How to Use Clarifying Agents to Make Your Brew Crystal Clear
Due to the ingredients used to make it, beer has a number of organic compounds floating around in it: proteins, starches, oils, resins, and yeast cells — particulate matter of all shapes and sizes. Given time, most of this stuff eventually settles out of your beer naturally. Time, however, is not a friend to beer. This is why brewers resort to the use of clarifying agents.
Some of the clarifying agents in the following list are organic or mineral in composition and have been used for eons. A couple of these agents, such as Irish moss and isinglass, are referred to as finings, but they do the same job as the other clarifiers. The rest are technologically-advanced products of our modern era.
NOTE: For proper usage of these clarifiers, please refer to the package directions.
- Bentonite is a non-organic material combined with a form of powdered clay. It’s more closely associated with winemaking, but works well in beer also.
- Gelatin is derived from the ground hooves of cows and horses. It is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless water-soluble protein that attracts negatively charged proteins and yeast. Gelatin works best when it is rehydrated and poured into cool beer, and is allowed 5 to 7 days to accomplish its task (after primary fermentation is completed).
- Irish moss is also known as carragheen, which is a form of brown seaweed. Because this substance is a kettle-coagulant (meaning it works in the brew kettle), you want to add it to the brew during the boil. Doing so causes a lot of the protein in the wort to coagulate as it cools. Irish moss is sold in flaked and powdered form.
- Isinglass is derived from the swim bladders of sturgeon. Also known as white finings, isinglass attracts negatively charged proteins and yeast, causing them to settle out of the beer. Isinglass is used in the same way as gelatin, but may be a little harder to dissolve in water. Because isinglass finings have a charge opposite that of the other finings, they can be used in combination with some of the other finings or clarifiers to improve beer clarification.
- Polyclar is made up of minute beads of plastic that are statically charged, thereby, attracting particulate matter to themselves like electrostatic glue. Another positive quality of Polyclar is that it is very effective at combating chill haze. You need not be concerned about having powdered plastic in your brew…the largest user of Polyclar is the pharmaceutical industry which uses it to produce capsule-type drugs.
- Silica gel is a hard, granulated form of hydrated silica that works by absorption. Each particle is a hollow silica honeycomb with pores just large enough to let haze-forming proteins in. As each particle adsorbs the protein, it falls out of solution and forms a firm sediment on the bottom of the fermentation vessel.
- Sparkolloid is a product name. This product of unknown definition is widely used in the winemaking industry, but can also be adapted to the clarification of beer.
- Super Kleer KC Finings, also a brand name, is an excellent all-purpose fining agent that contains kieselsol and chitosan (derived from shellfish).
- Whirlfloc, also a brand name, is a blend of Irish moss and purefied Carragheen that helps precipitate haze-causing proteins and beta glucans.
It’s important to note the distinction between quality and the perception of quality. Quality is an objective term; homebrew is either well-made or it isn’t. Perception, on the other hand, is subjective. The clarifying agents outlined in this chapter, for example, have to do with producing crystal clear beer. Transparent beer is perceived as being better than cloudy or hazy beer, but, in fact, a beer’s clarity has little bearing on its quality, and a perfectly clear beer isn’t necessarily well made.