Filtered vs Unfiltered Beer: Navigating the Hazy World of Beer Styles

What is unfiltered beer? How does it differ from filtered? Discover the intricacies between these two popular styles of beer along with tips on how you can brew your own.


Mat Stuckey

9/21/20237 min read

two beers, one filtered and one unfiltered
two beers, one filtered and one unfiltered

Filtered beer is clear and has a stable flavour due to the removal of yeast and sediment, while unfiltered beer retains these elements, offering a more complex flavour and aroma.

With the rise of craft beer and unique beer styles, the age-old debate of filtered vs unfiltered beer has gained new momentum. Are you a fan of crystal-clear lagers or do you lean towards the cloudy, complex unfiltered brews? This article dives into the intricacies of beer filtration, the characteristics of unfiltered beer, and how these options appeal to different beer enthusiasts. Read on to become a true beer connoisseur.

Key Takeaways

  • Filtration removes elements like yeast and sediment, resulting in a clearer, more stable beer.

  • Unfiltered beer retains these elements, offering a more complex flavour and aroma.

  • The choice between filtered and unfiltered often boils down to personal preference and beer style.

  • Craft beer has become a haven for unfiltered brews, emphasising complexity over clarity.

  • Ultimately, the decision to go filtered or unfiltered is up to the brewer and the specific objectives they have for their beer.

What is Filtration in the Brewing Process?

Filtration is a key step in the brewing process that removes particles like yeast and sediment from the beer. The process aims to create a clear, stable product with a longer shelf life. Filtration can be done through various methods, including mechanical filters, finings, or even centrifugation. The choice of filtration method often depends on the type of beer being made and the brewer's objectives.

However, not all beers go through filtration. Unfiltered beer skips this step, leaving the yeast and other particles in the liquid. This results in a hazy, often more complex flavour profile compared to filtered beer.

Unfiltered Beer: What Makes it Special?

Unfiltered beer retains many elements like yeast, proteins, and hop residues that filtered beer lacks. The presence of yeast and other particles makes unfiltered beer cloudy, but also adds depth to its flavour and aroma. Unfiltered beer still produced today has its roots in traditional brewing methods where filtration was either unavailable or deliberately avoided.

What really sets unfiltered beer apart is its complexity. The presence of yeast and sediment within the beer adds layers of flavour that are often missing in filtered varieties. Many beer enthusiasts argue that unfiltered beer offers a more authentic beer experience.

Filtered Beer: The Art of Clarity and Consistency

Filtered beer is characterised by its clean, clear appearance, achieved through the removal of elements like yeast, proteins, and hop residues. This filtration process not only results in a visually appealing product but also contributes to the beer's crispness and extended shelf life. Filtering beer has been a common practice for centuries, especially for styles like lagers that prioritise clarity and stability.

What sets filtered beer apart is its consistency and refinement. By removing yeast and other particles, brewers can create a beer that is uniform from batch to batch, appealing to those who value a reliable and predictable drinking experience. For many beer lovers, the clarity and crispness of filtered beer exemplify the skill and craftsmanship that go into making an exceptional brew.

Why Do Some Beers Undergo Filtration?

Filtration serves several purposes. First, it makes the beer clear and visually appealing, which is often preferred in styles like lager beer. Second, filtration extends the beer's shelf life by removing elements that could spoil over time. Lastly, it standardising the product, making each batch consistent in terms of taste and appearance.

Filtered beer is often considered more "finished" and polished, making it a preferred choice for those who prioritise consistency and clarity over complexity and depth of flavour.

How Does Filtration Affect Beer Aroma and Flavour?

Filtration can strip away some of the volatile compounds that contribute to a beer's aroma and flavour. In the case of hop-forward beers like IPAs, filtering can sometimes reduce the hop aroma that many people love. However, the impact of filtration on flavour and aroma can vary depending on the filtration process and the type of beer.

Unfiltered beer, on the other hand, retains these volatile compounds, offering a more robust sensory experience. In styles like hazy IPAs, the lack of filtration contributes to a juicier, more aromatic profile.

Hazy vs Clear: The Visual Aspect of Filtered and Unfiltered Beer

The visual difference between filtered and unfiltered beer is often the first thing people notice. Filtered beers are clear and transparent, while unfiltered beers are hazy or cloudy. This cloudiness is due to the presence of yeast, proteins, and other particles that are removed during the filtration process.

While some might consider cloudiness as a sign of incomplete or unfinished beer, many beer enthusiasts appreciate the visual complexity that unfiltered brews bring to the table.

Is Unfiltered Beer Healthier?

Unfiltered beer is often lauded for its richer nutritional content compared to filtered beer. This is because unfiltered beer contains yeast, a microorganism that is a natural source of B vitamins, including vitamin B12. Yeast also provides other nutrients that are generally lost during the filtration process.

However, it's important to note that while unfiltered beer may offer more nutrients, the differences are usually marginal. B vitamins are readily available in a balanced diet, so unless you're drinking beer as your primary source of nutrition (which is not recommended), these differences shouldn't be a decisive factor. Additionally, both filtered and unfiltered beer contain alcohol and calories, so moderation is key.

2 pints of unfiltered beer
2 pints of unfiltered beer

What Are Some Popular Unfiltered Beer Styles?

When it comes to unfiltered beer, certain styles stand out for their complexity and depth of flavour. Wheat beers, for instance, are often left unfiltered to preserve their cloudy appearance and intricate taste profiles. Belgian ales, known for their aromatic and complex flavours, also frequently skip the filtration process.

Another rising star in the world of unfiltered beer is the hazy New England IPA. Characterised by its cloudy appearance and juicy, fruit-forward hop profile, this style has become a favourite among beer enthusiasts who appreciate its fuller flavour and aroma. These styles showcase how skipping filtration can lead to a more captivating and diverse beer experience.

Craft Beer: A Haven for Unfiltered Brews?

The craft beer movement has indeed become a sanctuary for unfiltered beers. Many craft breweries operate on a smaller scale, which allows for greater experimentation and less emphasis on the extended shelf life that filtration can provide. These brewers often focus on creating beers that offer complex layers of flavour and aroma, qualities that are often more pronounced in unfiltered brews.

Craft beer lovers looking for an authentic beer experience often gravitate toward these unfiltered options. The absence of filtration in craft brewing allows for a more direct expression of the brewer's skill and the ingredients used, making each sip a unique experience.

How Do Brewers Decide on Filtration?

The choice to filter a beer or leave it unfiltered is not arbitrary; it is a deliberate decision made by the brewer based on various factors, including the type of beer being produced and the desired characteristics. For example, lagers are almost universally filtered to achieve their crystal-clear appearance and crisp, clean flavour.

Ales, especially those with higher hop content like IPAs, are often left unfiltered to preserve their aromatic compounds and complex flavour profiles. Brewers may also opt for partial filtration methods, aiming for a middle ground that captures the benefits of both filtered and unfiltered forms. Ultimately, the decision comes down to the brewer's intent for the beer's style, shelf life, and sensory attributes.

Filtered or Unfiltered Beer Styles: What Should You Choose?

Choosing between filtered and unfiltered beer is largely a matter of personal preference. If you're someone who values the refined, consistent taste and the aesthetic pleasure of a clear beer, then filtered options like lagers may be more your speed.

Conversely, if you're an adventurer at heart and enjoy the unpredictable complexity that comes with yeast, hops, and other particles mingling in your glass, then unfiltered beers, particularly styles like hazy IPAs or Belgian ales, will offer a more engaging experience.

Both filtered and unfiltered beers have their merits, and your choice may even depend on the occasion. For example, a filtered pilsner might be perfect for a summer barbecue, while an unfiltered wheat beer may be just the thing for a cosy winter evening. As always in the world of beer, the best choice is the one that makes you happiest.

FAQ About Filtered vs Unfiltered Beer

Q: What is the difference between filtered and unfiltered beer?

A: Filtered beer goes through a process where the particles and sediments are removed, resulting in a clear appearance. Unfiltered beer, on the other hand, is beer that has not undergone this filtration process and may have a hazy or cloudy appearance.

Q: Are there any specific brands that produce unfiltered beer?

A: Yes, there are several brands that produce unfiltered beer. Some popular examples include Stella Artois, Zwickel Lager, and certain craft breweries known for their unfiltered IPAs.

Q: What does "cellar beer" mean in relation to unfiltered beer?

A: "Cellar beer" is a term used to describe unfiltered beers that are traditionally brewed and stored in cellars or caves. These beers are often aged and have a unique flavour profile.

Q: Why is unfiltered beer less clear than filtered beer?

A: Unfiltered beer contains particles and sediments that are not removed through filtration, which can result in a cloudy appearance. This is because the solids are still present in the beer.

Q: How does unfiltered beer differ from traditional filtered beer?

A: Unfiltered beer is typically less processed and retains more of its natural flavours and aromas. Traditional filtered beer, on the other hand, goes through a filtration process to remove impurities and achieve a clear appearance.

Q: Can unfiltered beer be enjoyed at lower temperatures?

A: Yes, unfiltered beer can be enjoyed at lower temperatures. In fact, some unfiltered beers are best served cold to enhance their flavours and refreshment.

Q: Is it common for IPA beers to be unfiltered?

A: Yes, it is quite common for IPAs (India Pale Ales) to be unfiltered. The hazy appearance of unfiltered IPAs adds to their character and is often desired by craft beer enthusiasts.

Q: How does unfiltered beer provide vitamin B?

A: Unfiltered beer contains vitamin B because the yeast particles and sediments that are not filtered out during the brewing process can be a source of this essential nutrient.

Q: Does unfiltered beer have higher bitterness levels compared to filtered beer?

A: Not necessarily. The bitterness of a beer is determined by the hops used in the brewing process, rather than whether it is filtered or unfiltered.

Q: Can you provide an example of an unfiltered beer?

A: One example of an unfiltered beer is the Hefeweizen, a type of wheat beer that is known for its hazy appearance and rich, banana-like flavours.