (lipids), and tannins to your beer. Excessive protein can result in “protein haze” or “chill haze”, which happens when beer is clear at room temperature, but becomes cloudy when chilled.
- After being boiled in the kettle, hops can break down and leave behind debris.
- Yeast, as it multiplies and feeds on the sugar in your wort, it becomes suspended in the beer.
All of these a common sources for potentially keep a homebrew beer from becoming its clearest.
Common Ways to Clarify Your Homebrew Beer
There are several different ways to clarify or clear a homebrew beer. Here are the most common:
- Whirlpool – At the end of the boil, and before transferring wort to the fermenter, give the wort a strong stir. Proteins, lipids, and hop compounds will collect at the bottom of the kettle and form a pile of “trub” in the middle, making it easier to draw off beer and leave behind most of the protein and hops.
- Kettle finings – Clarifying a beer with clearing agents is very effective. Irish moss (a.k.a. “carrageenan”) is a type of seaweed that works as a coagulant. It’s added in the last 10-15 minutes of the boil and helps make the whirlpool more effective by aiding in the coagulation of proteins.
- Cold break – Rapidly cooling the wort, such as with an immersion wort chiller, helps proteins settle out after the boil.
- Secondary fermentation – Transferring your beer from a primary fermenter to secondary fermenter is an opportunity to leave behind trub and yeast that has settled to the bottom. The length of the secondary fermentation is also a factor – the longer the fermentation, the more settling will occur. Fourteen days is usually enough for ales; lagers tend to take longer.
- Fermenter finings – Some beer finings are added to the secondary fermenter. Gelatin is a popular one. It’s derived from animal collagen, so beer made with it technically isn’t vegetarian. Clearing a homebrew beer with gelatin is quick and easy.
- Cold crash – Dropping the temperature on the secondary fermentation helps yeast and other particulates settle out.
- Filter – Many commercial breweries filter their beer, and while there are some filters available to homebrewers, in most cases the above techniques will result in sufficiently bright, clear beer.
What methods do you use to clarify your homebrew beers? Have you ever used gelatin or other fining or clear agents? Let us know about your experience!
David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.