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Many homebrewers enjoy the thrill of developing recipes and the feeling of creating something brand new. But there's actually a huge benefit to doing exactly the opposite. Creating an exact copy of a commercial beer is a fun and extremely rewarding way to test your skills as a brewer.
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Why I Clone

In addition to all the other reasons homebrewing is a fulfilling hobby, these are some of the reasons I especially enjoy cloning commercial beers:
  • It's a challenge: Cloning commercial beers is an inherently difficult thing to do, but as with many homebrewers, I feel inspired by the challenge. There are so many variations in ingredients and procedures involved in brewing that making an exact duplicate of a beer is not an easy thing to do. A half-ounce of hops or a few degrees difference in fermentation temperature can make all the difference between a clone and "pretty close."
  • Brew a tried and true recipe: Many pro brewers are happy to share scaled down versions of their recipes and it's fairly easy to find them in books, brewing magazines, and online. When brewing a clone recipe from a commercial brewer, you know that the recipe is a good one. It's up to you to brew it to the best of your abilities.
  • Develop an understanding of how ingredients work together: By studying commercial beers, you can begin to develop an inherent knowledge of how different ingredients come together to create flavors in beer,. Whether you're working from a pro brewer's recipe or doing the research and trial and error to develop your own, cloning will take you one step closer to mastering the wide range of homebrewing ingredients.
  • Break convention: One of the great things about cloning is discovering when and how you might break the rules. A good example of this is with Uinta's Dubhe Imperial Black IPA. It uses six-row malt, loads of specialty malt, toasted hemp seeds, and a 21-day dry hop. You probably won't see any of these is a book of beginning homebrew recipes, but knowing that they can create an absolutely bodacious beer helps open your mind to the world of possibility.
  • A clear metric for success: When cloning a commercial beer, you have an easy way to test your skills in brewing and recipe development. All it takes is a side-by-side taste test with the beer being cloned. The clone may not always be a perfect match, but chances are you'll still end up with a pretty good beer.
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How to Clone Your Favorite Beer
Do you have a favorite beer you'd like to clone? Consider some of these tips as you work towards making it your own.
  • Taste the Beer: First you have to know what you're working towards, and to do this, you need one of your strongest tools as a brewer your palate! Get yourself a couple bottles of your favorite beer and dissect it. Evaluate everything: color, flavor, aroma, appearance, mouthfeel. What are the dominant flavor characteristics? How about some of the more subtle notes? How would you describe the interplay between malt, hops, and yeast? Leave no stone unturned, and consider enlisting a friend to help with the tasting.
  • Research: Search online for recipes for the beer you're trying to clone. You may come across someone who has had success before. Review the brewery's website to get all the information you can about the beer, including ingredients, specs, and processes.
  • Build a Recipe: Use your favorite brewing software to develop a recipe for the beer, matching the stats with the commercial brew. You might look at recipes for similar beers to fill in some gaps. Do your best to match each of the ingredients you'll be using to the characteristics of the beer you're cloning.
  • Contact the Brewer: If you get stuck, try contacting the brewer for tips. Most of them started out as homebrewers, so they might be willing to help you out. Try contacting them through Twitter or LinkedIn. They may even be willing to review your recipe and offer some suggestions.
  • Take Notes: on brew day When you're ready to brew the beer, be sure to take meticulous notes. Record volumes, times, temperatures everything you can think of. If you ever want to brew the beer again, these notes will be invaluable for replicating the beer or correcting your mistakes.
  • Brew it Again: Your first attempt at the clone may not be a perfect match. To really test your skills as a brewer, brew the beer again, building on your strengths and doing your best to improve the aspects of the beer that aren't quite right. It may take several attempts to get it just right, but when you do, you'll know you have a winner!
Clone Beer Recipes
Some of my all-time favorite homebrews have been clones. Here are a few recipes for you to try:
Are you fan of cloning commercial brews? What recipes do you have to share with the HomebrewTalk community?
***
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation homebrewer and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better beer for over 25 years and writes and edits for the E. C. Kraus Beer Brewing & Wine Making Blog.

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kanzimonson

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I like cloning beers a lot. At first I had some reluctance because I felt like I had lost all my creativity, but then you end up with this awesome beer and you get the same pride in creating something delicious.
I've done most of the Lagunitas clones - Brown Shugga is one of my favorite beers so it's nice to be able to put that on tap any time!
 

WSB-MBC

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+10 for that link to the Yuengling recipe.
I've tried one once before with a completely different bill and it wasn't very close IMO.
Thanks again
 

masaba

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I had a couple of bottles of Dubhe a few months ago when I was in Salt Lake City. I thought it was an awesome beer, and I am now tempted to try out your clone recipe. Thanks for posting this!
 

BeardedIdiot

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The best clone I've made was Left Hand Brewing's Milk Stout. There's a thread in the recipe forum about it that's quite extensive, with several variations that are worth trying as well (specifically the vanilla bean and cacao nibs additions).
This clone has been, by far, the most popular beer I've made, even among people who profess not to like stouts. Its also the only recipe I've made more than 3 times so far.
 

ECKraus

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@kanzimonson, glad to see you like cloning, too. It certainly has its own rewards!
 

beernutz

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Great article! About every other beer I brew is a clone and I get a charge when I hit a recipe so spot on that you can't distinguish it from the original,
 

Malty_Dog

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Enjoyed the article a lot, and I always love some great recipes. Being a PA native it's great to see a nod to Yuengling!
 

jimdkc

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Another reason to clone: The manufacturer may change or discontinue one of your favorite beers!
My most successful clone was my version of Boulevard Irish Ale in 2006. Boulevard had posted the grains and hops used (but no proportions or schedules!) as well as gravity and alcohol info on their website. This made my cloning job pretty easy. I developed the grain bill largely by changing the proportions in my brewing software and trying to get the color close. And, I really lucked out on the hop schedule and hit it pretty close on my first try!
Not long after I came up with my recipe... Boulevard changed their recipe pretty drastically! Their new recipe is good... but, I can still make "Original Recipe" Boulevard Irish Ale!
I recently posted my clone recipe (scaled down to a 1-gallon batch) in the "1-Gallon Brewers UNITE!" thread. Have a look:
https://www.homebrewtalk.com/f39/1-gallon-brewers-unite-311884/index530.html#post6746301
Stone has recently announced several beers that they are discontinuing this year, including their Pale Ale (for which they actually posted a recipe!), Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA, and (one of my favorites) Ruination IPA. Pretty good bet that I will attempt a Ruination clone... and maybe a SSR clone, too!
 

ECKraus

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@jimdkc, right on! Another excellent reason to clone. Thanks for your insight, and the recipe!
 

gbx

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Firstly, I'm a fan of cloning beers. People who think they are inventing recipes are fooling themselves. They have been brewing for 5000 years, if it was a good idea, its been done by now and probably is an established style. If it isn't, it probably sucks. seriously. it does. nobody really wants to drink your durian ipa.
Secondly, the fullers' porter recipe is dead wrong. There is brown malt in there http://www.fullers.co.uk/beer/explore-our-beers/london-porter
 

Sailingeric

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I have done one clone, Pyramid's Lord Alesworth, a limited run and $8 per 22oz beer. They listed between the bottle and their website, the IBU, malts, hops, SRM and gravities. I took the ingredients and put them in Brewers Friend until I got close to the ABV, SRM, and IBU. I would say my beer came out 95% of the original and I very happy with that. I got about $200 worth beer for about $30 and a few hours of my time.
 
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