How to Make Crystal Clear Beer
One of most satisfying things is pouring a pint of your own crystal clear homebrew and knowing that your beer looks and tastes as good as anything you could have bought at the liquor store. Another advantage of crystal clear beer is that the uninitiated homebrew guests that visit your house won't be totally freaked out by a cloudy muddled beer that screams: yo, bro! Check out this beer I made in my closet! Otherwise, you might get a polite smile and a request for water, or worse they might suddenly be on a gluten free diet. Don't do that to your guest. Make a pretty beer that everyone wants to put in their mouth.
Just check out the picture above. That is a batch I had split up and noticed that it had a ton of yeast messing up the clarity. With just a bit of gelatin I was able to clear it right up, but before we get into fancy clarifiers let's cover a few basics first.
Should you clear it up?
The first thing you should probably ask yourself is should my beer be clear? Some styles are totally cool with haze. For example, styles that use a significant portion of wheat do not need to be clear. The proteins found in wheat are fairly stubborn and will leave a bit of haze no matter what you do. For you weizens, wits, American wheats and whatever crazy wheat hybrid you may have concocted you can stop reading right now and go and enjoy your cloud beer.
This is easy to do and works almost every time. When you rack your beer to a secondary and drop the temp you will create perfect conditions for any remaining yeast and proteins to settle out and clear up your beer. In fact, 90%* of the time this is the only thing you have to do to get perfectly clear beer. You can kick this up a notch by straight up cold conditioning/lagering your beer for several weeks. This will help bring out even more clarity. If you keg your beer you may have already noticed this before. I know with my kegs that with each pull of the tap the beer become increasingly clear because the beer continues to settle and condition in the keg.
*This percentage is totally made up but I feel pretty solid about it.
Use Flocculant Yeast
Some yeast strains are naturally good at keeping your beer clear. Strains that have a very high floucattion are what make the clearest beers. These strains like to clump together and drop right to the bottom when they’re done doing their heroic duties. Wyeast 1968 London ESB is a perfect example (and one of my favorites for English ales).
During the Boil
I remember with my first batch of beer using that crazy stuff called Irish Moss. My friend explained it would make my beer nice and clear. I worried that it smelled like some nasty fishing village. In the end it had no impact on my beer flavor and I have been using it ever since. Irish Moss also known as chondrus crispus collects up some of the proteins and solids in the boil which will help keep them in the kettle. I’ve made perfectly clear beer without Irish Moss before but it’s cheap and easy to use so there’s really no reason to not take advantage of it. You can also kick this up a notch by using Whirlfloc which is more expensive but a bit easier use. Whirfloc comes in tables (so your lazy ass doesn’t have to measure anything) and it also has Kappa carrageenan (another seaweed).
Sometimes you will have a stubborn beer that just wants to keep a bunch of hazy causing material suspended and clouding up your beautiful brew. Time to bring out the big guns! There are several options out there and I am just going to talk about a few of them here. My go to clarifier is gelatin. It’s cheap, easy, and it works like magic. Just dissolve a ½ tsp in hot water and then add to your secondary fermentor then snap you get clean beer. In the picture above you can see the difference gelatin makes. The cooler your beer is the better gelatin is at doing it job. Some brewers will even use gelatin in the keg to help clear up a beer.
Other option are Polyclar VT (PVPP) or Biofine which both can gather up all of those suspended yeast cells and polyphenols. Personally, I’ve never had a need to expand past gelatin to clean up my beer, but both of these clarifiers are commonly recommended.
Then there is the classic clarifier, Isinglass. Made from dried fish bladders, Isinglass was a common clarifier for a very long time especially in British beers. It is also one thing that could technically make your beer unfriendly to vegans or vegetarians. The other thing would be tossing bacon into your beer. You can find and use Isinglass in products like Christalline Plus. Or you could be all hardcore and go fishing and get their bladders and then... I have no idea but I guess you find their bladder and dry it out or something.
Sometime your beer will just clear naturally sitting in a keg or bottle. But, hey maybe it won’t. At this point the best thing to do is to get some opaque cups, turn of the lights, drink and enjoy with your eyes closed.
After working on this post I ran across several relatively similar posts. One in particular I would like to point to is from Bloak & Bailey's Beer Blog about The Meaning of Clear Beer. It give a bit of context to the idea of clear beer and how it has been viewed over time. It also reminded me that I forgot to mention that hops can impact clarity. This is especially true of dry-hopped beer. Personally, I love the look of a bit of hop leaf floating in my beer from dry-hopping.