This is something that we almost always do when we homebrew, but it wasn’t until a recent question that I even considered writing about it. The question was simple, “how do you get your beer so clear?” Simple answer was –gelatin.
We recently brewed a pumpkin ale and an IPA, both of which had hops and other additives added directly into the kettles and the fermenters. The initial beer was a bit hazier than I prefer, so why not do a quick post on how adding gelatin can clear your beer.
During a visit to Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, California, I got talking to the bartender about their Pliny the Elder and its clarity. As a double IPA it’s obviously heavily hopped, but it is also one of the most consistently clean IPAs that you can find. I asked if he knew anything about their processes and whether they used filters, fining agents or both. The answer surprised me.
I was told that the Pliny the Elder that you find in bottles goes through a filtration process, but the Pliny the Elder that is served in their brewery and taproom is actually clarified using gelatin. When I asked why, it was because all the beer served in the brewery and taproom is brewed on-site and using gelatin was a quicker and simpler process.
When to Add Gelatin to Beer
Gelatin can be added into the fermenter prior to racking, or can be added into the keg prior to serving. I’ve done both with good success and I have also done a combination of the two.
Personally, I like adding gelatin into the fermenter because it’s one less step after kegging the beer. Which means I’m one step closer to being able to drink it! Plus, as I mentioned above, if you add gelatin to the fermenter and you’re not 100% happy with the clarity of your finished beer, you can always add a little bit more to the keg, but this is typically not necessary.
Though I prefer adding gelatin into the fermenter, it seems that 9 times out of 10 I either forget to or don’t have gelatin on hand, so I end up not adding gelatin until after the beer has been kegged (like the beers in this post). Adding gelatin to the keg works just as well.
In either case, one thing that you should aim for prior to adding gelatin is making sure that your beer is cold. Like serving temperature cold. So if you’re adding to your fermenter, this should be done after you’ve cold crashed. If you’re adding to your keg, this should be done when your keg is fully chilled. My keezer sits at 36F with a +/- 2F variance, so I’m typically adding the gelatin within a range of 34-38F.
What Does Gelatin Do When Added to Beer?
After secondary fermentation, the yeast in suspension begin to flocculate and the beer begins to clear. This process is helped by cold conditioning – decreasing the temperature of the beer and allowing it to sit for 5-10 days. As homebrewers (I’m speaking for myself), we can’t wait that long, so the use of gelatin helps speed that process along.
So what does gelatin do exactly? It works like other fining agents when added to cold beer – it helps speed up the clarification process. It “grabs” proteins and other haze forming particulates and helps them settle out faster.
And what does that mean for your beer?
If added gelatin to the fermenter, you’ll be racking a cleaner, clearer beer into the keg.
If you added gelatin into your keg, be ready for the first pint or two that you pour to be extremely cloudy and murky. But once get past that, you’ll be pouring crystal clear beer. If you’re wondering why the first pint or two are cloudy, it’s due to the anatomy of your keg. As the gelatin grabs particulates in your beer, it begins falling to the bottom of your keg which incidentally is where your dip tube draws beer from. So once it settles, it needs to be drawn out of the keg before you’re able to see the true effects of the gelatin.
How to Add Gelatin to Beer
- Knox Unflavored Gelatin – this is what I use – there are others out there as well – just make sure it’s unflavored
- Pyrex Measuring Cup
- Candy Thermometer – I use this both to measure the temperature as well as stir the solution
Per 5 gallons of beer, I use 1 tsp of gelatin to 3/4 cup of water.
- Add 3/4 cup of water to your measuring cup (more if doing more than 5 gallons of beer)
- Heat the water slightly before adding the gelatin, this helps it dissolve quicker.
- Add 1 tsp of gelatin – I stir with the thermometer to get a reading. You’re looking to heat the solution to 150-155F, I do this by microwaving in short 5-10 second bursts. Obviously, all microwaves are different, just avoid boiling it.
- Once you hit the target temperature, take the lid off of your keg (or fermenter) and pour the solution directly into your beer.
- If you add gelatin into a keg, make sure you reconnect your CO2 line and purge the headspace
- If you add gelatin into a fermenter, replace the airlock
- Wait 24-48 hours while the gelatin works its magic
Depending on my patience, I’ll pull my first pint after 24 hours and it usually looks great.
Other Thoughts on Adding Gelatin to Beer
As mentioned above, if you add gelatin into the keg rather than into your fermenter, you can expect your first pint or two to look awful, but once you draw the garbage out of the keg, you’ll be left with crystal clear beer and will be the envy of all your friends.
I use gelatin to speed up and replace the cold conditioning process. If you have the time and/or patience, you’ll find that you can obtain the same (if not better) clarity in your beer by cold conditioning for an extended period of time.