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?