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Filtering Your Beer

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filtered beers 1Beer is sensory. Smell, taste, mouthfeel and sight. The first thing you will notice in your glass of beer will be how it looks. Expectations are funny things and if the beer you get doesn't match them, it will have an effect on the taste. A muddy looking beer could give you the impression that the beer tastes muddy. The funny thing is that clarity is usually just aesthetics, rarely does it have anything to do with the taste. Sometimes cloudiness is because the beer is yeasty, which would affect flavor, but generally its just protein/tannin haze that will make your beer cloudy. Since this is a sensory experience shouldn't all of your senses be rewarded? (Not so sure about hearing, although I do love the sound of a cap coming off the bottle. Fizz!) The beer should look the way you desire. There are different ways to clarify your beer. Using carrageenan like whirlfloc or irish moss at the last fifteen minutes of your boil will help bind and precipitate cold break proteins that can cause chill haze when your beer is chilled. Cooling your wort quickly (a wort chiller always helps) will also help bind these proteins and straining your cool wort when adding it to your fermenter before pitching your yeast will also get some of the hot and cold break proteins that form during the boil. Hoppy beers, especially dry hopped beers, tend to be cloudy because of the tannins that are naturally in hop oils (polyphenols). Yeast that are less flocculant can also stay in suspension giving your finished beer cloudiness. This is desirable in some beer styles, e.g. Hefeweiss. If you are looking to clarify your beer post fermentation you can use gelatin or isinglass ( which is made from fish bladder, who the hell thought of that?). Added after fermentation is finished but before packaging, these finings attach themselves to the stuff in suspension and help them drop out of solution. After a week or so you then have to rack the beer into your secondary, keg or bottling bucket. Or you can filter your beer. Filtering beer is fairly uncommon among homebrewers because of the mess and potential oxidation and contamination that can occur. But it works well and faster than post fermentation finings as long as you are careful. I recently made an esb (extra special bitter) that was cloudy. It tasted great but it was just too murky, probably from chill haze. I had already transferred it to kegs so I decided to filter it. Filtering SetupThe best way to filter homebrew is with a plate filter. It's a plastic contraption that holds two paper filters inside it. You slowly push the unfiltered beer using co2 from one keg, through the filter, into another keg. Of course before you do anything, everything must be sanitized. I soaked the filter and hardware in starsan at first and then pushed some starsan through the filter to make sure I got everything. It is also a good way to check for leaks. One thing about these plate filters, they leak a little. Especially if you push the beer at too high of a psi. It is rated for 8 psi but I rarely go over 5 psi. I put the filter on a bucket to catch any drips. There are three micron sizes of filters available, coarse, polish and sterile. You have to start with coarse to get the big stuff filtered. Usually one pass with the coarse filter is enough to get some good clarity, but if you want really clear or even sterile beer, you have to filter them again with each size. You do lose some flavors with filtering, especially some hop compounds. I would never do this to my IPAs. They will be cloudy from dry hopping. You also will lose some beer, but not a lot. It took me about an hour and a half for a 5 gallon keg of beer! It is a slow go but worth the wait. I did one coarse filter pass of each of my kegs and am very happy with the results. I swear, now that the beer looks clearer it tastes better. Senses! I hope I made myself clear. John LaPolla Headshot


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