Cloudy Homebrew – Clarifying and Clearing your Brews
Thanks to many decades worth of mass produced highly refined and excruciatingly filtered alcoholic drinks coming out of the big breweries it is now very easy to get your hands on an entirely clear, perfectly see-through beer, cider or wine. Big commercial brewers filter their brew. They strip it of all the live yeast and basically bottle a “dead” product. Many small breweries, and virtually all home brewers, bottle a brew that still contains live yeast, this is how we get carbonation. So naturally there is more likelihood of producing a cloudy homebrew than a clear one. There used to be a time when a crystal clear beer was unheard of and cloudy beers were the norm, but now a cloudy brew is almost looked down upon as an inferior product.
The strange thing is that this has virtually nothing to do with taste or quality. It’s a purely visual issue. And although it is perfectly good to drink a cloudy home brew beer, cider or wine, many people prefer the now all too common sight of a crystal clear brew and won’t accept anything less. To be honest I don’t blame them. I’d prefer a perfectly clarified brew over a cloudy one too, so here are some tips on how to turn your cloudy homebrew into a crystal clear prize winning beer, cider or wine.
Let’s take a Cider clarification process as an example. The first and most obvious step is to refrigerate your brew. Refrigeration should help with the clarification process as it causes most of the solids in the drink (yeast cells and non-microbiological particles (NMPs)) to fall and form a sediment at the bottom of the bottle. But if this isn’t producing a clear enough drink then it’s likely that the original fruit juice used was high in a fruit protein known as pectin. The cloudiness of the brew is caused by many, virtually weightless, particles floating in the drink. They eventually bind together and become heavy enough to fall into the sediment below, however when pectin is present it prevents the binding process so the particles continue to float.
The best way to defeat pectin haze and to force further clarification is to use a fining agent. These agents work by attaching themselves to the suspended particles and dragging them down to the sediment. One easily obtained ingredient is clear, plain gelatin. Dissolve it in a little warm sterile water and add it to your bottle. A fining agent known as Bentonite is also good to use. I’ve also heard that Egg Whites can be used for clarification in the same way. In fact they’ve been used for hundreds of years to clear haze from wines throughout history.
Another good method for aiding clarification is the rapid cooling of the brew. A sparkling clear beer for instance can be brewed by cooling the wort to just above freezing until it becomes slushy. This procedure somewhat reduces the need for further clarification. A long, slow cooling however does not give a good cold break in the same way rapid cooling does and more NMPs become trapped in suspension producing the dreaded chill haze and sometimes a sulfur-like aftertaste in the brew.
A few good things to do to help prevent the cloudiness from forming to begin with is to reduce the time the brew is open to the air before pitching your yeast. The longer your juice sits waiting to begin fermenting, the more possibilities there are for wayward ambient flora and fauna to invade. Unless you brew in a sterile lab environment, there are bacteriae, wild yeast, and many other creatures in your brewery just waiting for a snack. If you’re making beer then you will need to try to chill the liquid down after boiling and pitch the yeast within an hour of the end of boil. If that’s not possible, then keep it covered/sealed until it is cool enough.
Sanitation is the key. All equipment must be not only clean but also sanitized. Chlorine bleach, iodine, really hot water, autoclave… whatever method you choose, you cannot get your equipment “too sanitary”. This includes all items that come in contact with the brew after boiling – bottles, spoons, hydrometer and test jar, pots and pans, lids, caps, etc. etc
Finally, just to clarify, the particles that cause haze and cloudiness are actually perfectly ok to drink, in fact they’re said to promote good health throughout the body. I’m not too sure why we are trained to view cloudy drinks as a bad thing. But then again there’s nothing better than a beautifully clear brew!