Although the last few years has seen the rise of hazy beer styles like the NEIPA (New England India Pale Ale), one of the most common questions we get in the store is how to make clearer (or brighter) beer, which better suits some styles like pale ales and lagers. Here’s a few ideas on how to combat cloudy beer.
Cloudy or hazy beer can be caused by a few different things, and it’s a good idea to analyse your beer and figure out what’s causing it before trying to tackle it. Some of the most common causes/types of haziness are:
Proteins + Chill Haze
Protein exist in grain and malt extract, and can contribute haziness to beer. This is most commonly noticed when chilling the beer – you might have beer that looks bright in the bottle prior to chilling, but after chilling becomes hazy. As you might expect, this is called “chill haze”, and occurs when there are proteins in the beer that are soluble (dissolved) at room temperature, but precipitates (comes “out of solution”) at colder temperatures. Chill haze usually gives the beer a light “frosted” look and individual particles can’t be seen. It doesn’t usually have any effect on flavour or aroma. Chill haze is the less offensive type of cloudiness in the beer but can be the hardest to remove.
Suspended Yeast and Trub
Yeast cells and fine particles of grain or hops floating around in the beer will give the beer a cloudy appearance as well as having an effect on taste. Residual yeast isn’t always a bad thing, for example a hefeweizen normally has suspended yeast which adds haziness and also contributes to the clove and spice flavours typical in that style, however excessive amounts of yeast tend to give the beer a murky or muddy appearance. The good news is that there’s a number of simple ways to reduce the suspended yeast.
Usually only noticeable in big IPA’s, large amounts of hops will add oils to the beer that develop haze. Even a few hop particles making it through to the final product isn’t unusual in an IPA.
Unconverted starches and particulates left over from mashing (or an incomplete mash) can contribute cloudy haze to a beer. This is usually to be avoided as starches can provide food that bacteria can process that yeast can not, although in rare circumstances starch haze is added intentionally to conform to style (some witbier recipes brewed from extract call for a little wheat flour to be added to generate a light haze).
Here’s a few common fixes for cloudy beers, keep in mind that not all of these remedies apply to all brewing techniques.
Beer Finings/Isinglass (all brewers)
Finings are added to the fermenter after the completion of fermentation. Finings are usually a powdered gelatine product that is dissolved in a small amount of warm water before adding to the fermenter. Finings will bind to suspended yeast and trub and help them settle out (flocculate) and compact at the bottom of the fermenter. Isinglass is used in a similar way, but it is derived from fish swim-bladders. Isinglass is sold as a liquid. After using finings or isinglass wait at least 48 hours prior to bottling. Keep in mind that these options will make your beer non-vegetarian/vegan.
Clarex/Clarity Ferm (all brewers)
Clarity Ferm is a White Labs product that is added to the fermenter at the start of fermentation. It is an enzyme that breaks down chill-haze forming proteins during the fermentation. It can also help to reduce gluten levels in beer for those with gluten sensitivity. Add Clarity Ferm at the same time as pitching yeast and ferment and bottle as normal.
Crash Chilling (temp controlled fermentations)
Crash chilling or cold crashing is the process of dropping the temperature of the beer after the ferment and prior to bottling. Crash chilling helps to drop excess suspended yeast and trub to the bottom of the fermenter. You need to have a temperature control method in place to crash chill. After fermentation has finished, set the temperature to around 3°c – you may want to replace the airlock with a solid bung or place a wad of vodka-soaked cotton wool in the airlock hole to prevent airlock water being sucked into the fermenter due to the drop in pressure. After chilling, wait 48 hours for excess yeast to fall before bottling/kegging.
Irish Moss/Whirlfloc (extract and all grain brewers)
Irish moss is a seaweed derived product that helps to coagulate proteins during the boil. Whirlfloc is derived from irish moss and does much the same thing, but it is in a more convenient tablet form. Dose rate is 1 whirlfloc tablet or 1 tsp irish moss per 20L added at 10-15 minutes on the boil. We recommend a whirlfloc tablet goes into almost every all grain beer, with the exception of beer intended to be hazy.
Hot/cold break (extract and all grain brewers)
Hot break occurs during the boil, when the foam on top of the boiling wort collapses back into the liquid. This happens when the proteins start to clump together and fall to the bottom of the kettle. A good rolling boil will produce a better hot break. The cold break occurs when chilling the wort, a fast drop in temperature thermally shocks proteins into precipitating out of the wort. Bringing temperature up and down rapidly gives a better hot/cold break and removes chill haze forming proteins by settling them out into the kettle trub.
Vorlauf (multi vessel all grain)
Vorlauf (sometimes erroneously referred to as lautering) is the process of running wort through the grain bed before sparging in a multi-vessel brewing system. To do this, simply drain a few litres of wort from the mash tun into a clean jug, then pour that wort back over the grain bed, repeat as many times as needed to clear the wort. Correct vorlauf will help remove grain particulates from the wort. If you use a recirculation mashing system such as The Grainfather or another RIMS/HERMS setup, the vorlauf will occur throughout the mash itself and a seperate vorlauf step isn’t needed.
Filtering (kegged beers)
Using a beer filter helps to remove excess yeast, and if you’ve crashed chilled the beer beforehand will also remove chill haze proteins. Filtering requires a bit of extra equipment and does carry with it an extra potential point of infection, so sanitise carefully. Filtering shouldn’t really be used for bottle conditioned beers, as it removes the yeast required for bottle carbonation. Care should be taken not to aerate the fermented beer during filtering and to ensure that the filter cartridge, which is porous and has a lot of surface area, has been thoroughly sanitised. It’s also worth pointing out that filtering can diminish some subtle flavours and aromas, so some brewers choose to dry hop after filtering.
We hope that clears up a few things and helps you on the path to clearer beer. Remember, all these clearing techniques aren’t mutually exclusive, so don’t be afraid to try more than one. For our money, whirlfloc during the boil and cold crashing after fermentation (or gelatine finings if you don’t have temperature control) will give you some of the best results for your time, effort and money.
It’s great to have a nice sparkling clear beer, especially for light sessionable beers, but if at the end of the day you can’t get your beer sparkling clear, don’t worry too much about it, most of the time it’s only a visual difference and most beer connoisseurs are used to trying the odd cloudy beer. Sometimes no amount of adjuncts can remove cloudiness when the recipe itself is to blame. A heavily dry-hopped IPA will be cloudy from the hop oils, a witbier will be cloudy from the protein in the un-malted wheat, and a hefeweizen will be cloudy from the use of a non-flocculating yeast. In those instances, keep in mind that a little haze is just a part of the style, and in some instances like NEIPA a defining characteristic of it.
Beers! The Hop + Grain.