Beer Clarity – What to Do About Hazy Beer
Beer clarity has become an important aspect of most beers since the first pilseners arrived. American light lagers are some of the clearest beers in the world with their low proteins and high adjuncts. Beer drinkers have come to expect their beer to be clear. So how does this affect the homebrewer? Commercial breweries use filtration to get those crystal clear beers. For you the homebrewer, there are quite a few things you can do to improve the clarity of your beers.
The number one cause of haze in homebrew is called chill haze. Where does this haze come from? It comes primarily from the malt you use. The malt is full of proteins and its husks are full of tannins (polyphenols). These proteins and tannins (along with other polyphenols) cross-link to form small complex chains which are too small to settle out. These protein-polyphenol complexes are soluble at warmer temperatures but will become insoluble at colder temperatures, and form the haze you see in your homebrewed beer. These small protein-polyphenol chains can combine with oxygen to form larger chains which can settle out, reducing chill haze. But the clear beer comes at a price, oxidation and staling. There are some things the homebrewer can do to reduce chill haze. To reduce chill haze caused by protein-polyphenol linking is a matter of reducing the proteins or the polyphenols (aka Tannins) or both. There is a product on the market made by White Labs called Clarity Ferm. Clarity ferm cleaves polypetides (a protein fraction) so they cannot bond with polyphenols (tannin). This product is also known as Brewer’s Clarex. One incidental but important side affect of using Clarity Ferm, it produces gluten-reduced beers (The majority of beers test below 10ppm gluten when used in the correct dosage). Here are some thing you can try:
Ways to Improve Beer Clarity and Eliminate Chill Haze
- To reduce the protein and/or polyphenol levels in your beer, you can reduce some of the malt used in the recipe.
- Try adding some adjucnts like corn, rice, or refined sugar such as the American lagers, Belgian-style tripels or strong ales have.
- Using a huskless malt like wheat or rye will reduce the polyphenols, but increase the protein levels at low percentages in your grain bill. As the level reaches 40%, the amount of polyphenols are reduced to such a low percentage that the proteins have nothing to link with and the beers are very clear.
- Hops also produce polyphenols in your beer. Using lower alpha acid hops as your bittering hops will incorporates much more hop cone material into your wort and thus more polyphenols are extracted. Using high alpha acid hops for bittering will reduce the hop-derived haze in your beer.
- Try adding a protein rest which will reduce the large proteins into small and medium sized ones.
- Achieve a good hot break by boiling the wort vigorously and then get a good cold break by using a wort chiller (possibly even a pre-chiller). Switching to a more efficient chiller such as a The Therminator will get your beer chilled more quickly. A large percentage of malt polyphenols survive the boil and chill, whereas a relatively small percentage of hop-derived polyphenols will.
- Switch to a low protein or low polyphenol malt in your recipe.
- Use a fining agent in your boil, such as Whirlfloc or Irish moss, to reduce the large proteins. Adding bentonite to the boil in the last 15 minutes will reduce the protein and polyphenol levels significantly. Try adding 10-40 grams per 5 gallon batch, but remember that bentonite absorbs a lot of water too, so you may want to go with the lower end of the recommendation.
- Adding fining agents after the boil to reduce protein levels is a common practice commercially. Try Isinglass-a protein collagen from the swim bladders of the sturgeon and other fishes, gelatin-a byproduct of collagen production from animal hooves and pigskins, polyclar / pvpp-an insoluble white plastic powder which electrostatically attracts polyphenols, including tannins, as it quickly sinks to the bottom, silica gel-a polymeric hydrogel (or xerogel) made from sodium silicate which will preferentially absorb proteins (note: silica gel must be allowed to settle and be racked off prior to consumption, it is not approved by the FDA for ingestion), Polyclar Plus-a combination of silica gel and polyclar, and sparkalloid-a polysaccharide in a diatomaceous earth (DE) carrier which removes yeast cells and polyphenols as it sinks to the bottom (in fact you may need to add more yeast if bottle conditioning).
- Try using a batch sparge, which is known to reduce the amount of tannins extracted from the husks.
- Filter your beer. Use a larger filter first, then switch to a small filter for polishing.
- Make sure you lager at near freezing temperatures (32°F or 0°C).
- Minimize aeration during bottling and kegging. Increased dissolved oxygen in your bottle can promote permanent chill haze.
Other Reasons For Hazy Beer
Check to ensure that the beer clarity issue isn’t caused by a wild yeast or bacterial infection. In this case, haze is an indication of a serious problem. Common bacterial infections in beer include Pediococcus damnosus which generates a lot of diacetyl. Lactobacillus bacteria can produce many flavors in your beer, some pleasant as in a lambic, and some not so pleasant. A third type of bacterial infection comes from the coliforms. These types of bacteria produce vegetal flavors like old celery in your beer. You will most likely notice these hazes in the bottle after fermentation. The appearance of haze in the bottle is an indicator that you may have an infection. The solution to bacterial infections is better sanitation.
Another source of beer clarity problems is yeast. The yeast haze can come from wild yeast, a cultured yeast that may have mutated and can’t flocculate out of suspension, or a cultured yeast noted for its poor flocculation properties. If it is from a wild yeast, look at your sanitation procedures. The wild yeast may have been transferred from repitching the yeast from another fermentation. Regardless how it got there, it’s obvious that you shouldn’t reuse this yeast. You will find that some yeast cultures are just poor flocculators and recommend fining or filtration to get a clear beer.
You may be experiencing a chemical haze caused by an in-balance of chemicals in your water. A deficiency of calcium in your boil can cause a clarity problem from a chemical haze called oxalate haze. Make sure you have more than 25 ppm calcium (50 ppm is better) by getting a chemical water analysis. When treating your water to lower bicarbonates, the calcium level may have dropped considerably. Add more calcium back as necessary. Minerals such as iron and copper at levels exceeding 1 ppm, and tin at levels exceeding 0.1 ppm can also cause a chemical haze. Try carbon filtering your water or diluting with distilled water, RO (reverse osmosis) water or bottled spring water to reduce these minerals below the haze-forming threshold.
Some brewers believe that skimming the dirty head formed during fermentation will result in better beer clarity. If you want to do this, Al Korzonas in his book Homebrewing Vol. 1 suggests that you may be reducing the bitterness levels in your beers and that the other benefits are minimal. Using a blow-off tube produces similar results when fermenting in a glass carboy. Another procedure is called “dropping” whereby the beer is siphoned out from under the krausen, leaving it and the trub behind.
Common Clarifiers and Fining Agents
- Irish Moss -a protein coagulant, improves clarity in almost all worts but is not recommended for high adjunct or extract-based worts. It is added in the last 10-15 minutes of the boil to aid in coagulation and precipitation of proteins during the cold break. Approximately 1 tsp is needed per 5 gallons of wort. I’ve read where it is best to hydrate it in a little water before adding to the boil.
- Whirlfloc Tabs -highly refined protein coagulant with same properties as Irish Moss. One tablet will clear 10-15 gallons of beer, so use 1/2 tablet per 5 gallons, although it doesn’t hurt to use a whole tablet. Add the tablet the last 5 minutes of the
- Isinglass-is a yeast flocculant, it will improve clarity by settling some protein haze. Isinglass finings clarify beer by combining with yeast (net negative charge) and protein by electrostatic interaction and by physical enmeshment to form large aggregates which settle rapidly. -Recommended 15-60 mg/L (2 fl. oz.) per 5 gallons of wort. It is also available in an instant form. Be sure you follow the instruction that come with the product. Typical application rates are ½ tsp mixed with 1 cup of hot water per 5 gallons of beer, and allow 4-5 days before racking or bottling.
- Gelatin -another yeast flocculant but is much less effective than Isinglass (but much less expensive)-Use 1/2 tsp for five gallons of beer. Dissolve gelatin into 1/4-1/2 cup of hot water to dissolve and add to beer. Wait a few days and rack off.
- Polyclar / PVPP -polyphenol binder, a non-aerated slurry should be added prior to bottling or kegging and given a day to settle. Mix 2 Tbls (or 6 g) with one cup of sanitized warm water and gently stir into five gallons beer. Let stand for a few days and rack off.
- Silica Gel-protein binder,a non-aerated slurry should be added prior to bottling or kegging and given a day to settle (at most) to improve beer clarity-Recommend 6-10 grams per 5 gallons of beer. Check out Gelocolle at MoreBeer.com
As you can see, there is a lot you can do to improve your beer clarity. To some homebrewers a little haze in their homebrew is not important because it does not affect the flavor or head retention. We as consumers have been conditioned to look for beer clarity in crystal clear beer, and to think there is a fault if the beer is hazy. If you want to enter competitions, haze is not acceptable in all but a few styles. If you try all the above mentioned tips and your beer is still hazy, try one of the brewing forums. There is a wealth of information out there waiting to be tapped on beer clarity.
References: Information for this article about beer clarity was adapted in part from How To Brew by John Palmer, Homebrewing Vol. 1 by Al Korzonas, and The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian.