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
This is what you’re here for, right? You want to know how to prepare and add the gelatin to the beer. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 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.
If I add the gelatin to my fermenter, can I still carbonate it in a bottle?
I did this gelatin thing with my last batch and then bottled it 3 days later with priming sugar. The wort poured out nice and clear from the fermenter and is happily carbonating right now. 🙂
Thanks for chiming in @sematary:disqus !!! We’ve been taking a small hiatus!
But to add further info, we are the “Keg Outlet”, so we generally force carbonate our beer in kegs, however, fining with gelatin and then bottling and carbing in the bottle can still be achieved as there will still be some yeast in the solution.
Dave's Not Here
Thanks for the write-up! I took my 3/4 cups of water and microwaved for 2 minutes to bring to boil (sanitizing!). Used a digital meat thermometer (thin metal probe) to watch temp drop back down to the 160F range (only took a few minutes sitting on a cold countertop). Then added the gelatin. The 160F is probably enough to knock down most of anything living in the gelatin. PItched into fermenter (at 35F) and now waiting! Thanks again for the write-up.
Hey @disqus_LaKZRJUyXy:disqus – glad you found it useful! Let us know how the beer turned out…. was it noticeably more clear?
Dave's Not Here
Unfortunately no, the beer never cleared. I’m wondering if it has to do with the fact that I pitched the gelatin into the beer which was at about 33F. Maybe the gelatin wasn’t effective at such a low temp?
Hmmmm…. that’s odd. I always pour gelatin into my keg that has been fully chilled in my keezer. Maybe there were some other haze causing elements that weren’t grabbed by the gelatin? How long did you let the gelatin remain in the keg prior to pouring off a pint or 2?
Dave's Not Here
That’s what I’m thinking, too. I added the gelatin in the carboy that had been chilled and let it sit for several days (4-5). This was a club brew we did on our 55 gallon system. We forgot to add clarifying agents during the boil. But the other club members brought their shares to the meeting on Thursday and they had no clarity problems. I think it might have been my yeast strain, but cannot be certain. I used Imperial Yeast A09 (Pub). First time using that one. Beer is still murky and it’s been on tap for a few weeks now. It’s bizarre.
I would only add one step, boil the water, then allow it to cool to 150 deg. F before adding the gelatin. I don’t take chances with potentially adding bugs into my fermenter. Did this procedure on 3 fermentors today, loved the article.
Hey @leecase:disqus – glad you found it useful. I’ve been told by a few that bringing the temp up to 150-160 should (will) kill all potential bugs. Not a scientist, so not 100% sure there, but in the 10 or so years I’ve been doing this, never had a problem with it.
yeah….just seconds at 155 pasteurizes (there are charts that show how long at various temps gets it done)…thanks for the article…now that I have a fermentation chamber and CAN cold crash, I’ve started doing so, along with gelatin for chill haze concerns (i still bottle condition). I use an inkbird ITC-308 and an old “dumb” crockpot (my sous vide cooking setup) with the probe in a water bath surrounding my measuring cup. I walk the temp up to 155 this way and it works great.
What will happen if the kegs are transported after? Does the beer settle out the same way again?
Hey Pete – to be honest, haven’t tried that. But based on what I’ve seen in my kegs, the bottom of the keg usually does retain a good deal of sediment, there will be a clear area around the dip tube, but once you get outside of its draw/reach, the sediment just stay at the bottom of the keg. I’d imagine that transporting it would loosen that sediment and likely create a cloudy pour again… not sure how quickly that would settle back down. Let us know if you try it!
So, I usually am pretty patient about this and just let it settle out and age over time. No, I’m not Superman, it’s that I brew the beer at home but I drink it when away at our little mountain cabin. It’s less mess (bottles, cans, etc) to drink tap beer beer up there and I don’t have to worry about returning bottles or recycling. Anyway, I JUST put a batch of pilsner in a keg and I have some buddies coming to visit this weekend. I have other beer to drink but I would like to try this pilsner out. I know it’s going to be very green but I’d like to just sample it. My plan is to put the gelatin in today(wednesday) around 5pm, let it sit in the keezer until tomorrow, then transport in a cooler tomorrow night (2 hour ride) then give it a shot on Saturday. I’ll let you know what happens.
Curious to hear what happens. I imagine if the gelatin is in there Wednesday night and you travel with it then get it set by Thursday night, it should have plenty of time to settle out. Might even work better with a little bit more agitation due to transport.
Keep us posted & enjoy the trip!
Thanks for the article. I have two questions:
1) After adding the gelatin to the measuring cup, would it be beneficial to first allow the gelatin to “bloom” by waiting 15-20 minutes, before heating it?
2) Is it necessary to stir the gelatin after it has been added to the beer?
Hi @disqus_PDZp7AVFXN:disqus – yes, I generally let the gelatin ‘bloom’ a bit, but usually only 5 minutes or so. I’ve never stirred the beer once the gelatin has been added and I’ve always had great results in terms of clarification.
Thanks, Brendan. I’ve used gelatin before with great results, and just added it again yesterday to an unusually stubborn lager that was fairly cloudy in the primary (carboy), even after lagering at 32F for a couple of weeks. I let the gelatin bloom for 20 minutes, and only gently stirred the very top of the carboy. It’s still just as cloudy today, but hope it will improve in the next day or two.
Quick Question, can you wash yeast after using gelatin?
what if I do not keg what if we bottle? When do we add? Cold crash, then add, then wait 24-48 hours to bottle?