I thought I would write a little blog detailing the process I go through in cloning beers including tips and how this aids in creating my own recipes and understanding ingredients and balance.
This is how I personally approach it and is not the only way or possibly even the best way, but it works for me :)
A large number of homebrewers seek out recipes on websites from Australia, Europe and the USA.
With large communites, there is a huge amount of recipes available as well as forum threads discussing the more popular ones. One thing I notice is that many home brewers will choose a recipe, print it out and bring it in to a homebrew shop to gather the ingredients without any further research or analysis. More often than not, the ingredients are not available in New Zealand, the recipe is rounded to ounces or pounds (Pet hate here... do homebrew shop staff a favor and convert to metric!) and lacks information. They are unable to say who wrote the recipe and may have selected it as it had a cool name and was given a 5 star rating on Beersmith by the person who created it. Personally, if I am going to throw $50 and a heap of time into making a beer, I want to be sure of the recipe and source.
Choose reliable sources such as brewing magazines, books by well known authors such as Jamil or do some research to confirm the recipe is a good one.
Here is how I typically go about creating a clone (or confirming a clone recipe from an unconfirmed source):
- Go to the brewery's website. Most craft breweries are pretty open about their beers and will often list all the ingredients, gravities, BU and ABV. Some will even have the clone recipe listed on their website! (Gigantic release all their recipes for homebrewers).
- Search for the beer on Rate Beer. Rate Beer is still big overseas and is like Untappd but more for reviews. Most popular beers will have details such as ABV, BU and possibly ingredients listed. You can also read reviews which give peoples perceptions of flavors which can aid in identifying ingredients.
- Drink the beer. Sounds like a no brainer, but the more of the beer you drink, the easier it will be to refine the recipe and balance. Drinking is research, unless it's just to get wasted.
- Drink similar beers that you may have a confirmed recipe for. Two reasons to drink, no need to thank me now, just share one of your clones with me. There are plenty of confirmed recipes out there for popular beers that are a good base to use for working out the ingredients and balance for the beer you may be wishing to clone.
- Know your ingredients. This is a biggy. The number of times I'm asked for “Crystal” is insane. Crystal is basically a range of malt that is kilned and caramalized. Those little L, SRM and EBC numbers next to that ingredient will give you some idea to the level of crystal but will not necessarily give you the flavor profile. Go to your local homebrew shop, ask nicely (or bring them a beer) and they may let you taste and smell all the grains. The flavors and aromas will be similar in the final beer and you will very quickly realize that some are a lot more potent than others which would suggest using less of them in comparison to keep the balance. Learn the substitutes and look at what is actually available in NZ – Your homebrew shop can help but it's to your benefit to learn what is available and best to substitute.
The best way to know hops is to either brew single hopped beers or seek out commercial single hopped beers and drink them (Thats three reasons to go get a beer incase you are counting). Identify the flavor profiles, read up on them and understand them. If you are part of a homebrew group, it is a good idea to all brew the same base beer but with a different hop and then do a case swap for a side by side tasting.
- View recipes by balance / grain %. Looking at the qty of each ingredient by weight is not so helpful when learning balance in recipes. Look at the balance of ingredients by % of each ingredient. Many IPA's and Pale Ales are very simple: 90% Base, 10% specialty (or similar). If you know the ingredients from researching the beer, then it will be pretty quick and easy to put a rough recipe together that will be balanced and a good base to start from. It is also easier to spot possible issues with the recipe; maybe 60% specialties is not the best idea... Hops are a little different. I prefer to do hops by grams per Litre. This is a much better reference and balancing point than the typical 28g / 1oz additions that seem to be on every USA recipe. The recipe should not be based around the package size of your ingredients (although large commercial batches will be rounded for ease).
- Use brewing software. There are a few different options available and I use Beersmith. Brewing software may seem overwhelming at first, but it is actually pretty simple once you have set up your own equipment profile. After narrowing down the ingredients, balance and ABV etc you can easily input into brewing software and adjust until the numbers match the beer you are aiming for. This is one of the best tools for creating your own recipes and also keeping them on file.
- Take notes and keep a record your brews. How can you fine tune your recipe if you cant remember what you did?
- Trust your home brew shops advice. They live and breathe beer. Everyday they read and prepare dozens of recipes and clones, many they know off the top of their head. Many of them are also commercial brewers. If they question or offer advice on a random recipe you found in the depths of an internet forum – take that advice, or at least note it down.
- Drink plenty of beers. Seriously, the more beers you try, the more you will learn and identify. Keep tasting notes and think about what you are drinking. Practice makes perfect, right?
Once you become confident in base recipes, cloning and your ingredients, a whole world of possibilities and confidence will present itself, and designing your own concoctions will be easy and fun.
Once again, this is just one way to approach this and everyone has their own style. You may disagree with some of my methods but I don't care, because I'm ignoring you and drinking this beer, which is an awesome result of the above.
For our most popular clone recipe kits check out here