As homebrewers, we pride ourselves on delivering delicious tasting beer to our friends, family and ourselves. While demonstrating how well-made fresh beer tastes, we also like to focus on the presentation. When seeing the brightness and clarity of other homebrewers’ beer, you may wonder how they achieve such a level in the finished product, and the answer is usually a fining agent known as gelatin.
Many commercial and larger craft breweries may filter their beer and use bright tanks, but on the homebrew level fining with gelatin is far less time consuming and very inexpensive. Along with other fining agents such as Irish Moss, Whirfloc Tablets, Clarity Ferm etc., gelatin gives a level of clarity beyond the rest. Many consider gelatin “liquid time,” as it achieves the clarity that is usually achieved by cold conditioning before or after packaging for lengthy periods of time.
The way gelatin works is fairly simple. Post fermentation, the yeast will flocculate and drop, as well as hop matter and/or other solids from additions during the fermentation process. Cold crashing (bringing your fermentation vessel temp down to around 34 °F) will speed this process immensely, and if left over time, either in the primary vessel or the serving vessel, will clear on its own. But, if there is chill haze present or you do not have the patience (like most homebrewers), gelatin will do the job quickly. The way gelatin finings act on particles is actually quite interesting. Gelatin exhibits a positive charge when mixed with water and then begins attracting negatively charged particles. It attaches to proteins and other particulates in suspension and allows them to settle out faster and give way to gravity.
Adding Gelatin to the Beer
There are different schools of thought in regards to when to add gelatin to your beer. Personally, I prefer adding it to the fermentor during the second day of cold crashing prior to packaging, but others may add to the keg prior to serving. There are four main benefits to adding gelatin to the fermentor. It allows brewers who bottle their beer to enjoy the full benefit of gelatin fining, and it removes any further work after packaging. It also gives you a clear beer to rack to the keg so as not to have additional trub to suck out of (a possibly clog) your posts or lines. Finally, it eliminates the possibility of introducing new oxygen into your brew post packaging. But, as we all know, sometimes you forget or you have none at hand during packaging, so the option to add to the keg is there. If this is done, be prepared to suck a good bit of sediment (a pint or two) out of the keg prior to getting to the clear stuff.
Either way, the beer must be cold (34-40 °F) when fining with gelatin. I let the beer crash for 24 hours to drop out the main sediment, then gelatin fine for another 24 hours to allow the very fine sediment to drop out. I do the same regardless of kegging or bottling, as fining with gelatin will have no negative effect on the yeast in suspension needed to bottle condition/prime your beer.
How to add gelatin:
Here is a list of materials you will need:
Steps: (per 5 gallons of beer)
- Add ¼ to ½ cup of cold filtered water to a sanitized measuring cup
- Add ½ teaspoon of gelatin on surface
- Let sit for 10-15 minutes to partially dissolve
- Heat water to 150-155 °F (I usually do small 5-10 bursts in the microwave. You may also heat the water by adding very small increments of boiled water) DO NOT BOIL THE WATER, you will make Jell-O instead.
- Stir and test temp with sanitized thermometer
- Pour into fermenter or keg. Use care in avoiding unnecessary cold side oxidation.
- Allow 24-48 hours to work its magic prior to packaging or serving.
Overall, fining with gelatin is a great way to achieve clear beer without the wait. Not only do I prefer a super clear beer, regardless of the lack of difference in taste, but the people I serve it to are impressed as well. Not all styles require this method, but I do it for 90% of the beer I make. The only time I veer away from this process is when I am producing a hazy beer like a NEIPA or a hazy wheat, or if someone I may be serving is a strict vegan (gelatin is animal based). Cheers to clear beer!!!