So you went to this awesome brewery and tried a beer with some hop-monk-ale type of name and you want to have it again and again, but the brewery happens to be thousands of miles away from home and you can’t buy the beer at your local stores… what a shame.
Well, don’t lose hope just yet…
I’m one positive thinking man, but I won’t tell you this will be an easy does it task. However, with a little bit of practice and the following knowledge you’ll turn into the next superhero. Not superbrewer or brewman… but the beer-cloning-ninja… or at least a legend in your own mind.
So, it really boils down to understanding why beer tastes like beer so you can better your skill at making beer taste how you want it to by twist-arm manipulation tactics of the key ingredients.
Take Yeast for example… influence the character of your beer with different types of yeasts. You can go to the wyeastlab.com website and snoop around for the different kinds of yeasts they have available. Take a clean lager yeast and some fancy German weizen yeast and compare the different strains.
I’m not one with great memory and although I love pronouncing names like Kolsch, and Berliner Weisse, I can’t remember what’s in this stuff. That’s why I like this website since they do a pretty good job at telling you what kind of characteristics the yeast provides and even beer geek stuff like Flocculation and fermenting temperature.
Next, the body. This is very important regardless of whether we are talking about Jessica Biel or your beer. Malts are the go-to ingredients to change depending on your preference of a nice light dry (usually sweet) or a dark malt for Belgians and Stouts. This one I became familiar by talking to the brewmasters at the different breweries I’ve visited. They usually stick to certain malts and if you are not an annoying drunk, you can get the guys to spill the beans on what kind of malt they used for the beers and you’ll be able to identify it’s taste the next time you come across the same type of malt.
The easiest part of cloning beers is figuring out what kind of hops they used for finishing/aroma hops. Just tell your wife you’ll be out cruising the streets and then accidentally stumble across the local home brew store to take a quick smell of the various hops. Whatever your favorite beer smells like, you’ll be smelling in the different hops. My favorite for example has centennial hops in it and I recognized it right away. I’m sure you will too…
The hard part as far as hops, is figuring out what kind of hops were used for bittering hops. Usually as a rule of thumb, hops with higher AAUs (Alpha Acid Units) are used for bittering while lower AAUs are used for flavor and aroma.
Alcohol and carbonation are easily manipulated with the amount of priming sugar and malt you use to ferment, and believe me it makes a difference when you drink flat beer VS well carbonated beer even if the flavor is the same. Reason why most home brewers like their own beer is because of the feel of the beer compared to commercial beer. Don’t overdo the alcohol (I know you want to) and give it good carbonation to make your beer smooth as jazz… or however you like it. Irish pales for example are usually flat (use little priming sugar) while Weizens have lots of priming sugar and are fizzy.
The last two things that can change the beer (not in a big way, but sweet fancy Moses does it matter to many including myself) is water and the clarity. So you can’t go get water from the rocky mountains (like they do anyways)… or the Fiji islands. Well as long as your water is soft to begin with, you should be pretty much fine. I have a water softener at home and use reverse osmosis for my drinking water. For some beers, I need to harden up the water a tad, which is easily done by adding brew saltz.
I will feel safe enough to say that unless you are doing all grain brewing then water won’t make much difference so long as it’s drinkable.
Clarity, is usually given by adding finings to the beer. This is usually done towards the end of the boil using stuff like Irish Moss (seaweed). Depending on how much you use, it can make your beer crystal clear.
Hopefully that helps you figure out how to tweak the ingredients to start cloning your beers.
The short of it is, you’ll have to go drink lots of beers (cry me a river) to start familiarizing yourself with the different flavors of malts, aromas of hops and then use grains to give the beer the color you want.