Why Is Your Homebrew Not Clear? 5 Reasons
Beer brewing is an art form savored by each of the senses. While taste springs immediately to mind, artisans also want to achieve a clearness in the brew they worked so hard on.
Some beers require a certain amount of haze; however, haze in many beers indicates a problem, either in the brewing or cleaning process.
Reasons why your homebrew is not clear include the occurrence of chill haze, the yeast failing to flocculate, incomplete fermentation, uncleared trub, and the presence of contaminants.
While there isn’t much recourse for brewers once haze has formed, many preventative measures are available. This article explores why your home beer isn’t clear and offers some pre-emptive measures to ensure maximum clarity. Let’s get started!
1. Chill Haze Has Occurred
Chill haze is an extremely common occurrence in beers. Combatting it requires a basic understanding of the causes and components involved in the process.
Chill haze is a chemical reaction where polyphenols bond with proteins due to low temperatures. This combination only occurs at temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). The new particles are large and light-reflective, creating a visible cloud in your beer.
Proteins comprise the most significant part of the haze – between 40 and 75 percent; however, the 17 percent of polyphenols incite the actual bonding process.
Chill haze dissipates when the beer warms to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius). However, as polyphenols oxidize into tannoids, they bond with proteins and create a new element too large to dissolve back into the beer.
This new, visible fog is called permanent haze and can’t be removed simply by warming up a brew.
Multitudinous factors impact chill haze, including:
- Polyphenol concentration
Monitoring these factors helps prevent chill haze; however, further methods can prevent the occurrence.
How To Fix
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure may be cliche, but it’s the best policy when it comes to avoiding chill haze. Once the fog is formed, there isn’t much you can do to combat it. However, there are many actions you can take to prevent chill haze from occurring at all.
A Hot Break
Hot breaks occur during the boiling process. The heat causes the proteins to bond; the fused elements become heavy and sink to the bottom, clearing the beer. Allow the beer to boil for at least an hour to clump all the proteins and create the clearest brew possible.
Yeast cells are negatively charged, which often causes repulsion that prevents the elements from bonding together, becoming heavy and sinking.
Clarifiers provide a neutralizing effect. These tablets make it possible for the yeast to bond and sink, clearing the beer.
There are three primary types of clarifiers: kettle finings, enzymes, and finishing agents.
Kettle finings are added during the last ten minutes of a beer’s boil. The two most popular varieties are:
- Irish Moss: Irish moss is a seaweed derivative that adheres to proteins, causing them to fuse and sink. Use a tablespoon of Irish Moss per five gallons of beer.
- Whirlfloc: Whirlfloc is extracted from Irish Moss and works in the same fashion. The tablets work quicker and more effectively, owing to the concentrated nature of the substance.
Enzymes are used to clear up pectin haze, a fog that occurs in fruit beers and ciders. Brewers use two kinds of enzymes:
- Pectinase: Pectin reacts poorly to alcohol and needs to be added pre-fermentation. The substance requires filtration, making it one of the less direct clarifiers available.
- Clarity Ferm: Brewers add clarity ferns during the yeast pitching phase. The additive breaks down polypeptides, preventing chill haze.
Brewers add finishing agents after completing fermentation. These additives create charges that encourage proteins to clump, gain mass, and sink, clearing the beer. There are several types of finishing agents, including:
- Gelatin: Just good old-fashioned, unflavored gelatin helps clear beer. Use one teaspoon of gelatin per 5-gallons of beer.
- Biofine Clear: Biofine clear functions similarly to gelatin but is a vegan option. Use two teaspoons per 5-gallons of beer.
- Isinglass: Isinglass is made of finely groundfish bladders, so use it cautiously. Add ¼ teaspoon to every 5-gallons of beer.
- Sparkolloid: Sparkolloid is a seaweed product commonly used in wine to help reduce beer’s chill haze. Use 1 to 1 ½ gram of Spakolloid per gallon of beer.
- Polychar: Polychar may repel some brewers, as it is a plastic compound. However, the substance effectively eliminates polyphenols and excess yeast. Use two tablespoons per 5-gallons of beer.
- Super Kleer: Super Kleer is a shellfish derivative that clears chill haze rapidly. Use one packet per 6-gallons of beer.
The cold break occurs when you rapidly cool your beer immediately post-boil. This process causes the particulates in the brew to rise to the top, creating a thick, skimmable foam. Cold breaks generally form at around 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius).
Cold crashing beer means lowering the temperature rapidly after fermentation is completed. Cool the brew to between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 and 4.4 degrees Celsius) and maintain that temperature for 24 hours.
The cold crash causes lingering yeast strands to bond in hopes of survival. These fused elements are heavy enough to sink and clear the beer.
Cold crashing can cause a chill haze. However, brewers can clear up chill haze at this brewing stage with the addition of gelatin to the brew.
Use any basic, unflavored gelatin to complete these steps:
- Mix a teaspoon of gelatin with half a cup of water in a microwavable dish.
- Microwave in 15-second installments.
- Heat until the solution reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add the hot mixture to the beer.
- Let sit for between 24 and 48 hours.
- Skim the dropped yeast particles from the brew.
Give It Time
The best solution is the simplest. Over-eager homebrewers often sample their beers before they’ve had adequate time to rest. Keeping your beer refrigerated for 2 to 3 weeks before drinking allows the particulates to fall and helps prevent chill haze.
2. The Yeast Has Failed To Flocculate
Yeast is a central component of beer brewing. The grain eats up the sugars in the recipe, causing fermentation and creating carbonation.
After yeast cells eat all of the fermentable sugars, they are drawn to conserve resources in an effort to survive. The cells combine, creating yeast clumps. This process is called flocculation. Flocculated yeast sinks to the bottom of bottom-fermenting beer, clearing the brew.
Top-fermenting brews push the flocculated yeast to the top of the beer, forming a barm.
Ideally, flocculation occurs.
Yeasts failing to flocculate linger in the beer, creating haze and ruining the brew’s clarity.
How To Fix
Floating yeast isn’t simply an aesthetic concern. You’ve worked hard to brew your beer, so of course, you want it to look appealing, but you also want it to taste perfect. Lingering yeast impacts the flavor. Luckily, brewers have some options for clearing yeast from beer.
Select a Properly Flocculation Level
Yeasts have different levels of flocculation. While it may be tempting to rush the process by using high flocculation yeast, this cheat can have negative consequences. High flocculating yeast begins clumping together early in fermentation, often before the sugars are processed.
High flocculating yeast causes incomplete fermentation and ruins the taste of your beer. You can avoid this by recirculating the yeast, but this process is imperfect and cancels out the time saved by using a high flocculating yeast in the first place.
The best yeast option is a medium flocculating yeast. These strains require between six and fifteen days to flocculate, allowing fermentation to complete. Additionally, you can expedite the process a bit by cooling your beer.
Beyond selecting a good variety of yeast, you can control a multitude of factors that impact flocculation, including:
- Temperature: The ideal temperature for flocculation is between 68 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 and 21 degrees Celsius). Early flocculation may suggest your beer is too warm. Try lowering the temperature to fix the process.
- Oxygen: Improperly aerated worts often suffer premature flocculation, ruining the fermentation process.
- Age: Stick to younger yeast. Aged yeast flocculates too quickly, while younger yeast allows the fermentation process to finish before clumping.
- Nutrients: Make sure you’ve added the right amount of sugar for fermentation. The yeast’s entire purpose is to eat the sugar. If it processes the sugars too quickly, the yeast, essentially, becomes bored and flocculates prematurely, ruining fermentation.
Controlling these factors ensures flocculation occurs when it should, creating a clear but still properly fermented beer.
Filter Out the Yeast
Filtration has many benefits if you have the patience to complete the process. Filtering beer removes yeast and any impurities that might not naturally settle out of a beer.
Filtration is a multiple-step process, starting with selecting the right filter size. One micron is ideal; this size removes undesirable tannins and yeasts without affecting the flavor.
Do not begin filtration too early. Remember, you need yeast for proper fermentation, and removing it too early ruins the process.
Once fermentation is complete, allow the beer to rest in a secondary container for two to three weeks. After this period, follow these steps:
- Pour the brew into a keg.
- Position the filter between your full keg and an empty one.
- Transfer the beer between kegs using low CO2 pressure.
- Seal the keg.
- Remove any excess air.
- Refrigerate and carbonate.
While you can only filter into a keg, once the beer is filtered and carbonated, you can move the liquid into bottles if you choose.
3. Incomplete Fermentation
Beer haze’s most common cause is also its most easily avoided. Homebrewers, understandably, want to enjoy the fruits of their labor and may rush the process.
However, fermentation needs ample time to complete the chemical reaction not only for alcohol production but for beer clarity as well.
During fermentation, the yeast eats sugar and turns it into carbonation and alcohol. Generally speaking, complete fermentation requires two weeks. Hurrying the process prevents the yeast from fermenting all the sugars, leaving behind insoluble particles.
These unconverted sugars clump with the yeast and create haze. Not only is this fog unattractive, it indicates that fermentation isn’t complete, so it will impact the taste of your beer.
How To Fix
Be patient. Homebrewers are eager to sample the finished product, but brewers can’t rush chemistry. Allowing adequate fermentation time lets the yeast eat all fermentable sugars while providing a window for particles to settle and clear from the brew.
If you’re interested in learning how many times you can reuse yeast as a homebrewer, check out my video on the matter below:
The same rule applies if you’re bottling your beer and not keeping it in a keg. After you have allowed adequate fermentation time, pour the beer into bottles.
Refrigerate the brew for one to two weeks before drinking. Transferring the liquid from the keg to bottles stirs up settled sediment, obscuring your ale’s clarity. A one to two-week buffer lets particles settle before drinking.
4. Uncleared Trub
Derived from the German word for “cloudy,” trub is composed of the undesirable by-products of boiling your beer’s ingredients. Fats, coagulated proteins, and inactive yeast form this sediment that separates from your wort during boiling.
Trub tastes pretty unpleasant and creates a particle haze in beers. While some hazes are primarily aesthetic issues, trub impacts the integrity of the beer because it’s not supposed to be there.
How To Fix
A good cold break can help separate the trub from the brew, allowing you to skim it from your beer. While this allows for separation from much of the sediment, some will be left behind. To minimize the presence of trub in your final drinking product, siphon carefully.
Keep your siphoning hose well above the trub layer. Additionally, keep the vessel steady; agitating it stirs up the trub, allowing it to make its way into the beer.
No one wants to consider the various, unavoidable contaminants that find their way into the food and beverages we consume. However, there are some elements we control, particularly in homebrewing.
Improperly sterilized equipment may contain contaminants like dust, dirt, or any non-beer particle that can contribute to haze in brews.
How To Fix
Cleanliness is absolutely paramount in beer brewing. Make sure your equipment is sterilized. Keep it simple; use bleach and hot water to ensure nothing undesirable enters your brew. Rinse thoroughly-bleach is caustic, and any lingering particles are damaging. This will ensure the beer is clear of any contaminant haze.
Crystal clear beer is achievable. Brewers can avoid haze by taking the time and care to allow their beer complete fermentation and settling time. Most home brewing success depends on simple patience; beer clarity is no different.