Send in the Clones: Replicating Your Favorite Craft Beers

As homebrewers, we are always looking for new recipes. As a homebrew shop owner, my staff and I get many requests each week for recipes of local Portland or Seattle area beers that people love. So, over the last 18 years, we have written many recipes for customers to replicate their favorite local beer. here is how we do it.

Initially, my recipes were written more by “feel” than any basis in deep homebrewing knowledge. Back in 1992, there was very little homebrewing literature to help us to understand the various components in beer. While there were a few books in print, none were geared toward recipe formulation.

Over the years, through experience, trial and error — and reading everything I could on the subject — I learned more on how to formulate recipes. And of course, I got some practice while I served as Brew Your Own’s “Replicator” from 2001 to 2006.

While this article focuses on recipe formulation, I would like to point out that recipes themselves do not make great beer — they need to be brewed well. This is no different than food recipes. Skilled cooks make great food and skilled brewers make great beer! For some commercial beers, there are variables you cannot replicate at home. For example, the brewery may ferment with a proprietary yeast strain or use a piece of equipment you don’t have (such as a hopback). However, with some good information and attention paid to detail during brewing, homebrewers have found out that they can make clone brews that are very respectable facsimilies of their commercial counterparts.

Today, we have many tools to use to produce recipes. Brewery web sites are a great starting point, and for most kinds of beer there are a variety of published recipes for that style. Brewing software like Promash, BeerTools, BeerSmith and others make recipe formulation easier than ever. These software tools are excellent at calculating beginning wort specific gravities and estimated hop bitterness in the beer we are making. They also give you an estimated color. With all the information and tools at our disposal, formulating clone recipes is easier than ever.

Once you have decided what beer you want to brew, the first step in replicating a beer at home is to gather as much information about the beer as possible. Today we are lucky that most breweries have websites to promote their beer. Some websites are more homebrewer friendly than others. The best ones for homebrewers not only give you the marketing descriptions that make you drool, but also give you some of the factual information to help you formulate the recipe.

If you can, talk directly to the brewer — this is the best source of information for you. Since most craft brewers started as homebrewers, many of them are often willing to talk to you about their beers and are flattered that you like it so well you are interested in brewing a batch. Having dinner and a few pints of beer at their brewpub is a nice show of support for their business and  may make them more interested in visiting with you and sharing information.

The primary information you are after is the original and final specific gravities (sometimes given in degrees Plato), the IBU rating of the beer, hop varieties and their usage, types of malt and the percentage of the grist each represents and finally the suggested yeast strain to use.  You should also try to find out the key details of the brewing process — mash temperature, boil length and fermentation temperature. If you can get this information, you are in great shape.

Secondary information that is helpful is any unusual brewing methods that are used in brewing these beers or additional ingredients used. It could be mash regimes, mash thicknesses, pitching rates, additional lagering time, dry hopping or any of a variety of other brewing techniques. Finally, of course, repeated evaluation of the beer in question helps you to pick out the flavors you love in the beer, and what you want to replicate.

Let’s Formulate a Clone Recipe

In the Pacific Northwest, Rogue Brewery is a popular brewery. Let’s use their Dead Guy Ale as an example of how to clone a beer. Rogue has a great website that is useful for gathering information on their beers. For the sake of this article, we’ll rely solely on information from the website, which can be found at (Normally, for a clone recipe published in Brew Your Own, we ask the brewer for help.) Click on the “Dead Guy Ale” link for the information pertinent to our clone.

No matter what type of brewer you are — extract or all-grain — the process begins with formulating an all-grain recipe. If you’re an extract brewer, you will later convert the all-grain recipe to its extract equivalent.

Let’s start with the malt. The website lists the original gravity as 16 °Plato. The Plato scale is another way of describing wort density, just like the specific gravity scale that homebrewers are familiar with. To get an approximate conversion between the two,  multiply the value in degrees Plato by 4. This number then becomes the last two digits in the specific gravity, when expressed in the usual four digit manner. For example, 16 times 4 equals 64, or a specific gravity of 1.064. For a more accurate conversion, many homebrewing texts have a conversion table. If you do, you’ll see that 16 °Plato converts to 1.065. The “4X” approximation gives an exact result when the beer is at 10 °Plato (SG 1.040), but gets progressively worse as wort density increases.

The Rogue website lists Klages, Harrington, Munich and Carastan as the malts used. Klages and Harrington are varieties of barley. When a barley variety is mentioned, this indicates a pale malt. Carastan is a type of crystal malt, whose color is usually around 30 °L. It would be great to know how much of each grain, but this isn’t indicated. Not to worry. Virtually all beers use around 80% to 100% base malts, with the remaining specialty malts rounding out the grain bill. The base malt is usually a pale malt, but can also be a slightly darker malt such as Vienna or Munich. From the website, we also know that the color of Dead Guy Ale is 16 °Lovibond (roughly 16 SRM) and the beer is brewed as an ale version of a Maibock. Using brewing software can help us come up with a grain bill.

If the software has a setting for the type of brewing you do (all-grain, extract or mini-mash) choose the setting that fits your brewing style. This is important, since this typically turns on the “extract efficiency” setting. This is a value between zero and 100, and means the percentage of sugars that you extract from the malted grains you are using.

A typical value to start with is 65–70% for homebrewers, with most brewpubs getting around 80% or so and 90% or more being typical for larger regional craft breweries. (65% is the value Brew Your Own magazine uses in its recipes.) This means the average homebrewer needs to use a bit more grain to get the same sugar extraction from the grain.

For our first stab at a Dead Guy recipe, let’s use 90% base grains, with the last 10% being the other specialty malt (Carastan).  If we use 1.25 lbs. (0.57 kg) of Carastan malt, and fill out the rest of the recipe with only pale malt, we get a beer with an SRM of 12. Gradually substituting Munich malt into the recipe shows that by adding 4.0 lbs. (1.8 kg) of Munich, along with 8.75 lbs. (4.0 kg) of pale malt, we end up at 16 SRM. So, this gives us a grist that is consistent with the website information and in the ballpark of a typical Maibock recipe. Our recipe has more crystal malt than is usual for a Maibock, but our color target is also significantly darker. In addition, our grain bill is reasonable — many amber beers contain approximately 10% crystal malt.

Of course, other combinations of these grains can also yield a wort of 1.065 and a color of 16 SRM. You could, for example, decrease the amount of Carastan slightly and bump up the amount of Munich quite a bit. Conversely, you could increase the amount of Carastan slightly and reduce the Munich a great deal. I chose the 4.0 lbs. (1.8 kg) of Munich malt and 1.25 lbs. (0.57 kg) of Carastan malt since I wanted the maltiness of the Munich to be stronger than the caramel/toffee flavor of the more strongly-flavored Carastan malt. Having some experience with previous brews using Munich and light crystal malts would obviously help guide your recipe formulation. At some point, when information is absent, you just need to make a decision — if your recipe is consistent with the information you have, and seems reasonable in terms of the beer style and what you know about the brewing ingredients, it’s time to brew it. After brewing the beer and tasting it, you may need to adjust your recipe to get a better clone. However, if you have a reasonable-looking recipe, you shouldn’t fear brewing a bad batch of homebrew.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that you do know the percentage of each grain — how do you formulate a grain bill based that information? Arriving at a homebrew grain bill from a commercial formulation is a two step process. First, you formulate a homebrew-scale recipe at the extract efficiency of the commercial brewer. Next, you adjust the recipe to account for the extract efficiency you achieve, if needed.  For example, let’s say the brewer specifies a grist of 92% Pilsner malt and 8% CaraMunich, with a starting gravity of 13 °Plato (OG 1.052). First, set the extract efficiency in your brewing software to the extract efficiency the commercial brewer achieves. (If you don’t have this information, use 80% for a brewpub or 90% for a microbrewery.) Then, formulate your grain bill.

To do this, add pale malt alone until you reach the target original gravity. Let’s say that it takes 11 lbs. (5.0 kg) of pale malt to reach our 13 °Plato target. This amount times 0.92 is 10.12. Likewise, 11 times 0.08 is 0.88. So, your grain bill would be 10.12 lbs. (4.6 kg) of Pilsner malt and 0.88 lbs. or (0.4 kg) of CaraMunich. Brewers using English units will need to convert the decimal portion of a weight in pounds to ounces. To do this, remember that there are 16 ounces in a pound. So, multiply just the decimal part of the number by 16 to get the number of ounces. In our example, we had 10.12 lbs. of pale malt. If you multiply 0.12 times 16, you get 1.92. Thus, 10.12 lbs. is equivalent to 10 lbs. 2 ounces (after rounding to the nearest ounce).

Sometimes, if the recipe contains a lot of specialty malts, your original gravity will be slightly low. This is because specialty malts have a lower potential extract than pale malt. If this is the case, you can just add pale malt to make up the small difference or multiply the amount of each ingredient by the target original gravity divided by the original gravity of the recipe as formulated by this method. For example, let’s say we typed in our two ingredients and the software calculated an OG of 1.051 instead of our target of 1.052. If this was the case, we would multiply the amounts of both grains by 52/51. In most realistic cases, this would be an exceedingly slight adjustment of grain amounts. Finally, adjust the extract potential on your software to reflect the value you achieve on your system and add pale malt to reach your target original gravity.

To convert an all-grain recipe to its extract equivalent, remove the base grains and add a sufficient amount of light malt extract to reach your target specific gravity. In our case, we’ll need both light malt extract for the pale malt and Munich malt extract for the Munich malt. So, remove the pale malt from the recipe, then add malt extract until you reach 1.065. Then, delete the Munich malt and add in Munich malt extract until you reach 1.065 again. The Carastan malt will be steeped.

Since extracts come in fixed quantities of 3.3 lb. (1.5 kg) for malt syrup in many retail stores, it is not uncommon to use a combination of two cans of malt syrup and then 1 to 2 lbs. (0.45–0.91 kg) of dry malt powder. Since it is easier to measure and store dry malt powder at home, dry malt is useful to hit the target gravity of your beer. I suggest using light or extra light malt extracts in all beers you make, regardless of color. Avoid amber and dark extracts. The reason is simple. You are getting the color and flavor from the specialty grains you will have in the recipe. This more closely replicates what the brewer is doing. Amber and dark extracts will use some specialty grains for additional color, but you will not know which specialty grain they used, and that gives you no control over the color and flavor.

So, for our Dead Guy clone, I substituted 3.3 lbs. (1.5 kg) of liquid malt syrup for the pale malt, and supplemented it with 2.25 lbs. (1.0 kg) of light dried malt extract. I then add 2.5 lbs. (1.1 kg) of liquid Munich malt extract. Again, we are at a 1.065 starting gravity. Note that many Munich malt extracts are actually a blend of Munich malt and a pale malt, usually Pilsner. If yours is, you may have to add more of the Munich malt extract, and subtract enough light malt extract to again hit a SG of 1.065. Brewing software makes these kinds of adjustments fairly simple.

Next Comes the Hops

From the Rogue website, we know that they used Perle and Saaz hops, with an IBU level of 40. “IBU” is the abbreviation for International Bittering Units, and is a measure of hop bitterness in beer. Check the various styles of beer in your software or brewing books for a reference chart of different beer IBU levels.

Of the two hops, Perle has a higher alpha acid rating and is frequently used as a bittering hop. Saaz has a lower alpha acid rating and is most often used as a finishing hop. Your software will ask for the alpha acid level on the hops you are using, and your hop package should specify this.

In this recipe, we will use the Saaz hop as our finishing or aroma hop. Rogue Dead Guy has a fair amount of hop aroma, which is on the low end of what is typical for many American pale ales. So, I chose to use 1.0 oz. (28 g) of Saaz hops added at the end of the boil. This is just a guess, but the level and timing of the hop addition is similar to other beers showing this level of hop character. Remember, if you don’t have a specific piece of information when making your first attempt at a clone recipe, you have to make some reasonable guesses. Once you’ve brewed the recipe, you can taste the beer and tweak your recipe as needed. If our guess here is off the mark, our beer will simply show either more or less late hop character than the professionally brewed version. It won’t be bad beer.

The Saaz hop addition will not add any bitterness to the beer.  So, add Perle hops, boiled for 60 minutes, to reach your target value of 40 IBUs. Sixty minutes is a typical amount of time that bittering hops are boiled.

Here is a little known fact about hop alpha acid levels. Each year the hop processors package hops in 200-lb. (91-kg) bales. Then a random number of these bales are actually tested for hop bitterness. Then the numbers are averaged, and that entire lot of 200-lb. (91-kg) bales are sold at that alpha level. There can be a significant difference in alpha acids when you are using only 2 or 3 oz. (57–85 g) out of a 200-lb. (91 kg) bale. Hops also lose some of their alpha acids as they age. So, while we have all of these numbers to calculate hop bitterness, do not trust them too heavily and rely also on your taste buds when tasting the beer.

If you did have access to more information on the commercial hop schedule, how would you use it? Ideally, you would want to know both the weight of hops used and the IBU contribution of every hop addition. For the bittering hops, use the information on IBUs to formulate your homebrew scale additions. Scaling the weight of hops used in a commercial recipe down to a homebrew-sized batch usually leads to homebrew that is noticeably less bitter than the commercial beer.

Keep in mind that late hop additions contribute hop oils as well as bitterness. Commercial brewers often adjust the amount of late hops each year to account for differences in the levels of hop oils. If your late hops have a higher than usual alpha acid rating one year, consider adding the same weight of hops (after accounting for scale) and dialing back the amount of bittering hops to hit the correct overall IBU level. If you brew the beer more than once a year, use your sense of smell and taste to assess the level of late hops, then alter the amount of bittering hops required to hit your target IBU level.

Then Comes the Yeast

Yeast can be a difficult ingredient to choose as some breweries keep yeast choices a deep dark secret. Fortunately today, most brewers are less worried about the word getting out, so again, the brewery may give you a suggested yeast variety that is available to homebrewers from Wyeast, White Labs or another yeast company. For this beer, Rogue tells you that it is their Pacman yeast, which is currently packed for homebrewers by Wyeast. If you are unable to get any yeast information from the brewery, you will probably be best trying to match the beer style you are making with the flavor descriptions from your yeast manufacturer. Your local homebrew shop should also be able to give you some suggestions.

And Finally, Water

In the historical past, brewers had to brew beers that were suited to their local water. Today, most commercial brewers treat their water to make it suitable for each beer they brew. Water chemistry and its effect on beer is a complex topic and is well beyond the scope of this article. For any clone recipe, use the color of the commercial beer to give you an idea of the level of carbonates that would be appropriate for that beer. Then, calculate the level of calcium required to hit a reasonable mash pH. For hop-focused beers, a little  gypsum will accentuate the hop profile. For malt-focused beers, use calcium chloride instead. (See the “Techniques” column on page 54 for more on water chemistry.) For our Dead Guy Ale clone, we can rely on the fact that a wide range of waters can contribute to a good amber ale. Unless your water has an excessive amount of carbonates or is very soft, it should be fine for brewing this beer.


Every brewer makes beer a little differently than everyone else. So if you are able to visit with the brewer, be sure to ask what they do differently to make this beer. Pay attention to mash temperature(s), hopping techniques, fermentation temperatures, how the beer is conditioned or lagered, etc. You may find new techniques that will improve all your beers!

For our Dead Guy clone, we don’t have much information. The Wyeast website quotes John Maier as saying he ferments most of his beers at 60 °F (16 °C), pitches big and aerates well. For the mash, I chose “middle of the road” values.

Brew It!

Now it’s time to brew the beer. Once it’s finished, taste it side-by-side with the commercial brew. Think about each element of the recipe and procedures as you sample both brews and use your observations to move your clone closer to the original. You will likely need to repeat the recipe with minor alterations a few times before you settle on the recipe that you love. Even if you got the exact recipe from the brewer, the details of your water, equipment and brewing procedures affect the way the beer will turn out.

Send in the Clones

The procedure for making a homebrew clone starts with gathering information. If you can get enough information about the commercial beer — including the grains (and the percentage of each used), target original gravity, hops (both the amounts used and IBU targets for each addition), yeast (and expected attenuation) and procedural details (mash temperature, boil time, fermentation temperature) —  formulating a clone is straightforward with brewing software.

If, as in the example we chose, you cannot obtain all of the desired information, you need to fill the rest in by consulting other recipes for beers of the same type and using your own brewing experiences. Remember that you don’t need to guess every detail exactly for your beer to turn out well. Finally, brewing the beer and comparing it to the original, perhaps several times, will be required if you really want a dead-on clone.

Issue: October 2009