Author: Matt Waldron
It’s no secret my fellow Brülosophy comrades love the beer clarifying powers of gelatin– not only is the first xBmt on the topic the most commonly viewed on the site due in no small part to being featured in basically every article, but gelatin as a variable has been investigated more than any other. However, it’s not what I use. I love clear beer as much as the next person, but my wife and brewing partner, a primary consumer of the beer we make, is vegetarian, so fining with gelatin is out of the question. Given the paucity of post-boil fining options, I was left with few alternatives and ultimately settled on an animal-parts-not-included product called Biofine Clear*.
Biofine is described as “a purified colloidal solution of silicic acid (SiO2) in water that has been specifically formulated for the rapid sedimentation of yeast and other haze forming particles in beer.” While the method of action of Biofine is similar to gelatin in that it clarifies by attracting and dropping out oppositely charged particulate matter, they differ in polarity with Biofine possessing a strong negative charge while gelatin has a strong positive charge. Despite being sold as performing the same task, this information indicates each fining precipitates different suspended solids based on the polarity of the particle.
The fact I’ve been regularly using Biofine is evidence of my belief it’s doing something for my beer, though it seems some view this gelatin substitute as having as much utility as a homeopathic small pox vaccine, with stories laden with hazy beer photos “proving” its ineffectiveness. Could it be that I’ve been blindly using a product that doesn’t work as well as a fining derived from slaughterhouse remnants? Even more, does it have an impact on the character of the finished beer? Time to put this one to the test!
*It recently came to our attention the manufacturer of Biofine Clear, Kerry Chemicals, produces another fining agent that goes by just Biofine, a powdered isinglass made from fish bladders, which is not vegan friendly. For the purposes of this article, the term “Biofine” refers to the vegan-friendly Biofine Clear.
| PURPOSE |
To evaluate the differences between a beer fined with gelatin and the same beer fined with Biofine Clear.
| METHODS |
For this xBmt, I wanted to brew a beer that would be light enough to ensure any differences caused by the variable were noticeable and thought a nice Honey Kölsch fit the bill nicely.
Honey Bee Kölsch
|Pale Malt, 2 row (Gambrinus)
|Pilsner (2 row) (Gambrinus)
|Honey Malt (Gambrinus)
|German Ale/Kolsch (WLP029)
||65°F - 69°F
My 5 gallon mash in a bag brew day began with the collection and heating of water, during which I milled the grains.
When the water reached strike temp, I mashed in and hit my intended temperature dead-on.
Click pic for ThermaPen review
The mash was stirred a couple times over the hour long rest.
Click pic for The Brew Bag MLT bag review
The timer beeped and I collected the wort in my kettle, which would be boiled on my stove-top.
As soon as a boil was reached, I tossed in the single hop addition and let it go for an hour. Once complete, I transferred the hot wort to a clean no-chill cube and left it in a cool area of my house for a few hours before placing it in my 58°F/14°C fermentation chamber. The following day, I transferred the chilled wort to a sanitized fermentor, making a small but appreciated mess.
I pitched 58˚F/14˚C slurry of WLP029 German Ale/Kölsch yeast from a prior batch directly into the wort, forgoing a starter since this was a sub-1.050 OG beer and the slurry harvested not 2 weeks prior. Fermentation was active when I checked on the beer 18 hours later and proceeded without issue. At 1 week post-pitch, I raised the temperature in the chamber to 70˚F/21˚C for attenuation and byproduct clean-up purposes. Signs of activity were absent 10 days later, so I took a couple hydrometer measurements over 2 days that were the same, and the sample was clean with nothing off, so I started the cold crash. After 2 days, I split the beer evenly between two 3 gallon Better Bottle carboys serving as secondary vessels, each receiving approximately 2.5 gallons of beer.
Finally time to introduce the variable! I measured out half the recommended amount of each fining agent given the relative difference in batch size.
A gelatin solution of 1/4 teaspoon combined in 1/4 cup hot water was added to one carboy while approximately 1/4 teaspoon BioFine was added to the other carboy, then both were returned to the cold chamber. In an effort to give both batches a fighting chance, I let the finings work a little longer than some people prefer. After 6 days, I removed the carboys in preparation for packaging and noticed they looked pretty similar at this point.
6 days post-fining
The beer was transferred to 3 gallon kegs then placed in my keezer where they were force carbonated. When it came time to collect data the following weekend, the beers were looking nice and not terribly different.
Left: Biofine Clear | Right: Gelatin
| RESULTS |
A total of 22 people participated in this xBmt, all blind to the variable being investigated. Each taster was served 1 sample of the gelatin fined beer and 2 samples of the beer fined with Biofine Clear in different colored opaque cups then asked to select the one they perceived as being different. Given the sample size, 12 correct responses (p<0.05) would be required to achieve statistical significance. However, only 7 participants (p=0.64) correctly identified the odd-beer-out, suggesting this panel of participants was not able to reliably distinguish a beer fined with gelatin from one fined with Biofine, despite the difference in clarity.
My Impressions: Based on aggravation levels I’d observed online regarding post-fermentation finings, I thought Biofine Clear would have produced a significantly different beer than gelatin, and perhaps this bias would impact my perception of the beers I made for this xBmt. But the finished beers had little difference. At first, earlier on in the process, I thought the gelatin fined beer was slightly clearer and possibly somewhat darker with a vaguely crisper, hop forward aftertaste whereas the Biofine fined beer came across as bready with a malt forward aftertaste. Then I did multiple blind triangle tests and could not pick out the unique sample with any accuracy. In regards to the actual beer, it was really good, the Honey Malt imparting a sweeter twist on the style, yet finishing with a very nice Kölsch-like character.
| DISCUSSION |
As we continue to hammer away at the variable of gelatin and how it impacts beer quality, I find myself consistently surprised with the fact it doesn’t seem to have the impact on flavor many claim. While the Biofine batch did take a little longer to clear than the gelatin fined beer, in the end they finished with a very similar appearance, and there is no evidence to suggest they tasted any different. Prior to my post-fermentation fining days, beers like the one I made for this xBmt tended to require around 2 weeks of cold conditioning after packaging to drop as clear as both the Biofine and gelatin fined beers were in less than a week, which says both products work.
These results are useful to me in that they validated not only my use of Biofine Clear as an effective clarifying agent, but demonstrated it doesn’t seem to have a big impact on the character of the finished beer, at least when compared to gelatin. For these reasons, I’ll continue using Biofine for clarification, confident that my wife and I can enjoy delicious and clear beer sans animal stuffs in less time. For brewers of the carnivorous persuasion, gelatin’s effectiveness combined with its low price-point may make it the more appealing option.
What do you use to clear your beer? Are you a die hard lagerer, do you employ other methods for ensuring your beer ends up clear, or do you even care? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!
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