The Clone Beer category in the BJCP Guidelines is misunderstood. It’s not meant to be for that time you brewed a perfect replica of Firestone Walker Union Jack: beers that already fit in a style should be entered in that style, so your stellar FWUJ belongs in American IPA.
It’s also not meant to be evaluated on how perfect a copy of the target beer it is: that would be impractical, because it would require you to submit a bottle of said beer for the judges to evaluate at the same time.
Instead, the Clone Beer category is to provide a landing pad for those looking to emulate the key attribute, style, and/or impression of a beer that doesn’t really fit anywhere else in the guidelines. This week’s post will take a quick walk through how to produce one obvious example of this style (a certain pale Belgian ale from Florenville) as an example of how to approach clone beers more generally.
In thinking about the clone you’re trying to make, identify a short list (2-3 items, and possibly only one) of the defining attributes of that beer that you would consider “style characteristics.” This could include flavor components, obviously, but don’t limit yourself to those: think of ABV (is it generally strong or weak or neither?), color, carbonation level, etc.
In the case of our not-quite-Belgian-Pale-Ale, it’s typically gold-ish in color, has a tall white head, and exhibits a trademark fermentation character of dried fruits and horse blanket. Those become our key attributes, because without them you don’t have anything like a faithful clone. With them, though, you have something that’s comparable even if it isn’t an identical copy (which, again, isn’t the goal here).
Recipe construction in a clone recipe is more challenging than in a “straight” recipe or style, because you’re largely on your own in terms of what will get you to the key style elements you’ve developed. You can trust some recipes you’ll find (I think this is a good one, for example), but in other cases (with less-famous beers that don’t rhyme with Door-ball) you’ll be flying blind.
Trust your experience, or try to find a beer/style that’s close to it and build from it.
We want a reasonable amount of alcohol here but not a ton of color, so start with 10 pounds (4.5kg) of Pilsner malt. To that, add one pound (0.45kg) of Munich (10L) and half a pound (0.23kg) of Caramunich. Now is where I tend to think we want to think “clone style” – if this was a German lager I’d approach it one way, but knowing it’s a Belgian Trappist I come at it from another and add just a small addition (0.5 lbs/0.23kg) of cane sugar or Belgian candi syrup.
That should get you to about 6.5 percent ABV with some nice grain and biscuit flavors, a bit of Melanoidin/toast, and a light body. That’s on the high side for this beer, but the peppery, perfume-y alcohols complement the fermentation character nicely.
Hopping doesn’t need to be complicated here. 25 IBUs from any hops at the start of the boil, then an even blend of Saaz and Styrian Goldings added at 10 minutes and flame out, one ounce (28g) at each addition. This isn’t a “hops-defined” style, so something generally-Bohemian and herbal should be great.
Like many Belgians, and this one in particular, your yeast/bug selection is vital. If you want that “cloned” quality, you’ll want to use Wyeast Trappist Style Blend (3789-PC), for a peppery nose and that barnyard character.
Your clone recipe should reflect those “essentials” you identified early on. Don’t obsess over getting an exact recipe from the brewer (though it can help), but do try to select your ingredients to create the original beer’s flavors. That’s more important than getting the “inside” info on a beer’s recipe. Does it really matter if they use Tettnang or Hallertau?
Your clone might require some kind of special process, but don’t assume it needs to be brewed just the way the originating brewery makes it. Great beer usually comes from a great process, so stick to your guns. Don’t go reimagining your entire brew day for the sake of “authenticity” – make changes if they’ll make the beer better, but not otherwise. I mash and boil this just the same as any other beer I make, though it does need some simple sugars added.
Be sure to remove from heat before adding the simple sugar, then stir until dissolved. I usually add them during sparging so that my hops arithmetic is accurate (adding them post-boil will increase utilization and can make the beer too bitter).
Pitch your yeast blend and ferment at 68F (20C) for two weeks, then free rise (or move to a warm spot, if you’re brewing this when it’s cold) and leave it be for another two weeks. Cold crash, carbonate to 2.5 volumes, and enjoy!
One quick process note: if using a wild culture or very expressive yeast like Brett, I typically pull out my glass carboy and my marked “sour” plastics/tubing to prevent cross-contamination in the brewery. It’s probably overkill, but 11 years and approaching 500 batches later, I’ve still never had a batch blown by contamination.
Get into the cloning game, especially for beers that exhibit unique and desirable qualities. Replicating a beer is a different skill set (though it does overlap), but don’t worry too much about making an identical twin – making a great sibling is more than good enough, and who knows, you might even improve upon a classic!