To Clone or Not to Clone

Discussion in 'General Brewing Discussions' started by Hammer1, Jan 24, 2013.

  1. Hammer1

    Hammer1 Member

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    Well I know where I stand on this question. Why brew a beer that I can buy. But I would like to see where everyone else stands. There are alot of commercial examples that I like and have done my best to "one up them" but I feel that brewerys are making beer for profit and thats where homebrewers have the advantage. Every time that I clone a beer I do a side by side taste test and the commercial example just seems to be a watered down version of my brew. Yes I am partial to my stuff so I have done blind comparisons with friends and most of the time they like the homebrew better. Commercial beers are a great way to try all kinds of examples but for me I know that I can do better.
     
  2. LarryBrewer

    LarryBrewer Active Member

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    I'd rather brew it so I know exactly what is in it. Brewing a perfect clone is quite a challenge though.

    Agreed that the commercial brewers 'water down' their beer some, that is because they are watching the bottom line.
     
  3. JAMC

    JAMC Member

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    It's a difficult question. The first distinction I think you'd need to make is whether or not the "commercial" brews are actually worth cloning. When it comes to purveyors of mass-produced flavourless lager then the answer is definitely no. However, not all commercial brewers operate on the same relentless bottom-line obsessed basis. At the other end of the extreme you have, for example, Trappist monks - "commercial" brewers in the literal sense, but brewing to a completely different standard and also for completely different non-commercial reasons.

    I think most homebrewers, no matter how inexperienced and slapdash, would struggle to make something as bad as the dominant lagers offered by most of the large breweries. And it begs the question - why would you want to? If you're working on a 5 gallon system and drinking the bulk of your own output, you're going to develop a taste for anything you make which is even remotely half decent and flavourful. I certainly have. I prefer the recipes I've devised myself to most commercial offerings.

    Of course, in a lot of cases I've been inspired by existing commercial brews - and there's nothing wrong with that. Every cottage industry needs common reference points that everyone can relate to. The common point of reference for dry stout is likely to be Guinness - for proper lager it's things like Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen. We take these concepts and run with them. Clone recipes are very useful - I just don't treat them with reverence.
     
  4. LarryBrewer

    LarryBrewer Active Member

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    Well said Sir. It's about the inspiration, and dialing in what you like, vs straight copying.

    I've noticed that some recipes change over time - take Deschutes Red Chair - it is a little different every year.
     
  5. Conservidave

    Conservidave New Member

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    I think if anything, i would like to try and clone a few micro and/or craft brews for sure. Many of them have perfected the art of brewing with many differing varities of different styles. The other big commercial brews sell "taste" but are more likely to have both eyes on pure volume and the bottom line.
     
  6. Nosybear

    Nosybear Well-Known Member

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    I can see a benefit of cloning as an exercise: Can I taste a commercial beer and reproduce it. It's more of a challenge of how to put ingredients together to get a desired result, in this case, a reasonable reproduction of a commercial beer. I did it myself not long ago with a brew from St. Arnold in Galveston, which brings us to the second reason I can think of to clone, obtaining a beer that is not available in your area. St. Arnold is not sold in the Denver area but I liked their "Weedwhacker," so the challenge became first to make it and second, to improve it. Doing a "clone" just to have an available beer seems to me, outside of challenging yourself to compound a beer to attain a goal, a bit ridiculous. I can't out "Fat Tire" New Belgium Brewery. But if I can brew to their style and then figure out a way to improve it, I've done something I consider worthwhile as a brewer.
     
  7. Head First

    Head First Well-Known Member

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    To clone or not is the question? Home brewing is a hobby(or obsession) period. We don't do it because we can make cheaper beer, we don't do it for profit. We brew for enjoyment. To try and clone a commercial beer is a huge challenge for the most experienced home brewer. Just to make 2 batches that taste EXACTLY the same requires a very strict brew day regiment. I prefer to enjoy each beer as it is. If they were all exactly as we wanted them to come out it would be a boring hobby. And that is what it is , a hobby(or obsession). Cloning is just another facet of the hobby. I don't bother cloning because it would take too many batches and time to try and make exact replications. Lots of commercial specialty ales vary year to year(all hops and grains vary). I am glad my beers do too. "Variety is the spice of life, that's what the judge is going to tell my wife." In other words no I don't clone. I do enjoy the hobby and use commercial beers as patterns for styles and tastes that are shadowed, not copied.
     
  8. Hammer1

    Hammer1 Member

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    Gerat comments everybody! Bottom line clone or no clone either is a great reason to brew. I get praise from non brewers all the time wishing that they could do what I do. So in our never ending quest for the perfect pint. I raise my glass to you my fellow brewers.
     
  9. Kaiser

    Kaiser Member

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    B/c you can. It's more a challenge thing, though. I actually think that Budweiser Premium (not the light stuff) is a pretty good beer in its class. Unlike its light counterpart it is well balanced and if you can brew a beer like that you can pretty much brew any lager.

    It's like rock climbing. Why take the easy way up the mountain if there is a harder one :)

    Kai
     
  10. sbaclimber

    sbaclimber Well-Known Member

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    I like that comparison! :D

    Two completely different beers brewed by two (in the case of Anheuser-Busch...*many*) completely different breweries using completely different ingredients.
    It's no secret that Anheuser-Busch is (or at least, *was*) the biggest buyer of rice in the US. ;)
     
  11. Nosybear

    Nosybear Well-Known Member

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    I like that comparison! :D

    It all depends on the goal, n'est pas? If the goal is to improve your climbing skills (the process), taking the harder route is likely the best way to go but if your goal is to ski the mountain (enjoying the result), you might want to take the lift instead. Or, if the hard way is necessary, to take exactly that route until you become so good at it you can do it in your sleep (a controlled process). In most of the beers I taste, including my own, if there's an error or an off-flavor, it's generally a process error rather than an error in the recipe. Even my worst recipe error - attempting to make an Oktoberfest using California Common yeast - was drinkable while the simplest process error - failing to pasteurize strawberries before adding them to hefeweizen in secondary - resulted in an epic gusher, firing the entire beer out of the bottle on opening. Which makes cloning a valuable exercise once a brewer has a consistent, repeatable process.
     
  12. JAMC

    JAMC Member

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    OK, I take your point about the exercise being a challenge. It's not a challenge I'm personally very interested in though - I don't enter competitions or love one particular commercial beer enough to want to nail a clone recipe to the point of indistinguishability. If I'm lucky I'll get to brew maybe once a month, so with each batch I'm more interested in experimenting with new ideas I've had and/or producing something I'll enjoy drinking with friends. With each batch I learn a bit more (only started home brewing last year...), so maybe one day the challenge will look a bit more appealing.
     
  13. chessking

    chessking New Member

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    I'm sure it will. I don't necessarily brew to clone, but I try to nail down a style and perfect my recipe for that style. The commercial beers give me a comparison. For instance Newcastle is a fine example of a Northern English Brown. When you drink mine and think, "Hey, that tastes like Newcastle", I know I got it right. I'm not "Cloning" Newcastle, I'm brewing a fine Northern English Brown Ale. I went through a lot of drinkable brown beer to get there, and I drank up the fore runners to the perfected recipe ( nice problem to have), Then, its on to the next style. My recipe books are in binders organized by year, and are quite thick. (Sorry Brewers Friend, but I'm old school and still write things down).

    Different brewers take different paths. You for instance have electric brewing experience already, while after 20 years of brewing I am currently building my first electric system. Take the obstacles as they come and always make better beer.
     
  14. Nosybear

    Nosybear Well-Known Member

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    Amen.
     
  15. JAMC

    JAMC Member

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    I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to brew over the next few months at the moment, and I'm thinking of attempting a Southern English Brown. I'll basically take the same path - brew it, see how it turns out, think about what could be improved and then refine the recipe accordingly. On one level you could say this is simple trial and error - but I think (with 20 years experience you would know more than me...) once you become familiar with the characteristics of the individual ingredients you can be a bit more scientific about it - observe (I like this brown ale I've made, but there's something missing), hypothesise (I think it needs more crystal malt) and experiment (I make the next batch with more crystal and then compare the two side by side to see if I was right).

    I must admit Newcastle Brown is one of the few beers I really can't drink - I don't have any objection to it's taste, but it always gives me a massive headache. I wonder if it's something to do with the fact that it's a blended beer?

    I like the challenge with the Southern Brown of trying to get a really flavourful beer of low strength. Also, being from the South of England this is very much my "local" style. I'm going to try and apply some of the tricks I've learned from other styles - stouts, belgian dubbels etc - to my Southern Brown recipe and see how it turns out...
     
  16. Altbier bitte

    Altbier bitte New Member

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    I may be inspired by good beers and I like to find out how they're brewed, and what with, but I'm not interested in 'cloning' anything. I'm not interested in kits either - I did one, my first brew, which was also my only pre-extracted wort brew. It turned out pretty well, but I'd rather devise my own recipes and mash my own grain.
     
  17. LarryBrewer

    LarryBrewer Active Member

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    Yeah, designing and brewing recipes is so much fun. Great way to learn. I have found that moderation is the key - a truly balanced beer is hard to come by.

    I often re-brew previous successes, but almost always with small variation or fine tuning. I figure I have the rest of my life to dial in the 6 perfect beers I want to have on hand at all times.

    I've recently started to work with home grown hops which is a new frontier. It is too bad that Amarillo and Simcoe can't be grown at home due to their restricted ownership. That means I'm working with less trendy varieties like Chinook, Nugget, Kent Goldings, Fuggle, Zeus, Hallertau and Cascade - all respectable, but Simcoe and Amarillo make some amazing IPAs. If I can squeeze in a Crystal rhizome this spring I will.

    I have an all Nugget pale ale coming up, to use up some of the Nugget that grows at home. I have way too much of it and would like to use it all up. I forced myself to dial the Nugget Pale Ale recipe back to only 2.7 oz, and that still might be too much. We'll find out.
     
  18. MrBIP

    MrBIP Active Member

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    I'm only four brews into this, but see it can be much like cooking (I've been cooking things for years, not just kick-ass chili, stews and what-not, the "fancy" stuff) ... generally, eat (or drink) something you like, estimate what is in there, search out recipes (clones) online, combine the whole experience and cook (or brew) something up.

    Can't see the point in a tireless effort to try to re-create exactly (I've tried it in cooking with repeated falure), but taking inspiration, doing some research and coming up with something as good, yet different ..... I don't ever see that I'd grab a clone recipe and just brew it per instructions ... it's hard to imagine even brewing my own thing exactly the same way twice.

    Presently: I've had some Bell's Hopslam (finally!) this month... wow! I need to brew something like that. Definitely citra and amarillo in there, and they tell you on the label it's brewed with honey .. so we'll see, gonna dwell on that a while.
     
  19. Nosybear

    Nosybear Well-Known Member

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    +1 for inspiration.... I, too, have done exactly one kit and prefer researching and devising recipes. But to each their own, there's room for lots of styles and processes in this craft called brewing.
     
  20. ianw58@gmail.com

    ianw58@gmail.com New Member

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    Interesting thread and some great responses.

    I brew for three reasons:

    1 I love the process of brewing. The whole experience of creating a recipe, brewing it, watching it ferment and then seeing how my friends react to my creation.

    2 I enjoy the creativity of putting together the equipment and making it work.

    3 it satisfies me, from a science stand point (Chemist by education), an artistic stand point and that deeply personal "if it weren't for me, no one would ever experience THIS beer".

    I've got a few thousand dollars invested in my brewing equipment. There is no way I will ever brew enough beer to make it pencil out to be cheaper than buying beer. If I wanted a beer that tastes like INSERT NAME OF COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE BEER HERE, it would be a heck of a lot cheaper and easier to just buy the stuff.

    When I drink commercial beers, I often think about them in terms of what I would do differently to make them mo to my liking.

    Brewing is a huge math/word/logic puzzle for me. I can't wait to see how the next batch turns out!
     

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