Years ago, I remember seeing sediment in beer for the first time when I brewed my first ever batch of homebrew. At the time, I knew to expect it because I had read all about the bottle conditioning process and knew that it was a necessary and good thing. These days, it’s actually fairly common to find sediment even in commercial beers and, in fact, sometimes it’s part of the style. Either way, I thought it would be a great topic for discussion since many people find it a little disturbing!
You will find sediment in beer if it has been bottle conditioned or if it has been aged in the bottle for some time. The sediment is made up of yeast and protein particles that clump and fall out of the liquid, resting at the bottom or floating inside the beer. Generally, older beers have more sediment.
Let’s find out more about why sediment occurs inside a beer can or bottle in the first place, when it could be a bad sign, and what to do about it!
What is the sediment in beer?
If you are asking this question then you have either started to see some sediment in bottles of craft beer that you’ve tried from the store, you are interested in homebrewing, or you are actually already a homebrewer yourself. No matter the reason though, the answers will be mostly the same – you just might care about it for different reasons!
Beer drinkers that encounter sediment or floaties for the first time probably got a little weirded out and might have thought that something was wrong.
The important thing to know is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with sediment in beer, especially homebrew beer, if it is there intentionally.
Let’s look at the most common reasons for sediment in beer.
Yeast leftover from conditioning
The single most common ingredient in any sediment that you find in beer is yeast. Usually, it’s there because the brewer decided to naturally carbonate their beer inside the bottle and/or the beer isn’t filtered and just had a little yeast still mixed into the beer when it was bottled or kegged.
Either way, yeast is a completely natural part of making beer and it won’t cause any issues with the flavor of the beer. In fact, many beers, such as Hefeweizens, are meant to have a nice dose of yeast mixed into the beer to complete the flavor profile.
While bottle-conditioning is something that has mostly concerned homebrewers in the past, it’s increasingly common to find craft beers in the store that have been intentionally conditioned in the bottle or even the keg if you are drinking draft craft beer (say that five times fast).
Basically, if you are into the craft beer scene at all you have probably seen yeast in your beer many times.
In this case, simply go on about your business and drink the yeast. Or, if you really want to avoid it I’ll talk about how to avoid it later in this article.
The beer is old or simply a style that generally ages in the bottle for a long time
Now we are getting into a potentially negative reason for sediment or floaties inside your beer – age.
You see, the longer beer sits inside a bottle (we’re talking at the six-month to one year mark – depending on the recipe), the more likely it is for proteins (not yeast) to clump together and either float around inside the liquid or settle to the bottom. Don’t get me wrong, it is still completely ‘natural’ to see floaties or extra sediment inside a bottle of beer that has been sitting for a while. These floaties often are tasteless and generally don’t impact the flavor of the beer on their own.
While the floaties won’t necessarily hurt the beer’s flavor, however, aging beer can have other issues that can cause problems with the taste. This is more true with simple beers like American lagers and less true for bigger, more complex beers like Barleywines. In fact, there are many styles of beer that essentially require years of aging in the bottle before they reach their peak flavor.
You will be able to tell the difference between yeast sediment and these age-related proteins because the proteins will often float inside the beer and resemble snowflakes because of their edges. Some people have also described it as dandruff – yuck!
In beers that don’t benefit from aging, time can actually destroy the flavor. In addition to the proteins clumping and falling out of the beer, you will also likely find that the hop flavors have diminished and the beer could taste stale, oxidized (wet cardboard), or musty.
Obviously, none of these are desirable flavors!
In general, you’ll want to avoid beers that have aged past their prime unless you have a good reason to drink them!
It’s a flavored or spiced beer
Some beers don’t have yeast or floaties to worry about, but they still have a little sediment at the bottom of your beer.
One possible reason for this is that it’s a spiced or flavored beer in which the flavorings have settled out of the beer. In these cases, the brewer usually recommends that you mix the sediment back into the beer to get the correct flavor!
I’ll show you how below!
What if the beer is just hazy or cloudy?
So I’ve already mentioned sediment at the bottom of the bottle or can and ‘snowflake’ floaties inside the beer.
But, what if you simply have a super cloudy or hazy beer?
There are two main reasons for this:
- The beer had yeast sediment at the bottom that has been mixed back into the beer
- It’s an unfiltered IPA, usually dry-hopped, that has a ton of extra polyphenols from the hops that bond to proteins in the beer – often called ‘chill haze particles’
In either case, there is nothing wrong with the beer and it is likely an intentional result from the brewer.
These days, it’s easy to find examples of this kind of beer since we are currently in the midst of a ‘Hazy IPA’ phase of craft beer.
The beer has an infection or bacterial contamination
The last and least likely reason that you would see sediment in beer or something else floating around is that it has been infected or it is suffering from some other kind of bacterial contamination. While this is relatively common in homebrewing, it’s almost unheard of for commercial beers.
An infected beer really just means that wild yeast or bacteria have gotten into the beer and they have managed to overwhelm the yeast that was already in the beer and started to feed and replicate. It’s usually pretty easy to spot this problem because the beer will smell horrible and taste worse.
Still, even an infected beer is very unlikely to actually make you sick so don’t worry too much about this one. Basically, if it doesn’t taste good – avoid it!
Can you drink sediment in beer?
Now that we know what beer sediment in beer is you might still wonder if you can drink it.
Yes, you can drink sediment in beer with no issues!
Like I said in earlier sections, the sediment is always just yeast or protein that was already in the beer anyway. It’s just that in these cases there is actually enough for you to see it. Also, yeast can even enhance the flavor of some beer styles.
How to mix the sediment into the beer
If you want to get the sediment mixed into your beer because it’s correct for the style or you would just rather have it mixed – it’s pretty easy. Simply turn the beer on its side and gently roll it back and forth. This will mix the yeast into the beer without shaking it up too much.
Here’s a video to show what I mean:
How to reduce sediment in beer
While it’s probably impossible to completely eliminate all of the sediment from your bottle of beer, it is definitely possible to reduce it.
Here is what you’ll want to do:
- Let the beer sit for at least an hour after moving (or driving it home from the store!)
- Gently remove the top and avoid shaking the beer
- Pour slowly and smoothly at a low angle so that the beer doesn’t slosh around inside the bottle
- Leave an inch of beer inside the bottle so that you don’t pull the last bit of liquid out.
Here’s a good video to show the right way to pour:
Notice at the end he says “If you want to make a little head be sure to move the glass away.”
What he should actually say is “Be sure to keep the bottle still and smooth but move the glass farther away so that your beer DOES CREATE a head.” You see, we want to release that CO2 into the glass so that it doesn’t end up gurgling in our tummy.
Trust me, you want a good amount of head on your beer!
How to get rid of or avoid the sediment in homebrew beer
If you are a homebrewer you might wonder if there is a way to keep sediment out of your beer in the first place. You might even wonder if you can filter your homebrew before bottling.
The short answer is that if you want to bottle condition then there isn’t really a way to avoid sediment in your bottles. If you try to filter then you have a better chance of messing up the conditioning process and potentially ruining your batch.
Your only real option is to keg your beer, in which case you will simply use the CO2 tank to force carbonate your finished beer and you won’t have to worry about naturally fermenting it.
Why does commercial beer have no sediment?
Most commercial brewers, at least the big ones (think Budweiser etc.) actually force carbonate their beers directly in the can or bottle. They can do this because they have fancy machinery that does it for them.
However, some craft breweries are still bottle conditioning either out of necessity, because it is their preference, or it just suits the style. If you are interested, here is a (not complete) list of commercial beers that are bottle-conditioned and thus will likely have some sediment or other floaties going on!