reader question: finings

A bit ago, Clint wrote in with this question:

Would you consider a short post/tutorial on finings? Essentially just the what/when/how to use, or at least your recommendation.

I am in the process of setting up a keg system and should be kegging a double IPA within the next 2 weeks, or so. Crystal clear beer has not been a matter of great importance to me, so far, but it would certainly look nice, in a glass.

We drink beer first with our eyes, and I think appearance can definitely enhance or detract from the (aesthetic, non-analytical tasting) experience. Haze is expected in some styles (Hefeweizen, Witbier …) and may be to some extent unavoidable in highly dry-hopped beers like Double IPAs, but for everything else, there’s finings.

For the sake of completeness, I’ll briefly review the basics and explain what I do; then I’d like to hear from other readers in the comments section what they like and have had luck with.

In a nutshell, finings are natural or chemical additives that help clarify beer by encouraging the precipitation of haze causers like wort proteins, yeast, and other suspended solids. Drifting into subjectivity, over the years I’ve found them to be an inexpensive, user-friendly, and effective alternative to filtering. They’re broken down into two categories based on when in the process they’re added: kettle or post-fermentation.

Kettle finings are added to the wort during the boil and operate by enhancing formation and precipitation of break material in the hot and cold breaks – the coagulation of malt proteins and other polyphenols in the kettle during the boil and chilling. All the kettle finings that I’ve used are some form of carrageenan – either good ol’ Irish Moss, or more refined forms like Whirlfloc or SuperMoss HB. I personally like Whirlfloc for its ease of use and dosing.

Post-fermentation finings are added to beer in the fermentor after TG is achieved and before packaging; they work by dropping yeast cells and other small particles out of suspension. Post-ferm finings take many forms and have their own advantages and disadvantages. Isinglass works great and is traditional for casking real ale, but it’s also very temp-sensitive and loses effectiveness if it’s stored or shipped warm. I was on a gelatin kick for a while, but in the last few years have moved exclusively to Biofine.

Different finings may perform differently in your brewhouse than in mine and vice versa, depending on a number of factors, so the conventional wisdom is to test drive a few, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and then stick with what works for you.

How about you, citizens – how do you make your beer pretty?

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28 thoughts on “reader question: finings

  1. I normally use whirlfloc and gelatin, only because I happened to have some at home. It works great to clear the beer quickly.

    I also occasionally will use clarity ferm when making reduced gluten beers. This also clears beer pretty well.

  2. What would you reccomend for a helles lager that is already in the lager stage? Could I add findings while it is still in the glass carboy? I have read bad things can happen with gelatin in sub 40 deg temps. I haven’t ever used a fining and might not need one for this batch but I am just curious if there is a preference on a certain fining based on temp.

    • I haven’t personally tried Biofine Clear at lager temps, but have heard anecdotally that it will work. You can certainly add finings while the beer is still in the secondary, but since it’s already in the lagering stage, and depending on how clear it is already, finings may be overkill.

    • I’ve had a lot success using Whirlfloc and then Gelatin well below 40˚F for a Pils, Smoked Helles, Wheat Beer and an Amber. I had kegged and refrigerated the beer at this point, let it get down to 29˚F to form some chill haze and then dose it with Gelatin. Worked like a charm.

  3. The info for Biofine on the MoreBeer website states: “Biofine brings out maltiness and accentuates esters produced by yeast.” Does that mean if has a negative effect on hop flavor and/or hop bitterness? That would be important to know when determining what beers to use if for and for making any necessary adjustments to hop additions to achieve desired results.

  4. Cold conditioning at 32*F and time in the keg works for me. Fix has noted the importance of “polish filtering,” but that seems like a huge PITA. Kettle finings (e.g. Whirlfloc), rapid cooling and float tanks make clear wort, but I always end up bringing some trub into the primary fermentor for my ales. Lagers need clear wort, regardless of kettle losses. FWIW, ugly beers can still taste good.

  5. I usually stick to cold crashing and time to clear a beer but whirlfloc I have found is a must in the kettle. One time I forgot whirlfloc then gelatin saved it after a week or so on gelatin in the keg. But I am looking into Clarity Ferm from White Labs and also Biofine.

  6. Dawson,

    Thank you for taking the time to answer my question, so thoroughly. I’ve used kettle finings, whirlfloc specifically, in my last few batches and have been really pleased with the results. You’ve definitely steered me toward some options that I would like to try for post fermentation but, most importantly (to me, at any rate) you set my mind at ease, a bit, about the double IPA I’d mentioned in my original question. I used the Wyeast 1217 and, after just under a week in secondary, it dropped bright; looked fantastic. Then I dry hopped it for 5 days with 5oz of citra pellets and it quickly became cloudy and nearly opaque. My concern was that I had personally screwed something up but, from your post, it sounds like that amount of dry hop, without a filter, almost inevitably has this result on beer, which is a little disappointing but, given how it tastes, I have no regrets.

    I have a pale ale that will probably be ready to rack into secondary in the next few days. I may try to hit it with some biofine and test it out.

    Again, thank you and all the commenters, above, for all the info. It is greatly appreciated.

    oh… and a side note, do you have any recommendations on scotch? I’ve always been of the opinion that “I don’t like scotch”, but I’ve been told that that is only because I’ve never had “good” scotch. I would like to test that theory. do you have any recommendations on modestly-to-moderately priced scotch?

    Thanks again!

    • I had the same result with 1217 + dry hops: very clear after fermentation, then re-hazed after hops added. I think it’s just the nature of the beast with dry hopping.

      As DK and others noted elsewhere in these comments, hazy beer can still taste great; and time plus cold conditioning will do as good a job as any fining at clearing a beer – just a tradeoff between aging vs. drinking fresh. A system of compromises, as the man said.

      Re: Scotch. My wife was of the same opinion (“I don’t like Scotch”) for a long time. After many sampling attempts over the years, we found out she actually does like Scotch – just very expensive ones! Her gateway was Highland Park 18.

      For single malts, as others have mentioned, Speysides are approachable and many are relatively wallet-friendly.

      Blended Scotch is maybe not the best way to learn the qualities of the different regions, but it can be pretty fun in and of itself, and you don’t have to feel bad about pouring it liberally into a mugful of hot wort from the mash tun … I like Famous Grouse and Teacher’s.

        • Clint, one thing I should mention with the 5 oz of Citra you dry hopped with (sounds fantastic by the way) is that hops contain polyphenols which is one of the components working in tandem with Proteins to form chill haze. So the more dry hops you add the more turbidity you’ll likely have up to a point.

          • Thanks for the input, Chris!

            5oz is the heaviest I’ve gone with dry hops, so far. Prior to this, I’ve used 2-3oz without much noticeable change in the clarity of the beer. This was also the highest gravity beer I’ve made, to date, and also my first time using the Wyeast 1217. Seems like the yeast strain may have had a little to do with it but I’m going to blame the malt proteins from the bigger grain bill and the higher level of dry hopping. Definitely something to keep in mind, for the future.

            All in all, though, I’m still very pleased with with this beer despite the appearance.

  7. Has anyone found any good info on the actual amount of sodium added by whirlfloc tablets? My water is high in sodium already, so I don’t much like the idea of adding additional sodium bicarbonate. But it could be I’m just paranoid and its not enough to worry about…

    @ clint: Scotch is kind of a tricky thing- to me its much more varied than bourbon which is (vastly oversimplified of course) a little oaky or a lot oaky. Some Scotch’s are very peat-smokey, some are more medicinal, while others are almost floral. They tend to go by region. For a beginner palate, Glenfiddich 12 is a very good starting point; I find this tends to me more on the lighter, floral side. Its not super cheap, but I haven’t found a Scotch that is.

    – Dennis, Life Fermented Blog

    • Not to step on any toes here, but your question got me thinking. I weighed a Whirlfloc tablet and found that it was close to 2 g. Now if it’s 5% NaHCO3, by mass, then you’re delivering 100 mg of bicarb to your wort, which contains 27.3 mg of sodium. If you’re working with a 5 gallon batch, then that’s an increase of 1.44 ppm of sodium, which is negligible. If it’s 10% bicarb, by mass, then that’s a 2.89 ppm increase, etc.

      I couldn’t find information on Whirlfloc’s composition anywhere. I assume it’s a proprietary blend, so it’s lprobably difficult to figure out from online resources, only. Did you contact the manufacturer?

      To solve this problem I would suggest the following:
      1. Blend RO water with tap water to dilute [Na].
      2. Titrate Whirlfloc with standard acid to ascertain bicarb content.
      3. Not worry, have a homebrew, yadda yadda.

      • I suspect I will eventually have to go the route of titrating a sample. My first guess is that the sodium content is probably more in the negligible range, but if you start getting into the 50% NaHCO3 range, then I start to worry. I know it won’t bother me enough to blend water- I’ll just stick to irish moss if it comes to that. It seems like if you appropriately rehydrate it, it works just as well anyways.
        – Dennis, Life Fermented blog

    • Just poking around the liquor store, recently, I kind of noticed that. That’s a big part of the reason I reached out, here, for a little guidance, first. haha… I do enjoy bourbon but wanted to branch out a bit and sample some scotch. I will have to check the Glenfiddich 12 out, sometime. I read, elsewhere, that The Glenlivet 12 is a good “starter scotch”, as well.any thoughts?

      • Also a good one. I was actually going to say Glenfiddich and Glenlivet above, but I couldn’t remember the name Glenlivet for some reason and I didn’t feel like digging around my liquor cabinet. Glenlivet also tends to be a bit cheaper, too. Both of these are basically a (much) better version of Johnnie Walker black as far as flavor profile; other Scotches tend to get into being more acquired flavors from the peat or medicinal qualities (which I like, but many of my friends tend not to).
        – Dennis, Life Fermented blog

  8. Dawson,

    Thanks for another good post. Any thoughts on dosage for Biofine? The range provided on the bottle is very broad. Thanks and happy brewing.

  9. Thanks for the pointer to Biofine clear! As a vegetarian I was always troubled by the inability to find vegetarian finings, but it seems Biofine fits the bill! And if you’re using it exclusively over other non-veggie finings, then hey, that’s an even better endorsement. :o)

  10. I have recently started using WLN4000 Clarity Ferm by White Labs…Sorry Dawson I use Wyeast too 🙂 Clarity Ferm is intended to decrease chill haze in beer. But White Labs also advertises that it is helpful in reducing the amount of gluten in your brew to 20ppm of gluten! Which if i’m not mistaken, would allow a product to be labelled as gluten free on the market. (My wife is Gluten Intolerant, but enjoys my homebrew enough to suffer through the moderate intestinal discomfort as well as other strange effects that come along with consuming barley or wheat).

    Clarity Ferm is added when you pitch yeast (10mL per 5-7gallons to cooled wort). As far as results go, I find that it is quite effective at reducing chill haze. I brewed an American Stout that was remarkably clear compared to past brews when i tilted my glass and observed next to light. As far as gluten reduction, my wife claims that she has not felt the same discomfort after having my beer as she does drinking regular ol’ beer. I have only this one batch bottled, with 2 more floating in the ether of secondary fermentation, so I am not completely convinced of the results yet. But so far so good.

    For the little Philadelphia Hombrewer in all of us, here are the minute details of Clarity Ferm:
    “Clarity Ferm will prevent the precipitation of complexed polyphenols and proteins by hydrolyzing the sensitive (haze-active) polypeptides in the region where such hydrogen bonding occurs. The specificity of the enzyme ensures that no other beer parameters are affected.”

    Those proteins not only create haze, but they are the same proteins in barley and wheat that gluten-free-ers are unable to break down…the poor bastards.

    P.S. As a result, no my wife and I do not have pizza Fridays at our house, but we can both drink homebrew…Then I’m usually off to the pizzeria on my own for a slice at 2am.

  11. Pingback: reader question: finings | Fellowship of the Brew

  12. Would Biofine be worthwhile for home brewers who bottle? I don’t want to go to war on my yeast, only to have to add more so that I can get my beer to carbonate. Any advice?

    • I’m sure it would work well – maybe too well, but that probably depends a lot on the dosage rate, the strain in question, and the beer itself. I am always a tad leery of finings plus bottle-conditioned homebrew, since problems with carbonation can be so difficult to fix after the bottles are filled and capped. If yeast haze were a problem, I think I’d try some less-invasive upstream fixes (switching to a more flocculent strain, more cold conditioning) first. Hope that helps – good luck!

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