How to Always Brew a Clear Beer
A clear, delicious glass of beer is a thing of beauty to homebrewers. Yet such clarity can sometimes seem unattainable.
Commercial brewers frequently use fining agents as well as filtering and pasteurization to clarify beer, but there are simpler strategies for the homebrewer. In the following post I’ll outline steps you can take to ensure a clear brew every time.
First, let’s cover a few basics:
- Be scrupulous about sanitizing equipment. This means more than simply washing. Use a solution of household bleach and hot water or use a commercial sanitizing product such as Star San sanitizer.
- Don’t disturb the trub. Trub is the sediment at the bottom of the primary fermenter and is composed mostly of proteins and inactive yeast. When siphoning keep the hose well above this layer to avoid stirring it up. Also take care not to jostle the fermenter unnecessarily while racking or bottling the beer. And while this may sound obvious…
- Be careful when pouring your homebrew from the bottle. There is a layer of sediment in the bottom that is completely normal. Watch this as you are pouring the beer and stop short of pouring it into your glass! While it won’t hurt you to drink it, it will cloud the beer and contribute a yeasty taste…obviously!
Now let’s dive into some of the less obvious ways to brew a clear beer.
1. Choose malts, yeasts and adjuncts carefully
Proteins from malt are often a cause of cloudiness in beer. Therefore, choosing malts with a protein content of under 12% is a good idea when aiming for a clear brew. Avoiding adjuncts such wheat, unmalted barley, and flaked grains will also help.
If you hop your beer, do not to over-hop and avoid dry hopping, as this will often result in cloudiness. The addition of hops to the wort can result in a disproportionate amount of polyphenols in the brew which can contribute to hazines.
When choosing a yeast, go with a medium to high flocculating type. Typically English and American ale yeast are good choices. Choosing a yeast with good flocculating characteristics means that the yeasts will attract and stick to one another so that they precipitate out and settle to the bottom of the wort, helping minimize yeast particles floating in suspension.
2. Control the mash temperature and if you sparge don’t overdo it.
If all-grain brewing (versus using malt extracts), take care to control the mash temperature. Bring the mash liquid up to 148°-158° F, and hold it there for at least 45 minutes. If you choose to sparge, when ready to remove the grain bag, lift it partially up out of the kettle while allowing the bottom of the bag to stay in touch with the wort in the pot.
Then “sparge” the grain by pouring hot water over the bag. Make sure your sparging water is approximately 168°F and don’t wring or press too much on the bag of grains, since this can contribute to a cloudy beer.
3. Boil your wort
When cooking your wort, make sure it comes up to a full rolling boil, and keep it there for at least 60 minutes. You will notice as you boil your wort that a foam rises to the top.
The foam is a result of proteins in the wort clumping together. This is called the hot break. As the hot break materials coagulate more and more, they will get heavier and sink to the bottom. Allowing plenty of time for this process to take place will help insure a clearer beer.
Additionally, adding some Irish moss flakes in the last 15 minutes of the boil will aid in the coagulation and settling of particles. Irish moss may be particularly helpful if you are using all grains versus malt extracts to brew or if you’re using additives such as grains or hops flowers.
4. Chill the wort quickly
Just as in the hot break, materials will settle out as you cool your wort. This process is called…you guessed it, the cold break! Ideally, you’ll want to get your wort from boiling to down around 70°F degrees as fast as possible depending on the type of yeast you are using. This will insure optimal settling of suspended yeast and other particles.
Although a common and inexpensive way to cool your wort is by using an ice bath, it can be time consuming. And if your goal is a clear beer, a much faster way to do it is by using an immersion chiller. This device is a coil of copper tubing with a hose attachment for filling the coils with water. These can be had for under a $100 and are a worthwhile investment if you plan to brew often.
6. Don’t rush the fermentation process
After pitching the yeast, give your batch 8-14 days to finish fermenting. Yeast needs time to convert sugars into alcohol. After the yeasts do their job, they will settle to the bottom of the brew. Not giving this process long enough is a common mistake and will result in unconverted sugars and unspent yeast floating in suspension in your beer, making it cloudy.
After the first 8-10 days of fermentation signs of bubbling in the airlock will subside. But don’t use this as the only indicator that fermentation is finished. Be sure to use a hydrometer to check the specific gravity. Take readings for a few days in a row until stable before either racking to a secondary fermenter or bottling.
7. After bottling, age your beer for 7-14 days before drinking
Giving your beer time in the bottle not only allows for carbonation to develop but also allows time for additional clearing and settling of yeast. After the beer has been given time to carbonate and condition, it’s clarity will further improve if kept in the fridge until ready to drink.
As you can see, brewing a clear homebrew doesn’t have to be complicated. With just a few simple strategies you’ll be on your way to enjoying a cold, clear homebrew in no time. I hope you enjoyed this post and found the tips helpful.
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