Switchback Ale: Replicator

Dear Replicator, Everyone has a favorite beer — mine is Switchback Ale from Switchback Brewing Co. in Burlington, Vermont. In fact, my wife and i like it so much we served it at our wedding. Can you help get the recipe so I can try brewing Switchback Ale at home?
Seth Beauregard
Mt. Tabor, Vermont


You would be hard pressed to find another brewery owner and Brewmaster with a more diverse background than Bill Cherry. Bill started his working life in the food products quality control industry — first in a bologna factory then a Claussen pickle plant. Having a distinct fondness for beer, and seeing the bourgeoning craft beer movement, he decided the beer industry should be his next move.

In 1992, his next stop was UC-Davis, where he even worked with BYO’s “Mr. Wizard” columnist Ashton Lewis to teach some classes. Wanting to learn brewing on a large scale, Bill interned at Anheuser Busch in Colorado. He later became the Head Brewer at Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City, Missouri and he remained there from 1993 to 1998.

With his brewing skills perfected, Bill decided it was time to set out on his own. A good friend, Jeff, who owns an electrical engineering company, claimed that Burlington, Vermont would be ideal. Jeff’s engineering expertise combined with Bill’s brewing knowledge proved to be the magic combination. With a 15 barrel brewing system procured from a defunct brewery in Arizona, their first batch was brewed and served in the fall of 2002. From the beginning, Bill’s idea was to not be a slave to style guidelines. He wanted to brew beers that would be different from the standard craft beers and would appeal to a wide variety of consumers.

Things started slowly but his marketing plan proved successful. From those humble beginnings, they quickly outgrew the original 15 barrel system, although he still uses it for specialty beers. A beautiful 66 barrel copper brewhouse was imported from Beerfelden, Germany and this allowed Switchback to hit the 10,000 barrels per year mark in 2012. With a bottling line added last year, sales jumped to 15,000 barrels largely due to the demand for Switchback Ale. Now their beers are available throughout much of New England and production continues to grow.

The Switchback Ale recipe appears fairly simple, but the combination of grains lends a distinct complexity. Light and dark carastan malts create nice caramel notes with a somewhat nutty background while the black malt is only included for color. The hopping level is just enough to develop a perfect balance with the remaining sugars. The addition of a three-varietal hop blend for only five minutes helps develop a complex aroma. Bottle conditioning provides a fine white head that lasts to the bottom of the glass. A great beer for spring, but good for any season.

Switchback Brewing Company’s Switchback Ale Clone

(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)
OG = 1.046 FG = 1.008 IBU = 30 SRM = 13 ABV = 5%


3.3 lbs. (1.5 kg) Briess light, unhopped, liquid malt extract
1.5 lbs. (0.68 kg) light dried malt extract
1 lb. (0.45 kg) 2-row pale malt
10 oz. (0.28 kg) light carastan malt (14 °L)
1 lb. (0.45 kg) carastan malt (34 °L)
2 oz. (57 g) black malt (530 °L)
9.6 AAU Simcoe® hop pellets (60 min.)
(0.75 oz./21 g at 12.8% alpha acids)
1.7 AAU Sterling hop pellets (5 min.)
(0.25 oz./7 g at 6.7% alpha acids)
1.1 AAU Vanguard hop pellets (5 min.)
(0.25 oz./7 g at 4.5% alpha acids)
1.1 AAU U.S. Saaz hop pellets (5 min.)
(0.25 oz./7 g at 4.3% alpha acids)
½ tsp. Irish moss (30 min.)
½ tsp. yeast nutrient (15 min.)
White Labs WLP001 (American Ale), Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) or Safale US-05 (American Ale) yeast
Priming sugar (if bottling)

Step by Step

Steep the crushed grain in 2.5 gallons (9.5 L) of water at 154 ºF (68 ºC) for 30 minutes. Remove grains from the wort and rinse with 2 quarts (1.8 L) of hot water. Add the malt extract and boil 60 minutes. Add the hops, Irish moss and yeast nutrient as per the schedule. When done, add the wort to 2 gallons (7.6 L) of cold water in a sanitized fermenter and top off with cold water up to 5 gallons (19 L). Cool the wort to 75 ºF (24 ºC). Pitch your yeast and aerate the wort heavily. Allow the beer to cool to 68 ºF (20 ºC). Hold at that temperature until fermentation is complete. When complete, transfer to a carboy, avoiding spashing, and allow the beer to condition 1 week. Then bottle or keg.

All-grain option:
This is a single step infusion mash using an additional 7 lbs. (3.2 kg) 2-row pale malt to replace the malt extracts. Mix all of the crushed grains with 3.5 gallons (17 L) of 166 °F (78 °C) water to stabilize at 154 ºF (68 ºC) for 60 minutes. Sparge with 175 ºF (79 ºC) water. Collect approximately 6 gallons (23 L) of wort runoff to boil for 60 minutes. Reduce the 60-minute Simcoe® hop addition to 0.5 oz. (14 g) (6.4 AAU) to allow for the higher utilization factor of a full wort boil. The remainder of this recipe and procedures are the same as the extract with grains recipe.

Issue: March-April 2014