Let’s dive into a pro tip I’ve been working with quite extensively over the past couple of months. If you’re like me, you’re probably bringing a lot of beer online for summer that’s arrived in full swing. I brew in a detached garage that doesn’t have a direct water supply or drainage, so I typically have a delay in getting beer ready to go when the seasons change. This is where fining your beer can come in handy, speeding up your production time.
Finings are used in beer to facilitate and speed up clearing. The particles that cloud up beer and contribute to chill haze have a negative electrical charge. All we need to do is use a positively charged fining agent that will attract these particles. When they bind together, they become quite heavy and will then sink to the bottom of your fining vessel, leaving your beer bright and clear.
There are a lot of different options for fining such as using bentonite, silica, isinglass, polycar and egg whites. We’ll be focusing on the use of dried gelatin today, due to the fact that it’s incredibly easy to source, cheap and very effective.
A word of caution. You can find gelatin at your local home brew supply, but prepare to pay a hefty markup for a product they simply buy at the supermarket. We’ve found the cheapest bulk gelatin at Bulk Barn. A five dollar note can buy you enough gelatin to fine well over 20 batches. You can also use Knox brand gelatin if you don’t want to buy in bulk, but it tends to be a bit more expensive.
So, why does gelatin work? It’s got a charge opposite to that of the proteins that cause chill haze and cloud beer up. Once the gelatin mixture has been prepared and pitched into your fining vessel, it will attract these particles and drop them out of suspension. In addition to clearing out chill haze causing proteins, gelatin also has the wonderful side effect of binding to polyphenols. They are the bitter, stringent compounds that can really mess up the flavor of a good beer.
The basic process
- Chill your fining vessel of beer for best results.
- Boil 200ml of water and add to a sanitized jar or flask.
- Let the water cool to 170f.
- Add 1 teaspoon of gelatin and dissolve completely either by stirring with a sanitized utensil or by swirling the container.
- Pitch directly to fining vessel. You’ll want to do this in the secondary.
- Allow the fining vessel to rest for 48 hours undisturbed.
- Rack beer into bottles or into its final keg.
I’ve been purposely vague with a few steps above because I like to do things a little differently. It might not be the best way, but I’m typically fining 4-6 corny kegs of beer at any given time, so a few changes to the process helped me keep my sanity.
Corny kegs make the absolute best fining tanks available to the average home brewer. I have six ball lock kegs set aside as dedicated fining and carbonation tanks. What I’ve done to them is cut the dip tubes exactly 1 inch using a stainless steel tube cutter.
This modification allows me to pull clean beer from above the yeast and gelatin that settles to the bottom of the corny. I could probably have gotten away with the cut being a tad bit shorter, but it seems to be working quite well. There’s probably only about a pint of beer lost total so I’m not about to perfect the cut length. It might also be helpful to know that I use side pickup corny kegs. You may have to do some experimentation if you have the divot located in the center of your corny kegs.
So taking the steps above into consideration, what I like to do is
- Transfer beer from primary fermenter to the modified corny kegs.
- Chill the beer down to as close to 0C as possible. To be honest, my conditioning freezer runs around 36f right now and it’s been working flawlessly. The proteins we’re trying to strip out only occur when beer is chilled.
- I have a Breville electric kettle that lets me dial in water temperature. It’s got a setting for green tea that just happens to be 175f. I’ll boil the water first using the maximum setting of 212f and then go make up some star san and find my bag of gelatin. Once it’s cooled off, I’ll then hit the 175f button and bring it up to temp.
- At this point I’ll spray my beaker with star san along with a spoon for mixing.
- Then I’ll add 200ml of the 175f water to the beaker. By this point its usually sitting around 170f considering the temperature of the flask and whatnot. It’s important not to use boiling water at this stage (or anything hotter than 180f for that matter), otherwise you risk turning the gelatin into actual Jell-O. We’re just trying to pasteurize the gelatin, not denature it.
- To this I mix 1 teaspoon of gelatin. Some advocate re-hydrating the gelatin in a small amount of cold water, however, I have not seen this to make any difference in the results.
- I then stir the mixture until the gelatin dissolves. You want to make sure there are no clumps or visible grains in the solution. It should take you 30-60 seconds of stirring at this stage.
- The mixture is then covered with aluminum foil to keep any bugs out.
- The solution is then pitched to a chilled keg of beer. Don’t worry if it’s still hot, it won’t cause any problems or damage your beer.
- Once the lid has been put back on the keg, purge with CO2 to remove any oxygen that you let in.
- Shake it well for 30 seconds. Do not forget this step or things will not work as well as you hope.
- Return the keg to the conditioning fridge and attach your CO2. Nothing like having your beer both fined and carbonated in one go!
- The number of the waiting shall be four days. Do not disturb the keg in the slightest during this time. Gelatin is at war with chill hazing proteins. Show some respect.
- Rack off to another keg for serving.
In my experience, gelatin is extremely effective at dropping out chill haze causing proteins and any yeast that may be left in suspension after primary fermentation. Leave things alone for a week, and you’ll have commercial grade beer, ready to drink just in time for the blazing summer heat.