The Beginner Brewer: Fixing Things: Avoiding Hazy Beer

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Fixing Things: Avoiding Hazy Beer

While taste and aroma are arguably the more important components of the beer experience (along with the buzz), appearance makes for the third element of a really good beer. It is a joy to behold the rich red colour of amber ales, the warm gold of pale ale and the cola-like darkness of a brown porter.

So it’s understandable that homebrewers aspire to showing off these colours by making clear, bright brews rather than hazy, opaque ones that resemble dirty dish water.

In today’s post, I’ll be discussing several steps that you can take to ensure that your homebrew comes out clear and haze-free.

Step 1. Full volume boils.

Boil. Or else.
In previous posts I've discussed the importance of a full volume boil for enhancing hop flavour and blowing off the dreaded DMS. A full volume, vigorous (rolling) boil also helps with the clarity of the final product.

The physical and chemical agitation that a rolling boil creates also helps in breaking up compounds and larger proteins that contribute to hazy beer. So boil vigorously for 60-90 minutes.


If done properly, you should observe occasional “sheathes” of protein material bob to the surface of the wort: this is known as the hot break.

Step 2. Use Irish Moss at 15 minutes.

Irish Moss
Irish Moss is my placeholder name for a variety of finings that can be added during the boil to help clarify beer.

Mostly derived from types of algae, these compounds bind with larger protein molecules and help to drop these haze-forming troublemakers out of suspension where they collect at the bottom of the kettle.

Step 3. Create a whirlpool.

At the end of the boil, you should stir the wort for a few minutes, creating a whirlpool—yep just like the one that forms in a bathtub when you pull the plug. Maintain the whirpool for a few minutes, being careful not to disturb the center of the kettle as you stir.
Whirlpools: Groovy


What is happening when you do this is that all the solids, leftover hops and stray grain husks collect in a little pile at the center of the kettle. This makes it easier for you to pour off the clear wort and leave this stuff (referred to as trub), behind.

Step 4. Chill rapidly.

Apart from the haze created by actual trub in the beer, another form of haze is a result of proteins and tannins appearing at low temperatures—so-called chill haze.

Chill haze only becomes evident once you’ve cooled down your beer after bottling, so it can be quite frustrating when you think you made clear beer, only to pour a hazy brew when serving it to your friends!

You can help in reducing this problem by chilling your beer rapidly after the end of the boil. If you can take the beer down to pitching temperature (25-27C) in under 30 minutes, you should be good.

A sign of a quickly chilled beer is another “sheath” of protein bobbing to the surface—this is called the cold break.

Step 5. Pour carefully and use a sieve

When it’s time to pour the chilled wort into the fermenter, don’t forget the trouble you've gone to in creating the whirlpool! Be gentle with the kettle and try not to disturb the mound of trub in its center.

Pour the wort into the fermenter through a sterile sieve (this is optional and I’m not always sure it really helps all that much). When you get to the really dark grey-green trub, stop pouring!

Don’t be greedy—it really doesn't make sense to put too much trub in the fermenter only to harvest a few more milliliters of actual wort—that way leads to hazy beer!

Step 6. Cold Condition before bottling.

The last step in creating super-clear homebrew is to put the death knell to chill haze by cold conditioning your beer. At the end of secondary fermentation (about 2 weeks from start), chill down the beer to 1-5 C and keep it at that temperature for up to 1-2 weeks.

This conditioning phase will further help with flavour integration and stability, and importantly, prevent chill haze from forming in the finished beer.

And that’s it! Some brewers do add finings like Isinglass and Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP) to beer at bottling, but in my experience, if you follow the preceding six steps, this won’t be necessary. Here’s to some clear beer!

If you'd like to see some more ideas on how to fix things, check out the previous post.

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{Picture credit: whirlpool by Gordon Wrigley}

2 comments:

  1. Hi. Sorry if this is a stupid question, but do you first whirlpool, let it settle, and then insert your wort cooler or other way around if I want to add hops during the whirlpool stage?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Paul--thanks for the question! When using an immersion chiller (which is what I'm assuming in this case), you'd normally put it into the boil during the last 10 minutes, but that makes it difficult to create a proper whirpool.

      So I'd do exactly what you wrote: whirlpool, put in the hops, let it settle, then put in your chiller. BUT: you will have to sanitize your chiller in another way than boiling it. Hope that helps!

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