Many homebrewers are surprised to see ingredients like Irish moss or gelatin on their ingredients list. These and other agents are called beer finings. But what are they for, and are they really necessary?
Beer finings are processing aids that are added to beer to help improve its clarity, but they do not affect the final flavor of the beer. They do this by binding to undesirable particles that cloud beer and allowing them to sink to the bottom of the vessel they’re in. Popular beer findings include Irish moss, Whirlfloc tablets, and clear gelatin.
Read on to find out more about the most common types of beer finings, how they work, and most importantly, if they’re really necessary to add to your pre-brew shopping list.
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What are beer finings and what do they do in beer?
As long as there’s been beer, brewers have been looking for ways to make it better.
Because of the ingredients and fine particles that are used in the production of beer, it’s prone to clouding. Luckily, there are many fining agents available to add clarity to beer, including Irish moss, Whirlfloc tablets, clear gelatin, and isinglass.
Let’s check out how they work and how to use them!
How do beer finings work?
By using finings at the end of the boil, or early in the fermentation process, you can remove these particles from beer prior to bottling or kegging.
Most types of fining agents work the same way. Fining agents are made up of large, positively charged molecules. Because opposites attract, they attach to negatively charged particles and sink to the bottom of the kettle or fermenter.
What about flavor?
Does fining affect beer taste?
Fining agents have origins from such non-beer-friendly sources as seaweed and animal parts, but they do not affect the flavor.
The small amount of finings used in homebrewing means that they have no effect on the flavor of beer when used correctly.
Certain fining agents can have an impact on the mouthfeel of a beer, particularly when overused. Always follow the directions of the agent you’re using, as well as the homebrew recipe you’re following.
Do finings stop fermentation?
Some brewers worry about adding things to their homebrew that could affect yeast production.
Finings have no effect on yeast health or the fermentation process in general. Some fining agents, like gelatin, bind to yeast and cause them to sink to the bottom of the fermenter, but this will still leave plenty of yeast for fermentation.
Do beer finings affect carbonation?
Beer finings of any kind have no effect on carbonation, either positively or negatively.
Their primary purpose is to provide clarity to the end product, so don’t worry about them affecting the fizziness of your final product.
Do you really need to use beer finings?
If you’ve run out of finings or simply haven’t bought any in the first place, you may be wondering if you can skip them in your next batch.
Beer finings are not required to make any homebrew, however, the clarity they provide usually makes for a more pleasant, and better quality beer.
There are many different types of finings that work well for beer and most are affordable and shelf-stable, so you can keep them on-hand for a while before using them.
Because of their accessibility, there’s really no reason not to use them unless you’re in a pinch.
Is it okay to drink cloudy homebrew?
The good news for homebrewers is that just about any cloudiness or sediment found in homebrew is safe to drink.
The particles that make for cloudy beer are made up of the organic ingredients used to make your beer in the first place so there’s no concern about consuming them.
Some styles of beer, like hefeweizens and hazy IPAs, are even cloudy on purpose!
What is the best fining agent for beer?
Many homebrewers use different fining agents for different styles of beer. Homebrew recipes often call for a specific type of fining agent, so it’s usually good to have a couple of different types of fining agents on-hand depending on your needs.
All things considered, Irish Moss is one of the best and most common fining agents for homebrewing. It’s readily available, affordable, and a pinch added at the end of a boil tends to produce perfectly clear beer.
Read on for an overview of the four most common fining agents and how they work.
Irish moss is actually a bit of a misnomer— it’s actually a type of seaweed.
Only a teaspoon of this affordable, accessible dried algae is typically enough to clarify a full five-gallon batch of homebrew.
Another benefit of Irish moss is that it can be added to the wort at the end of the boil. This means there’s no need to open up your fermenting beer and risk exposing it to contaminants in the air.
For those who don’t want to have to remember to soak their Irish moss in water before adding to the boil, Whirlfloc tablets are a great alternative.
These tablets are made from Irish moss, so they provide the same benefits but are usually a bit more expensive due to the additional processing.
If you find yourself needing a fining agent you can buy at any old grocery store, clear gelatin is the way to go. You can find it in the baking aisle.
Make sure to buy clear, unflavored gelatin to avoid adding unwanted flavors to your beer. Gelatin is a powerful fining agent and will bind to yeast and other particulates in your beer and float to the bottom of the fermenter.
Unlike the plant-based options above, gelatin is derived by boiling animal parts like horse hooves. Keep this in mind if you plan to serve your beer to anyone on a plant-based diet.
Another fining agent derived from animal parts is Isinglass, which comes from fish bladders.
Isinglass is used fairly commonly in commercial brewing and comes in both a powder and liquid form. The liquid form is a bit more convenient to use as it doesn’t require any hydration and can be added straight to the fermenter.
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When to add finings to beer and other instructions
Some fining agents are designed to be added at the end of the boil, while others can’t be added until the beer has been chilled down to room temperature during the fermentation stage.
Fining agents can come in various forms so it’s important to always follow the directions on the particular agent you have or the directions of your homebrew recipe of choice.
Though it can be added to the boil dry, Irish moss is most effective when it’s re-hydrated in cold water first. Use 1 teaspoon of Irish moss for every 5 gallons of beer.
Add the Irish moss to a cup or so of cold water and let it sit for at least 10 minutes before adding it to your boil. Irish moss should be added 10-15 minutes before the end of the boil and will cause protein solids to sink to the bottom of the kettle.
Whirlfloc comes in convenient tablets and one tablet is plenty for a five-gallon batch of homebrew.
Cost-conscious brewers can even split tablets in half to get more bang for their buck, but using a whole one will ensure
Unlike Irish moss and Whirlfloc, gelatin should only be added to cold or room temperature fermenting beer.
To ensure it has time to work, dissolve one tablespoon of gelatin in two cups of warm water and add it to your fermenter one week before you expect to bottle. Measure carefully, as adding too much gelatin can affect the color and body of your beer.
Powdered isinglass and liquid isinglass should both be added to the fermenter a week or so before bottling.
The powdered version requires re-hydration in hot water before you add it to your beer. So-called “instant” isinglass is ready-to-use, but other versions may require mixing with an organic acid so be aware of what version you have.
How long does it take finings to clear beer?
Some finings, like Irish moss and its derivatives, are added at the end of the boil and work fairly quickly. You can often see clumps of protein and other particulates fall to the bottom of the kettle right away.
Other finings, like gelatin and isinglass, are designed to be added directly to the fermenter. These take a few days to work their magic and sink to the bottom of the fermenter, so add them 3-5 days before bottling.
How long do you leave finings in beer?
Each of the most common finings are used in different ways, but because most of them will bind to unwanted agents and sink to the bottom of your fermenter, you will typically naturally filter them out during the bottling process the same way you’d filter out the rest of the trub.
Can you use wine finings in beer?
If you’re able, it’s best to follow a homebrew recipe and use the specific type of beer finings called for by that recipe. If you’ve got wine finings lying around, though, some of them are the same as finings used for beer.
Gelatin and isinglass are usually usable finings for both wine and beer. Other wine finings, such as egg whites, are not interchangeable and should not be used for beer.
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