How Do Brewers Make Clear Beer?

These are notes from the field while studying for the Advanced Cicerone Exam

What Is Added to Beer to Make It Clear?

Yes, I know, who cares about clear beer these days? It’s all about that #haze #juicebomb, right Instagram?

Well, if you’re brewing a classic style or entering competitions (or studying for Cicerone!) you’ll definitely want to know how to make your beer clear. There are two categories of substances used to make beer clear, also called “finings.”

The first category is “hot side.” These finings are added during the brewing process when the wort is “hot.” The clarifiers in this category are Irish Moss and Whirlfloc tablets. Both are made from seaweed but Whirlfloc tablets have more carrageenan in them than Irish Moss. Carrageenan is the active ingredient causing protein to clump and fall to the bottom of the beer so Whirlfloc requires a smaller dose to be effective.  

Naturally the other category is “cold side.” Cold side finings include Isinglass, Gelatin, and Polyclar. My favorite in this category is isinglass, just because it’s made of fish bladders and I like imagining all the tiny fish bladders dissolving in a beer.

As a homebrewer I typically use gelatin for clearing beers. For all of these cold side clarifiers, the fining agent is mixed with water (or in the case of isinglass an acid) and added to the fermenter a few days before bottling. When the beer is racked or bottled after being cleared with gelatin you get a nice layer of protein jelly, is cool but also kinda gross to clean!

What do you think about clear beers? Do you prefer them or are you all about the haze? Let me know at @beerswithmandy.

Why is a Little DMS Okay in Pilsners?

These are field notes from my Advanced Cicerone studies. (Yes, I passed!)

Why is DMS Acceptable in a Pilsner?

The mild corn-like aroma on a pilsner has nothing to do with corn in the beer (although some may contain corn to lighten the body and mouthfeel). Dimethyl sulfide, referred to as DMS can be formed on the hot side of the brewing process or as a result of an infection in fermented beer. DMS from an infection is never acceptable, not even in pilsner. Today, I’m focusing on the DMS that can be formed even when beer is brewed properly.

DMS is formed from a “precursor” compound SMM (S-methylmethionine). SMM is found in malt but it is burned-off almost completely during the kilning process. Since very light malt like pilsner is kilned for such a short amount of time, some SMM may remain in the malt after it’s kilned.

Since pilsners are made of - you guessed it - almost 100% pilsner malt they are very susceptible to DMS, even after careful brewing. The best way to eliminate DMS is to boil the wort for a long time and cool the wort extremely quickly after the boil. Since some traditional methods and technologies do not allow for this accelerated cooling, DMS is considered acceptable in pilsners especially the traditional German styles.

So if you’re hanging at the German bar for Oktoberfest this month and you catch a whiff of creamed-corn (the tell-tale sign of DMS formed in brewing) don’t cry “bad beer” right away! Take a few sips, let the beer warm and see if you can enjoy a corny tinge to a classic style.