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How to Use Chemistry to Hack Your Beer Brewing

The word "chemical" gets a bad wrap in the food world. It conjures images of hazard signs and junk food with textbook-length lists of ingredients. You might feel the same way about beer, but the truth is that beer-boosting chemicals are safe, convenient, and can revolutionize the way you brew.

Trouble hitting your pH? Beer too hazy? Too much krausen in your fermentor? Does your brew always boil over, no matter what you freakin' do? These common problems, and many more, can all be solved with a little chemistry magic.

Read on to learn about a few of our favorite beer chemistry hacks.  

Amylase Enzyme

The magical tool behind the famous Brut IPA recipe. You may have heard of amylase enzymes as aiding in digestion. Alpha and beta amylase are proteins that break down starch. And what works for your stomach also works for your beer. By breaking down starch, amylase enzymes create more easily fermentable sugars. 

How does this apply to the Brut IPA? Well, this style manages to maintain a light, bone-dry body alongside high ABV content and a specific gravity at or below 1.000. Wild. How is it done? With amylase, of course! These proteins chew the mash up good and plenty, making it extra digestible. Then come the yeast, who find a pre-prepared pot of sugar ripe for fermentation. Hitting 1.000 becomes a breeze - all thanks to amylase.

Get amylase enzyme right here.

Clarity Ferm

The uses of Clarity Ferm are threefold: to eliminate chill haze, extend shelf life, and reduce gluten. Let's walk through them all.

Eliminate Chill Haze & Extend Shelf Life

There's nothing worse than spending weeks waiting for your beer, only to end up with a final product that looks foggy when it should be clear. Even if it tastes right, it's impossible to feel fully satisfied with a beer that doesn't pour the way it's supposed to. Some beers are supposed to be hazy, like wheat beers or New England IPAs. But many styles should be crystal clear.

Chill haze is a sneaky beast. It occurs when clear, ready-to-drink beer is chilled to drinking temperature, activating unseen clumps of polypeptides. These proteins precipitate out, creating a yeasty haze. In other words, your beer looks perfectly clear on the shelf, but when you chill it to serve, haze emerges from nowhere. Nightmare. 

The solution? Clarity Ferm. This enzyme breaks down the polypeptides that cause chill haze, without affecting the brew's flavor or aroma. As an added benefit, this breakdown increases your beer's shelf life.

Reduce Gluten Content

Are you gluten-sensitive? Well then, you've come to the right product. Gluten sensitivity is a frustrating struggle for beer lovers. The growing popularity of gluten-free brews, like mead or cider, has made life a bit easier, but they simply can't replace to true flavor of beer.

Enter Clarity Ferm. Treating a wheat or barley-based beer with this enzyme reduces gluten content to below 20 ppm, the international standard for being called "gluten free".

Get Clarity Ferm right here.

NOTE: Clarity Ferm does not make beer 100% gluten-free. It only reduces gluten content. As such, those with celiac or other life-threatening gluten allergies should NOT drink beer that has been treated with Clarity Ferm.

Fermcap-S

Dimethyl polysiloxanes are pretty neat.

These polymers are the key to Fermcap-S, which has two essential uses. It can go right into your boil as protection against boilovers, or it can help quell the risk of blow-offs during fermentation. They do this by reducing the surface tension of your brew. It binds to things like carrageenan, 3,beta-anhydrogalactose, and/or yeast membranes.

Added to the fermentor, you reduce krausen, which lowers your chance of encountering a volcanic surprise when you check on your brew. We find Fermcap-S particularly useful when fermenting in 3 gallon fermentation vessels

If using Irish Moss in the boil, Fermcap-S won't carry over into your fermentation vessel; if using Fermcap-S in the fermenter it will be pulled out when your yeast flocculate which will leave no effect on head retention or flavor.

Clarifiers

Clarifiers remove haze, which, as we learned, is most often caused by polyphenols, proteins, or yeast. Different clarifiers work differently, so pay close attention to dosages. 

Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP)

This is a clarifying agent that is polyphenol-active. Removing high-molecular weight polyphenols (tannoids) can reduce chill haze and increase the shelf life of a beer.

Irish Moss (or Super Moss)

This is a clarifying agent that is protein-active. Carrageenan and 3,beta-anhydrogalactose are the active compounds in Irish Moss and will bind to positively charged proteins in the boil kettle.

Isinglass

This is a clarifying agent that is yeast-active. This compound only reduces yeast biomass and will not have any effect on chill haze.

Pectic Enzyme

If you use fruit in your beer, it's a good idea to treat it with Pectic Enzyme beforehand. Pectic Enzyme physically destroys pectins, which constitute the "fleshy" part of most fruits. It breaks down the pulp, which makes pressing more efficient and aids in the extraction of tannin from the skins. As an added bonus, Pectic Enzyme also also slakes pectin haze.

How to Use Pectic Enzyme

This enzyme does it's best work at 113-131ºF, within a pH of 4.5-5.5. Add a gallon of liquid (that isn't just water) to your fruit. Use your beer if you are making a fruit beer and use honey if making a melomel. Add 0.5 tsp pectic enzyme. Heat to 122ºF. Hold at 122ºF for 45-60 minutes without stirring.

Don't worry about driving off alcohol or ruining your beer/mead/bourbon/whatever. Alcohol boils at 174ºF, so you won't lose it. The vapor heat will keep a few molecules of gaseous water between oxygen in the air and the surface of your beer. When finished, cool it off, then return the entire liquid portion to the fermentor.

Pro Tip: Keep the squeezed solids for making ice cream, jam, or marinades, 

 

For more information on beer brewing through chemistry, check out How to Brew, the foundational text by John J. Palmer.

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