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Using 'finings' to clear homebrew beer

clearing beer with finings



If you've ever bought a beginner's beer kit it may have come with a sachet of 'finings'. That's basically how I was introduced to them when I got a brewing kit for Christmas.

So this (then!?) inexperienced homebrewer naturally had to ask:

What are beer 'finings' ?


Finings are substances that are usually added at or near the completion of brewing beer.

Their purpose is to remove unwanted organic compounds to help improve the beer clarity - as no one likes cloudy beer.

They are also used for wine and non alcoholic drinks such as juice.

The finings act by precipitating and binding with compounds that reduce beer clarity. They they then fall to the bottom of the brewing fermenter drum or carboy and so are effectively removed from the beer.

How do I use beer finings?


If you have made a batch of beer in a drum or carboy, just add in the sachet to the beer, about 3 days before you intend to bottle the beer.

Do it quickly and reseal the drum so that there's no chance of infection occur by way of a stray spider or sneaky germs.

If you have done a boil, you can simply add the finings at the end of that process.

That's all you have to do!

What are finings made from?


Finings can be made from all kinds of things. 

Isinglass (biofine) is a clearing agent made from the protein called collagen. It is extracted from the swim bladders of fish!

Ordinary gelatin is an effective fining agent as it will remove proteins and polyphenols. It's similar to isinglass in that it is also collagen agent but the key difference is that gelatin is made from hooved animals.

That's right, if you use gelatin to clear your beer, you are adding horse feet! 

You can use unflavoured gelatin by add one tea spoon to a cup of hot water, mix and then add gently into the fermenter.

Add the finings a couple of days before you intend to bottle to give the fining time to do its thing.


A very popular fining is Irish Moss. It seems to be a bit of a misnomer as Irish Moss is actually derived from seaweed! Irish moss is added in the last 10-15 minutes of the boil and not generally used with beer kits. 

Whirlfloc tablets are also very similar to Irish Moss and can be used in the same way.

There are other fining products that you can use such as Chillguard and Polyclar and silica gels like Kieselsol.

How do finings actually bind with unwanted compounds?


Fining products usually have large molecules that are 'positively' charged.

Think back to your science class days at school!

These molecules attach themselves to negatively charged contaminants (opposites attract remember) and then precipitate them out of the finished beer - and by that we mean they fall to the bottom of your fermenter.

Silica gels like Kieselsol are actually negatively charged! They are basically silicon dioxide products.

So do I actually need to use finings?


The choice is yours and it depends on how much you care about beer clarity.

If you are after clear or cloud free beer, then using finings is one very easy trick to help you with that goal.

If you are adding hops to your beer, you may want to consider it. This is because hops leave polyphenols in the beer which can cause a lack of clarity. Finings will work on the polyphenols as per usual.

Malt also produces polyphenols so finings can take care of any the malt in your beer may produce.

Finings definitely work however it would be fair to say that it's not a necessary part of the brewing process for ordinary home brewers.

If you are intending to enter your beer into a competition where the clarity of beer is considered an important criteria, you'd be silly not to employ this method. 

One thing to beer in mind is that the use of finings does add to the cost per bottle ration of your beer.

It's the same argument for using beer enhancers. You don't need them but they really do improve your beer's mouth feel and all round taste performance. 

How to pitch yeast correctly into beer wort

adding yeast to the beer wort

How to pitch yeast in your homebrew beer


Newbie beer makers may have heard the expression “pitch your yeast” and wondered what the heck it meant. I myself was horribly concerned that I had missed a trick when making my first brew after learning this phrase.

Had I missed out a step?

Had I ruined my beer?

Nope, of course not. ‘Pitching yeast’ is just homebrewer lingo for adding yeast to the wort.

Without yeast, your wort will not turn into beer. The yeast, is an active living organism that feeds on the oxygen and sugars in the wort and as a bi-product produces carbon dioxide and the sought after alcohol.

Yeast is a sensitive cell based life form and needs the correct conditions in which to thrive and help make really good beer.

That’s way though pitching your yeast is more than simply adding it to your beer – it needs to be done at the correct time in the brew so that it can activate properly.

The short version is if you pitch your yeast when your brew is too hot (say you’ve just boiled it), you will kill the yeast with the heat and fermentation will not occur. This is way the cooling process can be so important.

Your fermenter might have a temperature gauge on the side, else you might need to get your hands on a thermometer.

I’ve noticed that some brewers can be super sensitive about yeast and the preparation and pitching of it. There are arguments about the best method but the casual home brewer should not get caught up too much in it.

If you follow some good beer making instructions, you shouldn’t have any problems from the yeast.


The easy way to pitch your yeast is dry pitching



If you are like me, once you have prepared the wort in the 30 litre drum, you are ready to add your dried yeast. Simply open up the packet that came from the beer kit, and chuck it into your wort. This is called pitching your yeast dry.

Maybe give it a gentle stir with a clean spoon. Close off your fermenter securely and place your beer in a good spot for a week or two to let the yeast do its job.

Re-hydrating your yeast before you pitch it


A method that many earnest brewers follow is to hydrate the dry yeast in water before pitching. The reasoning behind this is that it gives the yeast a good chance to get started properly.
Rehydrating yeast in a glass

The theory is that there can be a concentration of sugars in the wort which means it is difficult for the yeast to absorb water into its membranes so that they can begin to activate / metabolize and thus commence the fermentation process.

In my experience I’ve never had the yeast fail with a simple beer kit but if you are keen to cut the potential problem out, feel free to re-hydrate your yeast.

Do this by boiling some water and letting it cool. You can then add your yeast packet (or two!) to the water and let it begin to absorb – you shouldn’t do this too far apart from when it is time to pitch the yeast.

Cover and leave for about 15 minutes and then inspect. It should have begun to smell like you are making bread and 'bubbled' a bit (see the above picture). If so, it’s ready to be pitched.

If there is no churning or foaming or sourdough or bread like smells, it could be your yeast has died from old age or environmental damage such as being left in the sun. You may need to use a new packet of yeast...


A quick summary of pitching yeast

  • Pitching yeast is simply adding it to the beer wort
  • Add it when your wort is the recommended temperature – check your beer kit’s recommended temperature
  • You can pitch dry yeast straight into the wort
  • Or you can add it to water just prior to pitching
Image credit to Justin Knabb via Creative Commons Licence

10 questions about using hops one way or the other

what bear hops to use with beer

If you know a thing or two about beer, you'll know that the hops plant is so crucial to making good beer that the Germans made it the law for it to be an ingredient of beer.

There's a bit of mystery and magic about hops. They are like the secret ingredient that make everything taste and smell so delicious. 

Honestly, having a sniff of a freshly opened packet of hops is one of the best smells in the world.

It smells like...victory. 

While you can't go terribly wrong with hops, you can go even better when you learn all the tricks and tips of using them. And that means questions need to be answered about how and when to use them. Questions like: 

What kind and where from? 

What's a hop tea?

What is dry hopping? 

We have the answers!

Let's start with one of the most common questions about hops, what kind you might want to use.

What kind of hops should I use with my beer?


using beer hops with homebrewDifferent hop varieties suit different kinds of beer. After hundreds of years developing beer, there are now some well established rules of thumb for what kinds of hops brewers should use. 

Here's a wee guide for what hops to use.

  • The English Golding hop has become the signature hops of English ales. The popular Fuggle hop is another popular hop used for ale beer. 
  • Saaz hops are closely aligned with the brewing of lagers, mostly for the delicious aroma that has become associated with the beer. Saaz hops are an excellent choice of hop for the enthusiastic homebrewer.
  • Pilsner beers have become nearly synonymous with the four so called 'noble hops'. These are varieties of hop called Terrnanger, Spalt, Hallertauer and of already mentioned Saaz. As an aside, pilsner beers are known as traditionally coming from the Czech Republic.
  • If you're looking for hops that might help your beer taste a bit like the classic New Zealand beer, Steinlager, you might buy Green Bullet hops. 
  • America, the land of the free beer drinker, has become a home for hop production and many new varieties from old favorites have been developed. American hops are recognized and appreciated all around the world for their bold, and often intense flavors they imbue in beer. American hops are often described as being citrus like, however that's a most elementary description. Cascade hops are a very popular choice.
  • Chinook is another popular 'north western' hop.

What is a 'hops tea'?


Sometimes when making homebrew, beer makes also like to make a cup of hop tea!

Why would we do this?

The idea here is that the great hops aromas and oils have been removed from bullets due to the boiling and will then mix easily with your wort brew.

How to make a hops tea for homebrewing


Put the hops in a muslin bag (or tie up a square of it) and then boil it for several minutes. During the boil, have a good smell and enjoy the aromas as it wafts around the kitchen. That's the deliciousness you want to impart into your beer.

When you've boiled the hops for long enough, turn the pan off but leave everything right where it is to cool.

If you have already prepared your wort, so now put everything you've boiled - the whole muslin bag and the tea that you've made into the primary fermenter.

You can also drink your own hops tea too! It's done slightly differently to the above method for beer - you let the hops steep as you would any other tea and then drink when cool enough.

When should I add the hops pellets to my beer?


Typically the beer wort is boiled with the hops added at crucial moments before it is cooled down to begin the fermentation process. The timings of when to add the hops in the boil can be critical as the different timings can cause the hops to work differently on the beer.

If you are making your own wort (that is you are not using a beer kit) then it's best practice to follow a tried and true recipe, at least as you start out.

If you're at that point,  you'll want to understand that the process is sometimes known as the “hop schedule”. A hop schedule will lists the length of time that the hops should be in the boil, not the amount of time you should wait to add the hops.

This allows you to making your timings correctly.

The rough guide is the longer you boil the hops, the more bitterness they will impart. The shorter you boil them, the more flavour will be added. It depends on how you want your beer to benefit from the hops addition.

If you are using a simple beer extract kit then you can add the hops when you are preparing the batch of wort. Just throw it with your wort and nature will do the rest.

Some people like to delay adding the hops until a few days later. This is fine, but in our experience of using brewing kits, it makes little difference to the end result in the hop aromas and taste your beer will have. 

What's the best way to properly store hops?


It turns out that turns out freezing hops is actually a popular trick with beer brewers!

If you've purchased a vacuum sealed packet of hops and have some leftover, then we do firmly recommend that you freeze them.

Quite simply, take your leftover beer hops and place them in a zip-lock bag. Remove the excess air and then seal. Grab a Sharpie and write on the name of the hops on the bag so you don't forget and then place in the freezer until required.

If you want to go all 'professional' you could use a vacuum sealer to remove all the air.

In such cases, you might not need to freeze the hops if the sealing has been done properly, but it wouldn't hurt.

You can also refrigerate the hops. Again, put them in a zip lock bag or something airtight and remove as much air as possible if you can. I read that hops can stay fresh for up to a year this way but I know specialty brewing shops off load older hops much more regularly (handy trick, follow brewing specialists on Facebook - the ones I follow often announce that they are giving away their old hops stock because they have a fresh order coming in).

I reckon that as long as your hops has not been exposed to too much oxygen, it will keep well enough for the average homebrewer to not have to worry about hops going stale.

I've made a very hoppy beer, how long should I let it bottle condition?


We would recommend you start drinking your beer when it's ready to be drunk rather than saving it for a rainy day. Bottle conditioned beer starts to become very drinkable from around the 3 week mark, depending on the storage conditions so any time around then would be a good time to start drinking your beer.

Go on, you deserve it!

The longer you wait beyond this period, the strength of the hops begins to dissipate. Your beer of course will not be ruined, it will just be less hoppy than you may have expected.

What is the practice of dry hopping beer?


It sounds like a fancy technical term but 'dry hopping' is simply the moment when the brewer adds hops in (dry) pellet form to the fermenter after the wort has been prepared.

The brewer is of course using hops to improve the aroma of the beer and to add some bitterness to the brew (bitterness is best produced by the boiling of hops though).

This ‘dry’ practice is often done later in the fermentation cycle of the beer. The thinking behind adding the hops later is that the hops aroma is more likely to stay with the beer brew through to the bottling process.

This is because the bubbling process and emission of carbon dioxide via the air lock allows the aromas to escape.

Bearing in mind that one should leave one’s beer to sit quietly for a couple of weeks before brewing to ensure that the yeast has had a chance to do it’s thing, this is a great opportunity for the oils and bitterness of the hops to also transfuse into the beer. It’s for that reason why dry hopping is a popular practice.

So if that's dry hopping, what is wet hopping?


wet hopsWet hopping is simply adding in freshly grown hops into the primary. Homebrewers have been known to grow their own hops, harvest it and then add it to their beer. It's the natural way to use hops.

Turning hops into pellets has become popular as an easy means of distribution and serves as a way to preserve the life of the hops - it's a plant after all and just like when you don't eat the carrots in the fridge, they become rotten.

You can actually grow your own hops in your backyard garden too. All you need is to get your hands on some rhizomes, get your green fingers out and plant them in a spot that will let them grow like crazy. A good source of hops rhizomes is from local Facebook groups. Home brewers often sell them to one another quite cheaply or just for shipping costs.

My hops is just floating in the primary fermenter. Is this normal?


Yes, when you first add hops to your wort it breaks apart from its pellet form and generally just floats at the top of the wort and this is normal. Given a few days, it will impart its wondrous qualities to the beer and then fall to the bottom of the fermenter, its job done.

If you don't want this to occur, you could think about placing your hops in a muslin bag and dropping them in. Maybe put a glass marble in the bag so it weights down.

Can I add hop pellets into the beer before bottling?


If you've ever wondered if you could simply add a hop pellet to each bottle of beer when bottling your batch, think some more.

You're setting yourself up for a potential disaster. While it can work, you are at serious risk of causing beer gushers. If it merely foams you are likely to experience your beer head to suffer from hop stuck in the head and floating in the beer.

Ideally you want the hops to fall to the bottom of the fermenter so that when you fill your bottles you do not get the residue.

That said, if you leave your beer to condition for long enough so the hops drops to the bottom and becomes part of the sediment that usually forms, you might just get yourself a fairly hoppy beer. That said, leave your hoppy beer too long and you will lose the hoppiness.....

At the end of the day, if you're cool with your beer being a bit messy and prepared to run the risk of bottle bombs, you might get good result.

Where can I buy hops?


There's two ways to buy hops - in person or online. If you are going to do it in person, you need to find a local specialty beer brewing shop. I love going into specialty beer shops as the owners and staff are usually beer enthusiasts and give the best service and advice. 

Seriously, if you live close by to one, using a specialty store can save you delivery and postage costs and it's worth it to get that personal contact and ask any questions too! My personal favourite in Wellington is Brewtopia and the lads at The Brewhouse have been very helpful too. 

However if you're a busy brewer or live in the outback somewhere, shopping for hops online is a breeze. If you live in New Zealand we recommend Brewshop as they have fair prices and a very impressive delivery time.

For you Americans wanting to drowning in cascade hops just order hops from Amazon. There are plenty of reputable beer brewing equipment experts on there and between them, they have a large selection of the best hops to buy.

Review of 'Dry Stout' Kit by Williams Warn

williams warn dry stout review
Having had a fairly good experience with the WilliamsWarn's 'Bohemian Pilnser' homebrew kit, I thought I'd give their 'Dry Stout' a go. If you think Guinness or Murphy's brands of beer, that's the ballpark we are in.

The product maker makes this claim:

"Our Dry Stout has a black appearance from the crystal malts, roasted malts and roasted barley employed in the grain mix. The result is a great Dry Stout that has liquorice, roasted coffee and chocolate flavours dominating."

dry stout beer kit
Getting ready on the kitchen bench!
Will I be able to make a beer that matches this claim?

Let's find out!

I did the basic preparation as you do for kits. Basically I followed my own beer making guide!

I left the wort to sit in the fermenter in the garden shed. Winter's just creeping into my end of town so I wrapped it with a few old painting sheets and let it be for exactly a week.

The fermenter started bubbling within 24 hours and stopped doing so around day 4 or 5.

I bottled 8 days after getting the beer down. I didn't taste it but it had a nice smell, perhaps one more noticeable than many other brews I've previously done. 

And now we wait.

So while we wait for the stout to bottle condition, let's shoot the breeze about a few other things.

What was the yeast used for the stout?


The yeast that came with the beer kit was a 11g pack of Fermentis S-04 yeast.

This yeast is often used with English ales. It's an adaptable yeast that actually suits a range of ales (you could use it with a nut brown ale for example) and is known for its ability to form a compacted sediment at the bottom of the fermenter. This is awesome as when bottling there's less chance of sediment getting into your finished beer, giving you the oft prized clear beer.

Fermentis recommend that that their yeast should be added to the wort when it is above 20 degrees centigrade. Frankly after I filled the fermenter with water from the garden hose, I just pitched in it!

I've read that the kit also sometimes comes with the Danstar Nottingham ale yeast.

With the kit and same branded Light Dry Malt Extract, I paid 44 dollars which is a bit on the steep side, if you ask me. The DME cost 20 bucks! Nearly as much as the kit as it self (though that had 20 percent off, cheers Nathan at Brewtopia!).

So I guess the idea is that WilliamsWarn is supposed to be a 'premium beer kit' producer. Actually, the prices on Amazon are about the same as what I paid so go figure.

But to be frank, when I made the Bohemian Pilsner I didn't notice any real difference in quality say compared to a Mangrove Jacks or Coopers kit. I'm actually pretty sure that most kits on the market these days are quite suitable kits for brewing with.

But enough of this 'chit chat'.

The tasting results are in.

First up, I brought a few bottles in from the shed after a couple of weeks conditioning and left them in the fridge for two nights.

I then opened and slowly poured into a long glass. The beer smelled really good and was a nice dark colour, just the kind one would expect. A small but creamy looking head formed which bode well for the taste test.

And I got say, this was a pretty good darn beer. It had some thick body and it felt like it was heavy enough to count as a stout. The Williams Warn kit had delivered.

But did it deliver on the promise of making beer in which "liquorice, roasted coffee and chocolate flavours" dominate? It's a romantic description but in a sense it's true. While I certainly haven't detected any liquorice notes, coffee and chocolate are fair assessments but they are not pronounced.

Review Verdict: Recommend you have a crack. Order the kit from Amazon today

Why I'm never using Steinlager bottles for home brewing again

I was bottling beer in the weekend (a nice Miner's Stout) when for the 50th time, the Steinlager bottle I was capping refused to cap as the grippy bit at the top of the bottle neck cracked.

bottle of steinlagerYou see, as the pressure of the bottle capper comes down, the glass simply gives way.

I suspect this is a time / use related issue. Over time, the pressure gets too strong for the glass and it simply breaks.

I've also had plenty of bottle necks completely snap too.

I'm sick of this shit.

So I dumped every green Steinlager bottle that I had into the recycling bin. About 30 of them, collected (and drank!) over the last few years.

Good riddance.

But it's a real shame as the 750 ml Steinlager bottle is a really nice bottle to hold when pouring a beer into a glass. There's something really aesthetically pleasing about it too.

Don't get me wrong though, Steinlager is an excellent beer and one I would recommend to any discerning beer drinker.

So this got me thinking, what beer bottles are really good for using with home brew?

Well, for this brewer, a side effect of the rise in craft beer is that there's a plethora of bottles out there to choose from.

I found that most brown bottles from craft beers in New Zealand are able to be capped really quite well.

But you know what works the best?

750 ml Tui crate bottles.

That's right, the other classic NZ working man's beer has the best bottles for capping homebrew.

While I'm at it, I found a great source of getting bottles for home brew conditioning is by raiding the recycling bins of my neighbours!

Also, I'm still pretty happy about my discovery on how to easily remove beer bottle labels.

How to use a dish washing machine to remove beer labels

If there's one thing that's a pain in the ass when bottling beer, it's removing labels from the bottles. 

Some days it feels like some bastard at the local craft brewery has said,

"Hey James let's get the most gnarly and sticky glue ever invented and use it with our bottles. And while we're add it, let's at a second layer of the world's second strongest glue. Just to be sure"

At least that's how it feels.

Now I've bitched about this before but I recently came across the best way to remove labels from beer bottles.

Use the dishwasher to remove sticky beer labels!


Seriously.

Just run them through a cycle in your dishwasher and that glue becomes unstuck.

The labels can then be easily peeled off in one satisfying motion.

Here's the proof.

I have pair of Panhead and Garage Project bottles prior to going into the dishwasher:

removing beer labels from Garage Project bottle

And here's the after photo removal of the Garage Project Bright Side:

peeling off the beer label

removal of whole beer label bright side

And here we have the shot of the Panhead Culture Vulture fresh out of the dishwasher and the too easy removal:

using a dish washer to remove label from beer bottle

removal of beer  label in one piece

So that's that.

Probably the easiest tip you'll come across for when getting your bottles ready for bottling. Remember, you will still need to sanitise your bottles before filling them with glorious beer.

Using Mackintosh lollies as a beer enhancer

mackintosh toffee lollies

You may have heard of beer kit brewers using 'beer enhancer' before. It's a handy way of giving your beer more body and flavour thus making your beer a more enjoyable drinking experience.

But where I come from, a quality beer enhancer will cost you anything from 7 to 14 dollars. Check out the prices on Amazon if you don't believe me!

If if you're a bit like me, you want to make good beer but you also want to do it fairly cheaply. Now you could simply use sugar instead of a beer enhancer but then your beer might feel thin and watery.

So I had an idea, what if I used a bag of Mackintosh Toffee Lollies as an enhancer?

Where I come from in New Zealand, these malty chews are probably one of the most popular treats around.

If you haven't picked why I would have this crazy idea, it's because of the malt and sugars that are in them. Given beer enhancer has a main ingredient of malt and dextrose, would this lolly be a good substitute for a beer enhancer?

So here's the experiment I ran. I knew I needed to test the effectiveness of the Mackintosh Lollies and I reasoned I needed to use a lager so that any malty flavours from a tin of ale or stout wouldn't mask or overpower any effect of the Mackintosh lollies.

A packet of Mackintosh Toffees costs about three dollars in NZ and for your trouble you get 250 grams in the 'farm pack' size.

So I figured I would need two packets as my enhancer substitute. That still comes in at 6 bucks and is a buck or two cheaper than a standard enhancer I would use.

So given one usually uses about 1 KG of beer enhancer, I also added another variable to the experient. I made up the difference with 500 g of dextrose. Dextrose will be wholly consumed the yeast in the fermentation process so will not effect the 'mouth feel' of the beer but will help the yeast do its job.

I wondered about just throwing lollies into the wort but thought better of it. I melted them in a pot on low heat. While removing the wrappers from two packets worth, I wondered if this experiment was even worth my time and effort.

So I prepared a lager brew using a Coopers Lager (as I've previously noted how these kits are fairly weak in body without enhancers). I let the batch ferment for a week and then bottled and stored them in the man shed. Two weeks later I placed a couple of bottles in the fridge and the next evening I sampled my experient.

Had the toffee lollies worked as a beer enhancer?


My first impressions were how sweet the beer was.

And then I realised the mistake I had made.

Or was it one?

The Mackinstosh lollies had all kinds of flavours such as mint, harrogate and coconut. I could certainly get a sense of these flavours. Not bothersome but there none-the-less.

And then I noticed that the lager had a small amount of body to it. Nothing huge but it was there. The head didn't retain for very long.

From my experience of using a Cooper's lager kit with an enhancer, I could tell that the toffees had added some substance to the beer.

So, a successful experiment from the point of view that the lollies added some mouthfeel to the beer but would I recommend this for future efforts? If I wanted to save a couple of bucks off the price of a standard enhancer, then sure.

But in terms of time and result, it's not worth it. It took about ten minutes alone to remove the wrappers and then a similar amount of time to melt down. If I'm making beer from a kit, I just want to get it done as quickly as possible.

And given that a beer enhancer does a more efficient job, I don't really recommend you use Mackintosh toffees as beer enhancer!