Like any specialty craft, you will find conflicting advice about whether or not you should filter your wort. Some brewers say not to worry about it and others say you should do it. But who’s right?
We won’t get in the middle of that debate, but it is certainly the case that many brewers skip the wort filtering step. And others, especially homebrewers, claim that not using a wort filter can make fermentation and clean-up more difficult.
So if you are brewing at home and worry that spent beer hops will either cause problems during fermentation, clog up your equipment, or just be a pain to clean up, you should learn how to filter wort.
And in this article, we will learn the arguments for why you should filter your wort and the top methods for doing it. Whatever your brew schedule and whatever brew styles you favor, you’ll find plenty of useful information below.
What Is Wort?
Just as a quick review, let’s go over a short recap of what wort is, what is inside of it, and why you would want to filter it.
It is becoming more and more popular, especially in the craft beer world, to not even filter the finished product of a beer. Unfiltered beers leave the yeast and malt particulates inside of the liquid when it’s bottled, and the results can give a stronger aroma, heavier body, and stronger taste.
But for now, let’s assume that you’re interested in making filtered beer. And before you even get to the step of officially creating beer – before fermentation – you have a sugary liquid that is called wort. Wort is the liquid that a brewer makes after the mashing process, where the grains break down in hot water and the starches become sugars.
After the boil, the wort needs to be chilled quickly so that it arrives at a temperature suitable for fermentation.
Why Filter Your Wort?
Once you have sweet wort, the addition of hops into the boil introduces the bitter flavors and other hop aromas into your wort. The hops are in pellet form when you add them to your boil, but once they spend enough time in the hot water they break down into a gunky texture.
And while filtering your wort removes some of the undissolved grain particles, the main reason for a wort filter is to remove the spent hops. These hops, when carried over into the fermentation process, can complicate fermentation. They will also clog up the pipes of an external chiller. Even without a chiller, spent hops make the cleanup process much more difficult.
So filtering your wort before fermentation can clarify the wort and makes the fermentation process more straightforward. Especially if you are dialing in a specific recipe and want to perform quality control along the way, wort filters allow you to test the wort accurately before fermentation.
Wort Filter: 3 Methods
Now that you understand what is inside your wort and the arguments for filtering it, let’s now go over some of the most popular ways that craft brewers filter their wort.
Some of these methods – like a hop bag – will all but guarantee that no hop particles make it into the fermenter. And others are looser filters that remove the majority of the gunky clumps of hops.
We recommend that you try out a few of these methods and see what makes your brew session easier and, of course, what makes the beer taste better!
A hop bag is a mesh-like bag that you pour all of your hops into before dipping them into your wort. You can think of a hop bag like a tea bag – the holes are small enough to allow water to dissolve the material but big enough to block solid particles.
The upside of using a hop bag is that it is super easy, and cleaning up is smooth. As long as you tie a tight knot, the hops will stay in your bag, and filtering is complete as soon as you remove the bag.
The downside to the hop bag is that the extraction of the flavors into the wort is not as efficient. At home, many craft beer makers prefer not to use a hop bag because they want the hops to float around freely in the wort.
Even if you are a beginner homebrewer, you likely have a mesh strainer somewhere in your kitchen. The smaller ones – like those used in making cocktails – are not practical for home brewing. But the bigger ones can work just fine.
The metal mesh is small enough to catch most of the hop sludge as you pour your wort into the fermenter, but it is big enough to let all of that sweet hoppy liquid pass through. The main downside to this method is that the strainer clogs easily, and you will likely have to perform this in stages.
A hop basket is similar to the hop bag method of filtration. But instead of being made of muslin or nylon, the basket is made of a fine metal screen. The basket clamps onto the edge of the brewing vessel and hangs down into the wort liquid.
With a hop basket, the main concern is that the basket needs to hang down deep enough – it needs to be fully submerged. While this method does not guarantee perfect filtration, the hops will have more room to roam freely in the water as they extract into the wort.
And another upside of a hop basket is that you can do multiple hop additions, changing out the basket with different hops as you go. There is also a similar method to a hop basket, called a false bottom, in which a metal screen sits at the bottom and can pull up the hops before fermentation.
Ultimately, whether you filter your wort or not before fermentation is a personal choice. And to keep homebrewing fun and enjoyable, we recommend you try both methods to see what gives you the best beer.
But if you do decide to use a wort filter, these choices are your best bet for getting the job done. And if you want to learn more about filtered vs. unfiltered beer, check out our complete guide on how to filter homebrew!