There’s no doubt that part of the overall pleasure experience of drinking a beer is looking into the glass and seeing that sparkling quality that we’ve been conditioned to value. It’s a quality that denotes refinement and professionalism. It’s pursuit in brewing is an entirely esthetic one, but one that increases the sense of pride that comes with brewing your own beer.
Filtering is obviously more suited to beers on the lower end of the SRM scale, because who in the world can see through a glass of stout anyways? When it comes to clearing your beer, you have a few different choices: you can use finings such as isinglass or gelatin, you can lager (or store) your beer at just above freezing for a few weeks to a few months to allow yeast and particles to precipitate out, or you can take a short cut and filter it using either a cartridge-type or plate style filter. I have a plate filter and this is what I’m going to show you in this post.
I have to admit, I was very hesitant to use a filter to clarify our beer. I had hoped we could approach things from a more natural process, and because I had concerns that we might end up stripping out some vital components of the beer. Since taking the chance, upon the urging of my fellow brewer Eric, I don’t know if I could ever not filter our beer, unless of course the style calls for it like in the case of a Kellerbier or a Witbier.
When you decide to use a filter, it also makes the process of brewing a little more flexible, because after I’ve lagered a batch for 2-3 weeks in my cold cellar, and after everything has nicely dropped out of suspension, what’s going to happen when I have to move it for racking if I don’t already have it in the correct spot? Yep, I’m going to bang it and knock it and kick up all that sediment back into the beer. But let’s be honest, unless the style of beer you are brewing requires it, the last thing I want to do is wait another 2-3 weeks before I can drink my beer. If I want to endure the slow process of aging something, I’ll leave that for when I make my wines. I understand that when brewing lager beers, part of the process and part of their charm come from the long aging times, or like in the case of IPA’s, where the aging process helps to balance out the higher hopping levels and gives the beer time to develop more of a complexity. However, when brewing most ales, they do not need the same aging times and are usually better when consumed within a shorter period. When it comes to racking, you can also be a little less worried about sucking up any trub and debris from the bottom because you’re going to filter it out anyways! I’m sure there are some traditionalists out there that will debate me on this, and that’s fine, but it’s just too damn appealing to me to look through a crystal clear glass of home-brewed beer when it’s all said and done.
Regardless of what you do to clear your beer in the finishing stages, good brewing practices have shown us that there some things you can do along the way to produce clear beer:
- keep a strong, rolling boil for a full 60 minutes, ensuring a good hot break
- use kettle finings such as irish moss or Whirlfloc tablets at 15 minutes left in the boil to coagulate particles formed from the hot break as well as other proteins
- when you’ve finished your boil, create a strong whirlpool by stirring the wort (making sure not to splash it around!) and allowing it to settle for 15 – 30 minutes before racking to your fermenter
- cool the wort using an immersion chiller or by running it through a counterflow chiller as quickly as possible to form a solid cold break
Despite adhering to these guidelines, we’ve found that there is still a fine ‘haze’ to our beer. I don’t think it’s what’s called ‘chill haze’ because it’s apparent both when it’s cold and when it’s warm. My cold cellar only gets down to 10°C in the winter, so maybe it’s not cold enough to knock everything out of suspension. Perhaps it’s inherent when brewing from extracts. In any case, we invested in plate filter from Homebrew Gear Canada for the reasonable price of $47.99. It’s a very simple, yet solid design that uses two round filters rated at either ‘coarse’, ‘fine’ or ‘sterile’ ($1.25-$1.75 each). The unit is placed inline between two kegs. By adding 5 P.S.I. of pressure to the source keg and opening the relief valve on the destination keg, the beer is slowly pushed from the first into the center of the plate filter and then gradually through the 2 filters on the sides and finally out into the destination keg.
So first things first. As always, cleanliness should be an obsession, so we need to clean and sanitize any and all equipment that will be touching the beer. So that means, siphons, tubing, quick disconnects, kegs, etc.
After we’ve done our preliminary sanitizing, partially fill a keg with your StarSan solution and connect it to the filter (with NO filters installed) in this order:
CO2 Tank→IN post on keg→OUT post of keg to IN of plate filter→OUT of plate filter to a catch vessel (ie: a measuring cup in this case )
On the OUT tube of the filter I have removed the quick disconnect to allow the sanitizer to flow through the lines. Once the sanitizer is through, I disconnect everything and open up the filter on a clean surface.
The directions recommend that you soak the filters in sterilized water before installing them. (I boiled some water previously for 10 mins)
When inserting them into the filter, note there is a ‘coarse’ side and a ‘smooth’ side to each filter. The ‘coarse’ sides need to face in towards the center of the filter where the unfiltered beer will first enter. Put the first filter on the bottom with the coarse side facing up, then place the middle of the filter with the rubber gaskets on top.
Next, fit the top filter with the coarse side facing downwards, making sure the rubber gaskets and casings are sitting correctly.
Tighten the bolts by starting with one peg and the one directly opposite. Once you have tightened those, choose another and the one opposite to that until they’re all done. (If there are any drummers reading this, you will instinctively know what I mean)
Now that the filter is tightly closed, rack your beer into the starting keg if you haven’t already done so.
Set your CO2 regulator to 5 PSI. (DO NOT SET THE PRESSURE TO GREATER THAN 8 P.S.I. as this will most likely result in a big mess from a leaking filter!)
Fill the bottom of the destination keg with a small blanket of CO2 so the transferred beer isn’t exposed to any excess oxygen…
… then install the system in the following order:
CO2 Tank→IN post on keg→OUT post of keg to IN of plate filter→OUT of plate filter to the OUT of destination keg, leaving the pressure relief valve on the receiving keg open to allow air to escape. (We’re going to transfer to the OUT of the destination keg so the beer will slowly fill from the bottom up under the protective layer of CO2 we applied and won’t splash around). *** Before I make this last hookup, I open up my regulator valve and let the excess sanitizing solution push through the lines and catch it in a glass or bowl. When the beer starts to flow, I turn off my CO2 and put the quick disconnect back on and attach it to the OUT post of the receiving keg. NOTE: You may notice a bit of foam as the beer fills the lines, not to worry, it will clear as the beer continues to flow. I’ve yet to have any beer foam out of the receiving keg, even when full.
It took me about 22 minutes to transfer the entire batch and I had a little less than 5 gallons. When you’re done, just flush your newly filtered beer with a bit of CO2 to purge any remaining oxygen from the keg, and your ready to carbonate your crystal clear brew!!
See the difference for yourself!