How to Use Cheesecloth

Cheesecloth actually has a wide array of uses. Everything from cheese making to homebrewing to medical uses. But what IS cheesecloth? By definition "cheesecloth is a gauzy, lightweight, woven cotton fabric with tiny holes that allow air to flow through the fabric". While you may think cheese making is the only place cheesecloth gets significant use, but you'd be wrong. The porous fabric has so many uses, especially in the kitchen. One of which is brewing beer, and when it comes to brewing beer, cheesecloth is extremely versatile!

How so, you may ask? Well the biggest thing is it makes brewing easier. Yes. It makes the brewing process easier AND clean up a snap. When you are mashing or steeping specialty grains, they can be added loose, but you risk having grain scorch on the bottom of the kettle. It helps keep the mass of steeping grain off the bottom (in methods like BIAB or extract brewing). If you are into cheese making, you use cheesecloth or it's finer sister butter muslin to contain the curds when pressing.

Grain Bags

Cheesecloth Bags for Steeping Grains

Cheesecloth bags come standard in a lot of beer kits like the ones sold here. It's essentially a cloth sleeve that you add your steeping grains to. It acts like a great big tea bag for keeping the grain off the bottom of the kettle. First, you put your ingredients in the cheesecloth, and make a gentle but tight knot (make sure you leave enough room for your grains to expand) and into the water it goes!

cheesecloth steeping grains

You can use a metal skewer or long spoon pushed through the knot to hold it in the kettle so it doesn't sink to the bottom. Once in place, you just rest it across the mouth of the brew pot. The cheesecloth keeps everything together and is porous enough to let the water do it's thing. The cheesecloth lets the hot water into the grains to release the flavors and oils back into the water. The brew in a bag method takes this to the next level by doing the entire mash in one big fine cheesecloth bag.

It is relatively inexpensive; so buying it new each brew day isn't a hassle, and can just be tossed in the trash when you're finished. Another thing I like to do with my grains is leave the bag out for the birds. It is great for being able to hang it up keeping the grains away from my dogs but the birds can still get to the grains without tearing the cloth.

Use it for Hops

Hop Bag

It can also be used with whole leaf hops in the boil to help reduce the amount of trub when transferring to your fermenter. And because the hops are in their own little bag you can pull everything out and dispose of it, which makes cleanup easier. If you're dry hopping, you can use a cheesecloth hop bag and drop it right in your keg or brewing bucket. This keeps the hops consolidated and will help keep hop particulates out of your served beer. If you are extract brewing, try a FWH (First Wort Hopping) when you're steeping grain.

Grain Bags

Using Cheesecloth as a Filter

fruit bag1

Another good use is around the base of the siphon when you are transferring to the secondary. It helps keep the larger pieces sediment out without reducing the flow like a coffee filter does. There are thicker nylon bags made for this but the cheesecloth folded over itself a few times works great in a pinch. Alternatively, if you are adding larger amounts of fruit or dry hops in secondary, use a cheesecloth bag to reduce the loss to sediment.

All in all cheesecloth is a wonderful tool to help in your brewing. I enjoy the easier time brewing, easier clean up, and the better tasting beer (from reduced scorching). And I'm pretty sure all the birds that live around here are appreciative of the food as well.

So the next time you brew (unless you are doing an all grain beer) consider using cheesecloth to hold the hops and grains. Play around with it too. You might find you get better flavor by keeping each step's ingredients together in the same cheesecloth sock.

Have fun! And if you have any other uses, please share!

written by Jen Griffin

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