Oh, Go Clone Yourself! April 06, 2016 12:02
We have made no secret that we have a great, and ever-growing, lineup of brewery-authorized clone beer kits. We did them the easy way: we asked for the recipes, and the brewers sent them to us. All we had to do was scale them down to five gallon batches. It is not so easy when you want to copy your favorite beer, or maybe a beer that is just not always available where you live. (Our first piece of advice, however, is just check with the brewer. They are often happy to help homebrewers with a clone. Sometimes they will even just send you the recipe!)
What is one to do? Let us help you with some guidelines that we follow ourselves.
- Know the beer!
If you want to understand what beer tastes like, you have to drink beer. Duh, right? You should read the label, and look up the description and ingredients (brewery websites often lay out the ingredients for their beers), and talk to other brewers, but the best way to analyze a beer is to have it in a pint glass in front of you. What color is it? Is it clear, hazy, or downright cloudy? Does it have good head retention? Light body or full? Good nose? Hoppy/malty/boozy? How else might you describe the beer? If you are not familiar with these terms, you should start there. Don’t just drink the beer you want to clone; use all of your senses to analyze every beer you drink. And you should be trying a wide variety of beers.
- Know your ingredients!
We are assuming you have made beer before, so you should have general knowledge of the process before attempting to design a recipe, clone or otherwise. This will help when you look at the brewery website and see just a list of grains and hops. You should be able to discern what is used for a bittering hop versus flavor/aroma additions or dry-hop. Likewise, a little basic knowledge of ingredients will help you figure out ratios of hops and grains in the recipe. It is unlikely the brewery lists their yeast or water profile, so you may have to do a little more digging for that information. Yeast is often easy enough to guess; water chemistry will be a more important concern as you try to refine your recipe. Always feel free to ask you friendly local homebrew shop employees what they think. If you are really smart - and bring them a sample of the beer you want to brew - I happen to know that homebrew store managers who often wear flannel are an excellent resource.
- Use a calculator.
I use BeerSmith when formulating a recipe, but there are many other options out there - online calculators or programs to download that will help calculate the important numbers. You can always guess and might hit your gravity, ABV, IBUs, and color, but your product will probably be better with some help. Some of these programs are tricky to figure out, but once you do they provide many advantages.
- Check web forums (but proceed with caution).
Still having trouble figuring out a recipe? Before we go any further, we should mention that there are books on cloning beers! Clone Brews, Beer Captured, North American Clone Brews, and many others have recipes for many popular and hard to find beers. If you can’t find one there, use the ol’ internet machine - which you clearly already know how to use - and see what other homebrewers have done. As always, the internet is a wonderful tool and a very dangerous place. Take all advice with a grain of salt (from THEM, not from us!) and use your hard-earned knowledge of brewing to make judgments about advice found on the webs.
- Make the beer! Then tweak the recipe.
This is pretty self-explanatory. Brew more beer. The best thing about brewing is that if it doesn’t work the first time, you can do it again.
If you just want to take the easy route, check out our line of brewery-authorized clones!