We all know that many people in the craft beer industry have a great passion – they want their beer to look better. Fermentation is a complex process and sometimes results in unwanted sediment in the beer. Large commercial breweries often use mechanical filtration to “brighten” their beer, while home brewers use simpler clarifying agents to help clarify their craft beer. You can also use these simple techniques as a home brewer to achieve better clarity.
Why is Beer Cloudy?
There are three factors in craft beer that can cause cloudiness: tannins, proteins, and yeast.
Tannins are naturally found in the husks of barley and can be extracted along with sugars during the mashing process. They can also be extracted when grains are brewed or soaked.
Proteins are present in all grains (malt, roasted malt, wheat malt, oats, and barley flakes), as well as in malt extracts to some extent. While proteins can contribute to the body and foam retention of beer, they can also affect its clarity. Maintaining the right balance of protein content is important. Some proteins may cause a phenomenon known as “chill haze” where the beer becomes cloudy when refrigerated. There are clarifying agents available to reduce chill haze in beer.
During fermentation, yeast is present in the beer and may remain suspended for a certain period of time. In some cases, yeast settles quickly at the end of fermentation, while in others it remains suspended even after the beer has cooled. Yeast cells tend to aggregate and settle more quickly when they form clusters called flocs. Choosing a yeast strain with good flocculation can help improve beer clarity.
Methods to Improve Beer Clarity
Cloudy beer can be unappealing and give the impression of impurities, especially for those trying craft beer for the first time. Here are some methods to improve beer clarity:
Choose Low-Protein Grains
Proteins can enhance the flavor of beer but can also affect its clarity. Reserve high-protein grains for wheat and dark beers where clarity is not a priority. For light beers, choose light malt as the main ingredient and only add a sufficient amount of high-protein dark malt to achieve the desired color and body.
Use a Wort Cooler to Rapidly Cool the Wort
Using a wort cooler is the best way to quickly cool the wort. By rapidly cooling the wort below 80°F, most undesirable substances such as tannins and proteins will clump together and settle at the bottom of the boiling pot. This helps prevent them from entering the fermentation tank and resulting in clearer beer. Ideally, the boiled wort should cool to pitching temperature within 15 minutes. The efficiency of the wort cooler is crucial, so choose one based on your skill level and brewing setup.
Use Yeast Strains with High Flocculation
Flocculation refers to the rate at which yeast settles after fermentation is complete. Choosing a yeast strain with high flocculation will result in faster settling compared to strains with low flocculation. However, flocculation should not be the only consideration. Select a yeast strain that suits your beer style and has medium to high flocculation based on your specific needs.
Cold Store (Lager) Your Beer
Lagering involves storing your beer in a refrigerated environment, ideally at 33-35°F. If possible, this is the easiest and most effective way to clarify beer. At lower temperatures, tannins, proteins, and yeast strains are less likely to remain in suspension. Lagering beer at low temperatures will accelerate the clarification process compared to storing beer at room temperature.
It’s important to note that if you plan to bottle and carbonate the beer, you should wait until it is fully carbonated before cold storing it. Otherwise, the yeast may die and result in poor carbonation. Alternatively, you can ensure there is enough yeast suspension to carbonate the beer after bottling, as a small amount of yeast won’t produce excessive sediment in the bottles or kegs.
Use Clarifying Agents
Home brewers have access to various clarifying agents that greatly improve beer clarity. These agents attach themselves to proteins, yeast strains, and tannins, making them heavier and causing them to settle quickly at the bottom of the fermentor. Adding clarifying agents to cold beer enhances their effectiveness and speeds up the clarification process.
Steps to Achieve Clearer Beer
To achieve clearer beer, follow these steps:
- Select medium to high flocculating yeast strains based on the beer style.
- Use low-protein grains for brewing.
- Use Irish moss to achieve a good hot break.
- Cool the wort quickly to achieve a good cold break.
- Add clarifying agents to help improve beer clarity.
- Condition the beer in a low-temperature environment.
- Maintain cleanliness and hygiene when handling beer equipment.