Achieving Clarity In your Beer

Most brewers will tell you that cloudy beer wont make a difference in taste. It is true that it will not affect taste. However, when you look at commercial beers they are (for the most part), brilliantly clear. They usually have a polished look that can make it that much more enjoyable. Most homebrewers don’t care about the way it looks, just as long as it tastes good. But, WHY couldn’t you have the best of both worlds? Having a beer that looks good and tastes good I think can be rewarding. When trying to show the average Bud-Miller-Coors drinker their first homebrew, they will normally expect a clear, brilliant looking beer. Trust me, I am not one to cater to this crowd by any means. I say if you have not tried anything but the big “3”, then you are missing out completely. But why not start off their first home brew experience with a great looking pint as well as a tasty one?. You don’t need filters and other expensive equipment to have a great looking beer.  Just a few simple steps can make a huge different.

Recirculation is key to clear wort:

When you brew all grain batches this is a must. But ask yourself: are you recirculating enough? It should take about 2 gallons or more to achieve a totally clear wort. This is of course depending on how you are lautering. For the most part this is a step that is not emphasized enough. Of all the articles and books I’ve read that talk about beer clarity, this step is almost never mentioned. As it seems that the more you recirculate, the more you are filtering out the small malt particulates and proteins in the mash. This is the first effective step in the clarifying process and it is something that you are already doing on each all grain batch anyway. The more crap you leave behind, the better.

clear first runnings

Clear wort before being run into the boil kettle.


Use of kettle finings:

Whirlfoc is an excellent product. It is essentially purified carrageenan.  This product is actually a natural extract from a north atlantic seaweed. It is used in many foods today manly to increase stability in the final product. It is also called Irish Moss. In the case of brewing, Irish moss or carrageenan is negatively charged in the boil and has a tendency to “drag” down haze causing proteins and tannins in the wort.  Using carageenan is an excellent way to clear your newly made wort. It is usually most effective when added to the boil when there is 10 – 15 mins left. It will help allow the hot/cold break of protein that is in the boil to separate naturally. Which brings me to my next point…

taking the clear, leave the sputz behind:

I know of many brewers that simply dump the entire contents of the boil kettle into the fermenting container. While there is many controversies with this practice, (some brewers will tell  you there is absolutely nothing wrong with this practice), while others will tell you it will lead to off flavors in the final beer. That is not the point I intend to make. If you plan to keep the yeast strain after the fermentation to inoculate another batch, it would seem that you would want to minimize all the protein, hop material etc. left behind in the boil kettle. The easiest way to do this is to auto-siphon the clearest wort into your fermenter and leave all the hop material and protein to dump out. It has also been said that some trub can benefit the yeast by adding some additional amino acids necessary for fermentation, however I have never had a fermentation problem . I also have not found any evidence to back that statement up. Look at it this way, It drops out of the boil naturally, and leaves a clear wort on top. It will basically do the same thing in your fermenter, but why give it a chance to cloud you beer with unnecessary heavy fats, proteins, and hop material that you do not need. Part of the point of a vigorous boil is to create “protein break” for clarity!

No wimpy boils:

Carrying over from the previous, a simmering boil will not create a good break which is absolutely necessary for a clear wort. Not to mention you want to “cook down” your wort or concentrate it with a good boil-off, and also to drive off the Dimethyl sulfide (DMS) created naturally when boiling wort. See here:  Also a vigorous boil can help prevent chill haze in you finished beer. (See below).

a good balanced milling of malt:

Not only is this common sense for proper lautering, it makes it much harder to recirculate at the end of the mashing process. The idea is to find a balance between a fine grind and leaving enough of the malt husk for proper run off of the wort. As stated above, if you cant clear the runnings properly with recirculation of the loose matter in the mash, there is a chance this loose matter could make it into your final beer.

Long lagering/cold conditioning:

In brewing eventually all material in suspension will clear in time. However, cold temps will help greatly in speeding up this process. This is the reason why most lagers are typically more clearer than ales,(but not always), because of the long, cold lagering period. Just make sure the fermentation process is complete before dropping the temps dramatically.  The longer and colder the”lagering” period, the better the material in suspension will drop out of the solution.

Chill haze

Chill haze is caused by proteins and tannins clumping together at cold temps,thus creating a “haze” in a cold glass of beer. The best way to combat this problem, (that plagues many a homebrewer), is to use a vigorous boil and a rapid cooling of the wort as quick as possible once the boil is complete. Employing a counter flow or immersion chiller is the best method of cooling down hot wort quickly. This allows for a good cold break and a separation of those haze causing proteins and tannins.

There are also products available from you local homebrew supply store that will aid in clearing the final beer. Isinglass, PVPP (Polyclar), and gelatin are great example of these. Each of these, when added to your secondary fermenter, should effectively clear your beer brilliantly. Some work better with chill haze than others, and some work better clearing yeast particles. It just really depends on what you are trying to clear. The bottom line is this, you can achieve a clear professional looking beer without adding additional products. All you have to do is follow these precautionary steps when brewing, and you can have a brilliantly clear beer, just like you favorite commercial brew.


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