CopyCat! Tips for Cloning Your Favorite Craft Beers

For many homebrewers, the desire to clone our favorite beers was a primary motivation for starting our journey in beer making. I know it was for me. I didn’t just want to brew an IPA, I wanted to brew a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. Clone brewing kits of the day were fine, but I found they were only distant approximations of the beer I really wanted to brew. Early in my brewing journey, I started scouring publications, online forums and brewer’s websites to look for clues to how to replicate or “clone” these legionary beers. Through lots of trial and error, I’ve learned a few things about how to clone some of my favorite commercial craft beers. I hope by sharing these it will save you some time and effort as you try to clone some of your favorites.


You should understand and accept upfront that in many cases you will not be able to strictly clone your favorite beer. This sobering revelation is due to several realities. First, your favorite beer is likely brewed using a “house” yeast, exclusive to that brewer. That yeast have been cultivated over time. The reasons for cultivating a house yeast are mainly two-fold. The first reason is cost savings. Harvesting and reusing yeast saves money for the commercial brewer. The second reason for cultivating a house yeast is to gain a yeast with unique, specific and consistent characteristics that the brewer desires. In its simplest terms, think of it like a brewery’s signature. From the business side, having a yeast that delivers a consistent and predictable outcome can save the brewery money by increasing yield and minimizing beer that is poured down the drain. Another sobering reality is that of the commercial brewhouse itself. Despite the homebrewing axion that states “homebrewing systems are just small commercial breweries”, in truth they are not. The size, scale and process emphasis of commercial breweries are very different from the typical homebrewer. These system differences lead to differences in the finished beer. You should be prepared to accept those differences before you start cloning.

Tips for Cloning Beer – Where to Begin?

The obvious place to start your cloning efforts is with widely available beer clone publications. There are special magazines dedicated to cloning like Brew Your Own’s (BYO), 250 Classic Clone Recipes. The magazine also offers a more comprehensive book on the topic, The Brew Your Own Big Book of Clone Recipes. The Homebrewers Association website also offers 51 commercial clone beer recipes for you to browse through. In addition, all of the online homebrewing supplier websites offer clone beer recipe ingredient kits for purchase that are designed to replicate some of the most popular commercial craft beers. Lastly, many of your favorite brewing books include clone recipes for some of the more famous craft beers.

Can’t Find a Recipe for the Beer You Want to Clone?

After trying all of those places, you say you still can’t find a recipe for the beer you want to clone? Your next place to look is online. The first place I look is the breweries website. You may be shocked to find that many brewers list their recipes right on their website! Bell’s Brewery does this with their legionary Two Hearted Ale. In fact, they hand out recipes at their General Store in Kalamazoo, Michigan. They even sell homebrew ingredient kits to brew the beer at home. Other brewers are not quite this helpful, but many still provide a range of guidance from complete recipes, to comprehensive ingredient lists, along with hints on what ingredients and which processes are used to brew the beer. 

When the brewery provides little of no clues about how their beer is brewed, I search homebrewing forums to determine if anyone has successfully contacted the brewer directly. Many craft brewers have graciously offered guidance to homebrewers when respectfully contacted via email or even in person. Those successful homebrewers have in turn shared that guidance on homebrewing forums. It’s astounding how graciously forthcoming the craft brewer community can be. Friends of mine have had brewers scribble down recipes for their beers on napkins upon chance meetings with them at their breweries. If approached respectfully, many brewers are quite happy to share their recipes with appreciative, enthusiast and loyal customers. Many of them were homebrewers once, so they understand our enthusiasm. 

When those approaches fail, I conduct clone recipe searches to compare homebrewing recipes to determine if there’s commonalities or consensus regarding which ingredients to brew with along with brewing processes. These consensus opinions may help save you some time and effort with your initial recipe designs as many brewers have already tried them with cloning success or failure. 

Another Caveat

If you’re not designing from scratch, and using guidance from a brewery website keep in mind that guidance might not be as reliable as we would like. For a variety of reasons, brewers may provide exaggerated and even misleading guidance about their beers and how they are made. Use your brewing experience to evaluate what you read before you waste time and money brewing a beer where the recipe doesn’t make sense to you.

Tips for Cloning Beer from Scratch…

Use Your Inner-Beer Judge to Decode Your Beer

If you are striking out with these earlier suggested approaches, consider designing your clone beer from scratch. It can be a daunting task, but it can also be very rewarding. To build a clone beer from scratch you’ll need to evaluate the beer using skills similar to a beer judge at a competition. Sit down with as fresh as possible bottle or can of the beer you want to clone, then follow these general steps to evaluate the beer:

  • Pour a few ounces into a clean, clear glass
  • As quickly as possible, sample the beer’s aroma and note what you smell
  • Look and take notes about the beer’s appearance, including color and clarity
  • Sample the beer itself and note the characteristics and flavors you detect
  • The entire process should take you at least 10 minutes
  • Ideally, include another person or two in this exercise and compare what they smell, taste and see

Designing Your Clone Recipe

Use your sensory notes to begin designing your clone beer recipe. If the beer you are cloning is true to a beer style, start by using a grainbill consistent with that style. For example, using Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer’s book, Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, I can determine my grainbill percentages by beer style:

For the details on which specific malts to consider using, see my Sommbeer series Design For Brewers…Simplified (Part 1). With a preliminary grainbill outline in place, begin using the results from your beer judging exercise to hone in on the flavors you’ll need to capture in your beer clone. For example, in his book, Modern Brewing, Randy Moser provides some general flavor and grain combinations to consider:

You’ll need to follow similar steps to determine which hops to use and a schedule for using them (e.g. boil and/or dry hop additions). Assuming your clone beer is true to style, then consider these hops from Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, summarized below. If you are looking for more modern hops, see the additional table below for some general flavor and aroma guidance:

The yeast you choose to use is equally critical to successfully cloning your favorite beer. Again, if your clone beer is true to style, you could consider selecting a yeast appropriate for that style. According the Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, consider these:

Lastly, you may want to consider a specific water profile to further round out your clone beer characteristics. For many more details and alternate approaches to designing your clone beer, read my Sommbeer series Design For Brewers…Simplified.

Evaluate, Adjust & Brew Again

Once you’ve brewed your new clone beer, it’s time to evaluate it. Put your inner-beer judging skills to work again to evaluate what you got right and wrong. Make the necessary recipe design and / or process adjustments and brew it again. Keep refining your recipe designs and processes until you get it right. When you think your clone is close to the original beer, taste them side by side. Consider doing a blind tasting to eliminate some of the bias in your sensory testing. At some point, consider enlisting friends to taste and compare your clone with the original beer. Don’t be afraid to make more adjustments and brew again. In the end, if you are happy with your clone beer, that’s all that matters…mission accomplished. 

These are my tips for brewing a clone beer, please share some of yours. Good brewing!

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