How to Clone Beer Recipes

Brew your own version of your favorite beer with help this in-depth guide covering strategies on finding ingredients and mimicking taste.

| July 2019

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Getty Images/ozgurcoskun

It’s no secret that homebrewers drink a lot of beer, and not all of it is homebrew. Given that homebrewers also enjoy many craft beers and imports, it’s not surprising that a popular topic among us is clone brew recipes—namely, creating homebrew recipes for commercial beers. Recipes for clones of hundreds of commercial beers are available. On the other hand, there are tens of thousands of commercial beers available. So what do you do if nobody has drawn up a clone of your favorite beer? Do it yourself, of course!

What You’ll Need

To formulate a clone recipe, you’ll want to use some sort of beer recipe calculator. This can be a stand-alone program (such as ProMash, BeerSmith, or Strangebrew), an online calculator such as the one offered by Beer Tools or the Recipator, or a spreadsheet like the one at Brew Your Own. If you can calculate original gravity (OG) and color (in SRM) from the amount of malts in the recipe, final gravity (FG) from the attenuation of the yeast, bittering (in IBUs) from the hops added, and alcohol (in ABV) from the drop in specific gravity, you’ll be on your way.

The second and most important thing you’ll need to formulate a clone recipe is information . . . and lots of it. To draw up a decent clone recipe, you’ll need the aforementioned beer specifications plus information on both the ingredients in the beer and the procedures used to make it. For ingredients, you’ll need to know the types and percentage of malts used, the types of hops used and when they are added, the kind of yeast used, and information on any other ingredients (kettle adjuncts, spices, fruits, and so on). On the procedural side, you should find out the details of the mash program, boil times, fermentation temperatures, and any unusual processes used.



Where to Get the Information

Information on a commercial beer can come from a variety of sources. First and foremost, you may be able to get much or all of the information straight from the brewer. If your local brewpub has a porter you just love, stop by during the day—or whenever the brewer is most likely to be there—and ask if you can talk to him. Some brewers are reluctant to give out any information about their beers or are even bound by confidentiality agreements not to, but many others are happy to talk shop. Information about a beer may also appear on a brewery’s website or on their packaging.

If you can’t get any information from the brewer or brewery, you may be able to find at least some information (such as alcohol content, in ABV) on other websites. Recipes for similar beers can help you develop a clone recipe as well. Once you’ve gathered—or guessed at—all the information you need, you’re ready to draw up the first draft of your clone recipe.

In the Cloning Lab

Once you have all the information assembled, one way to construct a clone is to use a trial-and-error method of entering ingredient amounts into your brewing calculator until you get the calculated beer statistics right. As an example of how to do this, we’ll walk through cloning a real world beer, Summit Winter Ale, using information found on their website along with tasting notes of this beer.

Strength

Start the construction of your clone by getting a rough idea of how much malt you’ll need to reach the beer’s original gravity. To do this, enter various amounts of base malt until you get a number equal to your OG estimate. We found out that we would need 12 pounds (5.4 kg) of 2-row pale malt to hit the website-specified OG of 1.058. Extract brewers will use light malt extract as their base malt, but the rest of the process is the same for both extract and all-grain brewers.

What if, however, your only indication of the size of the beer was the alcohol content? Using only the ABV, you can still estimate the starting gravity of a beer. If you know the beer’s yeast strain (or can make a reasonable guess), you can use its average attenuation to estimate the OG. In your recipe calculator, select the proper yeast type or type in a reasonable number for attenuation. Then fill in amounts of base malt until you reach the correct ABV.

Next, if you know the percentages of the other malts, multiply the total amount of grain by these percentages and fill them in. For example, if we knew—which we don’t—that Summit used 10 percent caramel malt, we’d know to add about 1.1 pounds (0.49 kg) of caramel. If you don’t have any information on the proportion of the various malts, the color depth of the beer can help you make a reasonable guess.

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Photo credit Image by Evan Harris from Pixabay

Color and Malt Flavor

If you don’t know the percentage of other malts, start adding the other malts in reasonable amounts into your brewing calculator. (You can use information on how similar beers are brewed as a basis for what a reasonable amount is.) In the case of a beer with one base malt and one specialty malt (both of known color rating), there is only one combination that will yield the right color and gravity for the beer. If there are three or more malts, there are an infinite number of solutions to the puzzle.

Using trial and error, we found that 1.25 pounds (0.57 kg) of crystal malt (75°L) and 1.0 ounces (28 g) of black patent malt will achieve the right color for Summit Winter Ale. How did we decide to use crystal 75°L? Well, from experience, we knew the amount of black patent malt that would give a nice amount of color but only a tinge of flavor (as noted from tasting Summit Winter). From there, we found by trial and error that when we used crystal 75°L, we got a reasonable amount of crystal in the recipe for a beer of this type.

Note that as you add other malts into your calculations, you will need to decrease the amount of base malt to keep the beer at the correct OG. This can in turn change the color of your beer. With multiple malts, this can lead to a lot of fiddling. However, after you’ve done this a few times, you’ll get better at it.



Once your OG and color match your initial estimates, take a look at the final gravity (FG) and alcohol content (in ABV). If you’re lucky, they might be spot-on. If they’re not, adjust the amount of attenuation so the FG or ABV is right. In our case, I needed to lower the FG to 1.012 to get the ABV specified on the website.

Sometimes you may enter all of your information into your brewing calculator and the results still won’t match up with the brewery’s information. For example, you may enter the percentages and color ratings of the malts they use and end up with a calculated color other than the SRM they claim. Likewise, the alcohol content they claim may not jibe with the drop in specific gravity. From the standpoint of cloning, yes, you need to decide how to deal with this discrepancy. However, try forgetting about the numbers for a second and instead focus on formulating a reasonable recipe that will work in your own homebrewery.

Bitterness and Hop Character

Once you have the malt information set, you can begin to calculate the hopping schedule. Because wort density affects hop utilization, you need to get at least the original gravity of your beer set before you calculate hop additions.

Type different amounts of hops into the brewing calculator until you hit the target IBU. (If you’re lucky, the brewer will have specified the amount of IBUs for each addition of hops.) If you don’t have any information about the timing of the additions, use information from similar beers as a guide. For example, in the case of the Summit Winter clone, we found that we needed 4.5 AAU of bittering hops (boiled for 60 minutes) combined with 3.75 AAU of flavor hops (boiled for 15 minutes) to reach the 20 IBU specified. Of the hops they had listed, we guessed that the Willamette hops would be the bittering hops and the more flavorful Fuggles and Tettnanger together would be the flavor hops.

Once the malt and hops have been chosen, all that’s left is the yeast, water, and perhaps the miscellaneous ingredients—the details of which you either have in your possession or not. Add those details to your recipe. You now have the first draft of your clone recipe!

Assessing the Clone

Once you’ve got your clone recipe drawn up, you’ll probably wonder how it tastes. The obvious solution is to brew it and find out. However, if you’ve had to make several assumptions along the way, you may be hesitant to actually brew your recipe, afraid that you will be wasting your time. As you draw up a clone, it’s natural to think about all the uncertainties. Once you’re done calculating the clone, however, it’s good to step back and also think about everything you know you got right before you examine the consequences of being wrong. Let’s use our presumptive Summit Winter Ale clone as an example.

We know the OG, ABV, and color of our clone match from the website information. We also know that the malt and hop types are correct. However, we did guess at the color of the crystal malt, and the amount of crystal malt I used was based on that guess. What if I was wrong about that? Different colors of crystal malt are roasted differently and have different flavors, but the different flavors lie along a continuum. Given the color of the beer, the lightest versions of crystal malt can be ruled out. Likewise, the darkest are not that likely seeing as only a small addition of them would be required. So if we guessed wrong, the crystal malt flavor might be different than the actual beer, but not so entirely different that the beer would taste completely off.

Likewise, we guessed at the relative contributions and timing of hops. However, this beer doesn’t have a ton of hop bitterness or flavor. It’s balanced more toward the malty side (as many winter beers are), so unless we were ludicrously way off on the hops, this shouldn’t produce a huge difference in the flavor of the beer. The biggest factor in being off of the target beer lies in the choice of yeast.

Another way of assessing your clone before brewing is to formulate a few different clones, making different guesses as you compile them. For example, what if Summit really uses crystal 90°L instead of crystal 75°L? In that case, we’d need only about 1 pound (0.45 kg) of crystal (and slightly less pale malt than before) to hit the same color and gravity. Sometimes explicitly drawing out the differences will help you make your choices.

Finally, maybe the brewer would give you some feedback once you’ve compiled your clone.

In a worst-case scenario, one in which you’ve had to guess at many factors, you should still end up with a beer that is of the correct style even if it does taste distinctly different from your clone target. If your information was very complete, the success of your clone will rest mostly on your brewing skill and how closely the recipe’s assumptions match the parameters of your system.

Just Brew It

Of course, you can only really judge the success of your clone by brewing it. If you do brew the clone, taste it alone first and judge it against your memories of the target beer. Next, conduct a side-by-side tasting with the target beer. If the clone is significantly flawed, you will notice that the beer doesn’t taste right even before the head-to-head comparison. If the clone is fairly good, you’ll likely be pleased with the initial tasting. However, in the side-by-side tasting, you will pick up some differences. In the best-case scenario, your cloned beer will taste very similar to the target beer, even when directly compared to it.

Using your tasting comparison, you should be able to tweak the recipe to match the details of your system and move it from a “generic” clone to a “system-specific” clone for your brewery.

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Excerpt from Big Book of Homebrewing, by Brew Your Own, published by Voyageur Press. Copyright © 2017 by Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc. All rights reserved.





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