This year, I made the Brewer’s Best Holiday Ale kit to bring for sampling to Brew School. When we teach that class, one of the things that we talk about is filtering your beer at different times during the brewing process. You can filter the beer when you transfer the wort from the brew pot into the fermenting bucket, and also filtering when racking it from the fermenting bucket to the bottling bucket.
Personally, I always filter when racking out of the fermenting bucket. I run the beer through a reusable coffee filter with a very fine metal mesh that catches pretty much anything that happens to make its way through the siphoning line. However, I never filter the wort as it I pour it from the brew pot into the fermenting bucket. As I tell people in class, I just let it all ferment like a big pot of chili.
That is, until I met Holiday Ale.
Holiday Ale is a wonderful smelling and tasting beer, but it is stubborn and obnoxious to rack. It uses a “spice pack” (similar, but not the same, as the one shown to the right) that gets added at the end of the boil. So I just dumped the wort into the fermenting bucket like I always do, along with these spices and everything. After a week of fermenting, I opened up the bucket and there were basically crouton-sized chunks floating on top of the beer. These were things in the spice pack that rehydrated in the wort… and they rehydrated a lot. It was like those discs that expand into a beach towel when you soak them. Same idea.
I started racking the beer from the fermenter into a carboy. 1/3 of the way through and we’ve got no problems. But then the siphon started going slower. Then slower and slower until it stopped. I pulled up the racking cane and found that the black tip was clogged with rehydrated spice pack bits. So I had to unclog it and restart the siphon. 30 seconds later, same thing. Then over and over and over. So frustrating!
I finally had to sanitize a strainer and fish these chunks out. This of course disturbed the trub a whole lot, and the last half gallon of racked beer looked more like mud. Fortunately, I wasn’t going to be bottling it then because each bottle would have wound up with a half inch of yuck at the bottom.
So Holiday Ale showed me that for some beers, it makes a lot of sense to filter when transferring the wort to the fermenting bucket. I wonder, though, if the beer would’ve tasted as “holiday-ish” if those spices hadn’t been in the wort for the whole time during fermentation? Maybe a horrible racking experience was just the price you have to pay for delicious holday ale. I know there’s a few other Brewer’s Best kits with spice packs in them, like Summer Ale. How do you brew… to filter or not to filter?