Brewing SolutionsBeer Cloning – What is it? How to Hone Your Cloning Abilities?

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Trying to replicate a commercial beer is a great way to fine-tune your brewing skills.

Are you wondering why so many amateur brewers try to replicate their favourite commercial beers? Why on earth would you want to spend so many hours on something that you can quickly pick up at the store? After all, if you like to drink Kingfisher, Carlsberg or Budweiser then why not just pick it up at a store near you? Why not try to be creative and create new beers?

Well – there are several very good reasons why upcoming brewers try to replicate a commercial beer. Here are some of the top reasons:

  1. Cloning helps you to enhance and develop your sensory skills
  2. Cloning gives you a chance to learn the reasons why a brew is successful
  3. Cloning helps you add your unique twist to beers that are commercially successful in your area

With that said, let’s make something clear: it’s really impossible to clone a commercial beer perfectly, even if you have the recipe right under your nose. There are plenty of variables at play – differences in equipment style, timing, process, water composition and more. While it’s possible to replicate the flavours of the commercial beer, producing a carbon copy is not possible.

However, remember that the goal of cloning is not to copy the original but to practice and improve your technique. It’s similar to learning to paint, by copying from the masters. You use similar to brush strokes and colour palettes, but the output is vastly different.

If you have never tried beer cloning before, here are a few tips to help you hone your cloning skills.

Start with a Style that You Know

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While choosing a commercial beer for cloning, start with a beer that has a known recipe or at least, partially available recipe. Don’t shoot around in the dark. Very often, most commercial beers come with the ingredient list printed on the bottle cover or can. However, timing, temperatures and quantities of ingredients used are likely to be missing.

Even if you don’t know the exact timings, quantities and other specifications, you can drop in an email to your favourite commercial brewery to get some helpful hints.

Rely on Your Senses

While cloning a beer, make sure that you have the original beer at hand. This gives you a chance to attempt side-by-side comparisons with the real brew. You can then alter your recipe accordingly to replicate the original faithfully.

Use a BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) score sheet to write down your thoughts and impressions, as you try out the sample.

Note the following factors:

  • Appearance – What’s the difference in colour between your brew and the hue of the original? What about clarity? Is it similar or does your brew appear cloudy? If your beer is lighter compared to the original, you may have to add colour malts or crystal malts.
  • Aroma – What about the smell? Look for contributions from alcohols, phenols, esters, hops, and If you are trying to clone an IPA, then does the aroma of the hops match that of the original? What about the nose aroma? Is it similar?
  • Flavour – What flavour tones do you pick up in your brew? If you are trying to clone a lager, then your sample should have the same clean hops and malt flavour of the original, or does it have some esters? Is the malt profile similar? What about dry malt sweet malt?
  • Mouthfeel – How do the two brews feel on your tongue? If you find that one is creamy while the other spritz, then it means that there are variations in carbonation and malt proteins. Do both the brews have the same viscosity, or does one feel heavier than the other?

Use the results of the sensory analysis to decide how to change your recipe to replicate the original more closely. Remember, while jotting notes do so in a language that you understand.

Experiment and Keep Try, Trying

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You would have heard the saying, “practice makes perfect.” Use the results you deciphered in the previous step to make further alterations to your recipe. For instance, if you can replicate the flavour and aroma but miss out on the colour, then it means you can add a small amount of roasted barley to the brew to darken the colour, without altering the flavour.

On the other hand, if you require both sweetness and colour, then adding malt sweetness using a small number of crystal malts will give both flavour and colour.

If your brew has a less hoppy aroma, then research about the hops you have used and considered making a change in the variety of the hops.

Finally,

Getting into the beer cloning game is a great way to hone your brewing skills. Additionally, it helps you learn more about the science of brewing – how to change a variable to create unique and desirable qualities.

Finally, remember that while cloning a beer, your aim is to make a similar beer and not an identical twin. Even, if you land, a great sibling, it’s more than good. Who knows, with practice you may even end up improving a classic like never before.

Have you ever cloned a beer? Which one did you try? If you were to clone, which beer you would like to try? Let us know in the comments below.

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