Beermaking has a lot of similarities to food-making and cooking. Did you ever notice that some foods, like soups or chili’s, taste better the next day and not when you first take them off the stove? The ingredients need some time to get to know each other and for the flavors to mellow out.
Well, it’s the same with beer and it is one of the things that bottle conditioning does: It lets carbonation take place, as well as it allows for the flavors to develop over time while letting some of the “greener” flavors fade away.
The issue with this is that, since you have to add sugar to the bottles so that fermentation can occur for carbonation to take place, that yeast that ferments inside of the bottle will floc and then drop to the bottom of the bottle, creating a layer of sediment.
While this isn’t strictly bad, at least not from a health perspective, having a lot of sediment in the bottle means that you generally are going to want to leave about half an inch of liquid in the bottle when serving the beer to keep all that sediment from making its way into the bottle.
If you’re bottle conditioning, then this is not avoidable, sadly, but you can follow the steps that I will lay out in this article to at least reduce the amount of sediment in your bottles.
However, here’s the short version on how to reduce the amount of sediment forming in your beer bottles (I would highly suggest reading the rest, though):
Transfer as little solid matter from the wort into the fermentor as possible by doing a whirlpool and by siphoning the wort into the fermentor, then tilt the fermentor back a little so that the sediment is forced to the back of it. Cold crashing the beer after fermentation is complete and transferring it to a secondary fermentor or bottling bucket is also recommended.
Whirlpool your Kettle after the boil
Whirlpooling is a means of gathering most of the break and hops into the center of the pot to better enable the siphon to draw off clear wort from the side without taking all of the sediment with it, reducing the overall amount of break and hops that make their way into the fermentor.
The way a whirlpool is done is by rapidly stirring the wort in a circular manner for 30 seconds to a minute until a whirlpool forms, at which point you can stop stirring and let the whirlpool slow down and settle for 20 minutes or so, since it does take a lot of time to actually come to a halt. The whirlpooling action will form a pile in the center of the pot, leaving the edge relatively clear.
Now you can use the siphon to transfer the liquid into the fermentor without transferring all of the break and hops into it as well, plus the siphon won’t clog as quickly now if it draws from the side of the pot.
Don’t transfer everything from the kettle into the Fermentor
After whirlpooling the wort, the break and the hops should have formed a nice little pile in the center of the kettle, which makes transferring the wort into the fermentation vessel without them easier.
However, one beginner mistake is to transfer the entirety of the contents of the kettle into the fermentor by dumping it in without leaving all of the gunk on the bottom (it also helps to strain the wort while doing this), which kind of defeats the whole purpose of whirlpooling.
If you’re not using a siphon to do this, that’s ok, just make sure to leave a centimeter, or about half an inch, of liquid on the bottom of the kettle so that most of the break, hops, and gunk don’t make it into the fermentor.
Leave the beer in the primary fermentor a little longer
Depending on the yeast strain and fermenting temperature, the whole fermentation process should take between 4 and 10 days, on average, to complete.
However, you don’t necessarily want to transfer the beer into a secondary fermentor or bottle it right away since leaving it in the there will allow other yeast-related processes to take place, where it will start reabsorbing some compounds that were created during fermentation, being the most popular of these Diacetyl, which gives the beer a sweet/buttery/buttery-popcorn off-flavor. This is also known as a “Diacetyl Rest”.
In those extra days in the fermentor, you allow the yeast to clean after themselves and to then drop to the bottom, clearing up the beer.
Tilt the fermentor backwards
Tilting the primary fermentor back slightly forces all the sediment to accumulate farther to the back, leaving the bottom side of the fermentor where the tap is with a much thinner layer of sediment, making it much more difficult for that sediment to make its way into the bottles/secondary fermentor.
This is especially useful if you’re going to be using the fermentor’s tap to transfer the beer, be it directly into a bottle or into a secondary fermentor.
If you’re bottling using this method, you’ll notice that, since the tap is slightly elevated, you will run out of beer to transfer even though there is still quite a lot in the fermentor. You could certainly slowly tilt it forward and get one or two more bottles out of it, although there will be more sediment in those bottles for sure.
Just mark them so you know which ones they are, chill them properly before drinking and when you pour them into a glass, leave a larger portion of the beer than usual in the bottle so that the sediment doesn’t transfer into the glass.
Cold Crash the Beer
Cold crashing your beer simply means putting the fermentor into the fridge for a couple of days so that all the yeast and proteins can drop down to the bottom, which will clear up the beer.
It’s worth noting, however, that you should then transfer the beer into another fermentor or bottle directly from the fridge without moving the vessel, otherwise some of that sediment that dopped during the cold crash will suspend back into the beer, rendering the whole process ineffective.
Transfer to a secondary fermentor before bottling
The point of transferring your fermented beer into a secondary fermentor is to allow all of the solid matter, such as yeast & protein, to drop to the bottom of the fermentor and to settle, which results in a clearer- and less hazy beer.
Also, this is where beer carbonation happens.
Allowing a couple of days or up to two weeks for secondary fermentation to take place, ensures that most of the solid matter has settled at the bottom and that it stays there on bottling day.
Proper Siphoning technique
Keep the end of the syphon tube just below the surface of the liquid so that you draw the brew from the top as far away from the sediment at the bottom of the vessel as possible. As the level of the liquid drops, keep lowering the tube so it stays below the surface.
If at some point you notice that it’s not drawing enough liquid, lower it a bit further since this will disrupt the flow, introduce oxygen and stir the up liquid, which we don’t want.
Just like before, sacrifice the last bit of brew and leave it on the bottom of the fermentor.
Add Finings or Gelatin
Gelatin, usually used with different food types, has been found to help with clearing beer and its wide availability and low price makes it a compelling product. Dissolving gelatin in a cup of boiling water and then adding it to the beer, once it’s cooled down, of course, one or two days before bottling or kegging, will bind the gelatin to the dead yeast, as well as other particulates, and help it drop to the bottom.
Gelatin seems to do this best at lower temperatures, about 5°C.
Beer finings work in a similar way to gelatin and they also bind to the dead yeast, excess tanning, and other particulates in beer, as well as other beverages. The difference is that it works best at around 14°C, or 57°F, which is ideal when bottling.
Use a High-Flocculation Yeast
High flocculation refers to the yeast’s ability to clump together, or to form large flocs, which adds weight and helps it drop out of suspension, and the advantage is that these yeast strains can produce a brighter beer with less suspended yeast, making filtration easier.
There are many different brands and yeast strains you can get that have a high flocculation rate, but make sure that you are using the yeast that works for your recipe.
While it may be impossible to brew a beer without sediment if you’re doing bottle conditioning, you could certainly reduce the amount by following these simple steps:
- Whirlpool the wort and let it settle for at least 10 minutes.
- Transfer the wort using a siphon and don’t transfer all the contents of the kettle. Try and leave all the break and hops in the kettle.
- Leave the beer in the fermentor for longer, even if fermentation is already done.
- Cold crash the beer so that all the solid matter drops to the bottom.
- Transfer to a secondary fermentor and let it sit there for a couple of days. You can cold crash it as well before bottling.
- Add finings or gelatin one or two days before transferring the beer from the primary fermentor to either the bottles or a secondary vessel.
- Consider using high-flocculation yeasts.