When it comes to brewing beer at home, we all want a clean and clear homebrew. Some of us want to pour a beer that looks like it came from a commercial brewery. The sad reality is, most of us do not have the expensive filtration equipment to get that commercial quality. The yeast, proteins, and unwanted tannins are the offensive threat and you need to put on your best Defense to succeed.
Believe it or not, achieving a clear beer is not very hard to do at home. There are many ways to help you achieve that clear homebrew. Here are 10 steps that I personally do each time I brew. If your beer still has issues with clarity, it’s not a big deal at all. The beer will still taste just as delicious! As a matter of fact, hazy is the new clear.
1. Grain/Yeast Selection
You may not think the grain selection would play a major part in the clarity of your beer, but it does. When building your beer recipe make sure you take the time to understand what is going in and how it may impact the clarity. The dark malts, wheat malts, and malts used for head retention will throw a wrench in your goal of a crystal clear beer. If those malts are part of your recipe, don’t sweat it. The beer wasn’t meant to be crystal clear anyways.
Choose a yeast that accommodates the style of beer you are brewing as a number 1 rule. You will also want to find a yeast with a high flocculation rate. The higher flocculation, the faster the yeast will drop. Once again, do not let your desire for clear beer change the recipe and do not over pitch the yeast.
2. Let Your Mash Tun Do The Work!
Your mash tun has one of the most important jobs in the brewing process. It does a great job by itself and does not need your help. Do not try to push down on the grain bed to extract more wort. That is a really dumb idea and I promise you will end up frustrated. Know your strike volumes and have a game plan before brew day. If you just leave it alone, the wort will come out clear. If you are using a square cooler, go with a bazooka screen. If you have a round drink cooler, you can also go with a false bottom.
You also CANNOT forget to vorlauf until your beer runs clear! When I am draining the wort from my mash tun to the boil kettle I use a funnel to grab any additional surprises (like a bug) that could make it into my beer. This may be a little obsessive but it works for me.
3. Hot Break
Make sure you hit a boil quickly to achieve a good hot break. When you start to see a smooth foam forming on top of your wort, get ready to stir and adjust your heat to avoid a boil over. You can also spray it with water. You are close to seeing the hot break forming. The hot break is crucial to the binding of proteins. When these proteins bind together, they clump, making it easier to get haze out of your finished beer. Failing to achieve a good hot break can cause suspended proteins that can eventually make it all the way to the keg or bottle. Check your burners and make sure they are ready to perform well before starting the brew day!
4. Cold Break
It is very important to chill your beer as quickly and sanitary as possible. The cold break is your second chance bind those remaining proteins together before making it to the fermentation vessel. If your wort starts looking like an egg drop soup, the cold break is a win. It is nearly impossible to chill the beer quickly without a wort chiller. While you are running your wort chiller, stir to create a whirlpool powerful enough to see the bottom of your kettle. Here is a little lesson on wort chillers.
I am sure you are asking “what in the heck is he using?”. My secret to a fast cold break includes a wort chiller, a floor pump, an under the bed shoe storage bin, and ice water. I usually run my wort chiller through an ice bath and recirculate the ice bath through the chiller. 210 to 70 in a few minutes if I create a nice whirlpool too. If I am doing something larger that 5 gallons, I use my plate chiller.
5. Filter During Boil
If you are adding hops, use a hop bag. The deliciousness of the hops will make it into your beer without throwing them directly in. When the boil is over, do not squeeze the bag. Let the bag drip into the kettle and to avoid hop trub squeezing out. If you want to get fancy, make a hop spider. Google it.
I also use a bazooka screen in my boil kettle to serve as a filter for the wort that is exiting to the fermenter. I have had good results with just using one of these. If you want to spend the money, a false bottom is another option.
6. Irish Moss/Whirfloc
In the last 10-15 minutes of the boil you can add Irish Moss or a Whirfloc (enhanced irish moss blend) tablet to your boil. This stuff works like a magnet and pulls those tannins and proteins to a clump in the center before dropping to the bottom. I will not brew without these. Amazing stuff!
7. Transfer To A Secondary
I think this picture is a great visual as to what you leave behind when transferring from a primary to a secondary fermenter. This is not always needed and really is a matter of preference unless you are dry hopping. Just make sure you sanitize everything and create a smooth flowing transfer from one to the other.
8. Add A Clarifying Agent
Gelatin finings are cheap to buy and you can even pick them up from your local grocery store. It is collagen based and can be added to a secondary to help round up those remaining proteins. Chillguard, Isinglass, and Polyclar are also great to use. You can find write ups all over the internet on how to use these. Very simple!
9. Cold Crash After Racking To A Secondary or Keg
This is not rocket science. Chill your beer at a minimum of 38 degrees for about a week after transferring to a secondary or keg. This will drop more of those remaining haze contributors. Do not cold crash it and freeze your beer though! That would make the toughest beer drinker cry.
10. Pour With Precision
If you keg, pour off a pint for yourself before serving to your guests. After the beer has carbonated and settled another week, more proteins will settle into the bottom of the keg. This can usually be drawn out with the first pour. Drink it…do not throw it out. If you bottle, switch to kegging. You will thank me later.
I hope this has helped some homebrewers who are fairly new to the art. Once again, a clear homebrew does not make it a better beer. A hazy beer does not make it a bad beer. Do what makes you happy with your beer. Some of my techniques may not be recommended by all. That is what makes homebrewing so great. We are a large network of people willing to share our secrets, mishaps, and successes.