Hot break is the clumping of proteins, solids, and tannins that fall out of the wort during the boil and eventually collect at the bottom of the kettle. A steady boil is the key to achieving a good hot break, which will typically occur 5-15 minutes after the boil begins. When the foam on top of your boil finally dissipates, you know that many of the proteins have coagulated and that your hot break has occurred. A hot break is important because it aids in removing undesirable and potentially off flavor causing tannins and compounds from the boil. It also helps improve clarity and reduces the risk of chill haze down the line.
Below is a photo of the hot break in a 20 gallon brew kettle, approximately 15 minutes after the boil first began.
Hot break, 15 minutes after the boil started.
Chill haze is the cloudy or hazy appearance that a chilled beer gets when it is too high in residual proteins or tannins. For the most part, haze and turbidity are highly undesirable unless you are brewing a beer such as an American wheat, hefeweizen, or Belgian wit, where the style calls for a certain amount of haze. It is easier to try and avoid chill haze as opposed to trying to remove it from a beer.
Best practices for avoiding chill haze include properly controlling your mash out, sparging, lautering, and recirculation temperatures. Tannin extraction becomes a real issue when you exceed a temperature of 170° F in your mash tun, so always do your best to keep your sparge temp near 168° F for proper sugar extraction, but do not exceed it or else you will risk stripping too much tannin from the grain.
A consistent rolling boil and hot break are also important when it comes to reducing excess proteins. During the boil and hot break, proteins will merge together, becoming very dense and dropping out to the bottom of the kettle where they can be separated and not transferred to the fermenter. Perhaps one of the best and easiest ways to help avoid chill haze is to use an inexpensive fining such as whirlfloc. Whirlfloc is my personal favorite haze clearing fining; it is a blend of Irish moss and purified carrageenan. The Irish moss and carrageenan bind with the proteins and aid in precipitation. I will typically use one tablet per 5 to 15 gallons and add it at the last 15 minutes of the boil.
If you find yourself in the situation where when chilled your beer has haze and you have not yet bottled it, you can try one of the following methods to help clear chill haze. Extend your conditioning time and cold crash your beer to 34° F for a couple of weeks. This will aid in precipitation and help move suspended yeast and protein to the bottom of the vessel so that you can rack or transfer the clarified beer off the top of it. As a last ditch effort, you can use a beer clarifier such as gelatin. The gelatin should bind to the excess proteins, and drop some of the haze out of your beer.