Have you ever had a commercial beer that you really enjoyed and wondered, ‘how did they make that?’ Or have a beer you’re desperate to try that isn’t readily available? Or want to get a friend into brewing by helping them make a beer just like one of their favourites?
There might be many reasons you want to try and recreate a beer that already exists and brewing a clone beer can be a really enjoyable process, especially for a perfectionist as there is something quite satisfying in making those small tweaks to a recipe that make it perfect.
So where do you start when it comes to recreating a commercial beer?
Well step one would be picking your beer. You can recreate any beer really but it’s worth being aware that traditional mixed fermentation beers will require a little bit more planning fermentation side and can take a long time before they are drinkable. Something like a lager too will require the ability to cold ferment and can take months of preparation. None of this should put you off if these are the beers you want to make but it’s definitely worth considering.
Step two would be doing your research. You’ve picked your beer and now it’s time to learn as much about it as you can. If you are able to it does make it easier if you can drink the beer you want to recreate. Whilst it’s possible to try and make a beer without having tasted it you won’t know how close you got so really you could be making any beer. Online research has made cloning beers a whole lot easier – google your beers name and add ‘clone recipe’ and there’s a good chance you will find several forums and blogs that have people’s interpretations and attempts at clones which will give you a good place to start. For me, I like to look at as many recipes as possible and pick out the commonalities. What are the recurring ingredients? If you find the same ingredient across most recipes then there is a good chance that ingredient will give you some of the character of the beer you are trying to recreate.
After your research you should have some know some key aspects of your beer such as ABV, an approximate colour (even if it’s just ‘dark’ or ‘pale’), an approximate bitterness level, some key flavour descriptors (is it malty? Hoppy? Are there distinct malt or hop characters that stand out such as; toffee, chocolate, caramel, toast, grain, orange, grapefruit, earthy etc.) and a rough idea of some ingredients you can use to achieve these aspects.
The next stage then is to start using some brewing software such as our free online recipe creator to put a recipe together. A good tip here is to start with your base malt and try to get close to your target ABV so if your beer is 6% maybe start with 6 kilos of base malt. You can then swap out small percentages of the base malt for your specialty malts.
Once your grainbill is in place and you look close in terms of colour and potential gravity you can start thinking about hop additions. Aim to get your bitterness right but be aware that many hop forward beers will rely on large late boil additions for bitterness as well as aroma and flavour. The timing of your hop additions will have an important effect on your final beer. In general, the closer to the start of the boil you add your hops, the more bitterness you will impart and the closer to the end of the boil you add your hops the more aroma and flavour you will preserve. You can also dry hop for increased aroma and flavour so make sure you consider what the hops are adding to your chosen commercial beer and how you can achieve the same effect.
Many breweries will use a proprietary yeast strain that has been cultured for several generations but with all the yeast strains available to homebrewers now, you should be able to find something that works. What is the yeast adding to your commercial beer? Is there a lot of yeast driven character or is the yeast more neutral? How well attenuated is the beer? Think about what temperature you will ferment at to get the effect you want from your yeast.
After you’ve built your recipe and you’re happy with your parameters, it’s time to brew. Remember, cloning a beer requires a little bit of trial and error so make sure you take detailed notes of everything you did. This will make it easier to see what needs adjusting next time around and ultimately help you make better beer. Taste your beer compared to the commercial example if you can. Where is yours better? Where is it lacking? How could you improve next time? These are all questions that will help you brew better in general.