There is always a lot of talk about cloning (copying) commercial beers in the homebrewing community. Personally I don’t care for cloning commonly available and relatively cheap craft beers (popular targets include Boston Lager, Guinness, Fat Tire, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, etc…). People often just take a recipe from a homebrew magazine, book, website, or homebrew shop and use it verbatim. This is all well and good, but if the beer is rare or obscure you probably won’t find a recipe for it, and even if you do, obscure clone recipes are often badly off the mark.
I enjoy the challenge of researching and designing a recipe almost as much as I enjoy the actual brewing process. I often clone beers that I have not had before, either because they are no longer produced like Courage Russian Imperial Stout, or because of their scarcity like Mo’ Betta Bretta. Trying to copy a beer that you have never had can be very tricky as you have to rely on other people’s accounts of the beer to help you develop the recipe.
So I thought I would post my method for going about researching and writing a clone recipe for a beer that I have never had. For this exercise I chose a beer that couldn’t be more complex or interesting, The Lost Abbey’s beer for the Toranado’s 20th Anniversary celebration: Cable Car. I thought it would highlight the various techniques I use when making a clone, many of which can be applied to any beer that you, the reader, are interested in developing a clone recipe for.
Finding general information on a beer:
A google search is often a good place to start. I found The Lost Abbey blog, which contains this snippet:
“Cable Car was a special blend of three oak barrels which was created for the Dave Keene and the world famous Toronado at 547 Haight Street.”
So we are dealing with 3 separately brewed and aged components which are then blended together.
I posted a question on ratebeer.com to see if anyone knew the three components, luckily someone did:
“Its an american wild ale. 3 part blend of barreled/funked beers. majority was red barn, with avante garde and amigo blended in.”
Luckily I have had Red Barn and Avant Garde, so I have personal experience with two of the three component beers.
Like many great breweries the Lost Abbey/Pizza Port isn’t afraid to publish the ingredients of their beers on their website. This is probably your greatest asset when either trying to clone a beer or just take inspiration from a craft beer recipe.
Here is the ingredient list for each of the three components and a little more info I picked up in other places:
Red Barn (Formerly SPF 45, but the recipe is much less complex):
Malts- Two Row, Flaked Wheat and Flaked Oats
Hops- Phoenix and German Tettnang
Yeast- Belgian Saison Yeast
Adjuncts- Dextrose, Ginger, Orange Peel, Black Pepper and Grains of Paradise
OG - 1.065
TG - 1.012
6.7% ABV (This abv doesn’t match the OG/TG)
Amigo Lager (I have read that Tomme keeps a barrel aged version of this that he refers to as “Mellow Yellow” around for replacing beer that evaporates from the barrels during aging.)
Malts- Pilsner and Two Row
Hops- German Magnum and Czech Saaz
Yeast- White Labs German Lager
OG - 1.048
TG - 1.010
Avant Garde (A bit of research turned up a barrel aged version called En Garde that is aged in Meritage wine barrels for 3 months. Not sure if this is what was used or not, but it is certainly a possibility.)
Malts- Two Row, Honey Malt and Port Custom Toast (we make it ourselves in our Pizza Ovens).
Hops- German Brewer’s Gold, Strissespalt Spalt and Czech Saaz.
Yeast- House Lager strain with hybrid fermentation at ale temperature.
OG - 1.060
TG - 1.008
7% ABV (Again, this doesn’t match the calculation based on the OG/TG)
Now that we have a good idea of the component beers we can start looking at blending, let’s get an idea of what the ratio may be.
Again from the LA blog:
“We blended exactly 100 gallons of beer”
From the RateBeer profile (another valuable resource) I see the final beer is 7% ABV, heavily funky beers around that strength tend to finish out around 1.006-1.007 in my experience, if I had a bottle of the beer I could do a hydrometer reading to know for sure. From there I used the ABV calculator in ProMash to determine that I want this beer to start around 1.060-1.061 to hit 7% abv.
Another way we can try to determine the blend would be to look at the color descriptions in reviews of the beers involved. I tend to use reviews from BeerAdvocate because they are generally more in depth and descriptive, but some RateBeer reviews certainly contain good info as well. “Gold” seems to be a frequent word used to describe both Cable Car and Red Barn; Amigo Lager generally sounds a bit lighter than that, and Avant Garde a bit darker. Due to the fact that they all sound so close in color this doesn’t help much, but it confirms that these beers are logical components (we’d be in trouble if one was a stout and the blend was pale yellow).
The blend is a mainly Red Barn, so I would guess that Tomme used an entire aged wine barrel of the Red Barn. This would be around 62 gallons (62% of the 100 gallon batch). So for my 5 gallon batch about 60% (3 gallons) will be the Red Barn clone. To pull the average OG down to 1.060 I needed to figure out how much Amigo Lager clone to add, the rest will be Avant Garde since it has an OG of 1.060 we don’t have to worry about it.
(3 gallons * 65 gravity points + X gallons * 48) / (3 gallons + X gallons) = 60 gravity points
A bit of algebra and you get X = 1.25 (that is to say that you need 1.25 gallons Amigo Lager, to dilute 3 gallons of Red Barn to 1.060)
There are a number of ways that I could approach constructing this recipe. The most accurate would be to age each portion separately then blend to taste, as it sounds like Lost Abbey did. The least accurate would be to create a single amalgamated recipe and then brew/ferment/age it together; this would compromise the optimal temperature and time constraints for each component. I decided to take the middle route, brew/ferment separately and age as one.
60% Red Barn Clone
3.5 gallons (assuming I will lose .5 gallons before blending)
A basemalt, in this case 2-row, will generally make up the majority of the malt. The flaked grains need the enzymes from the malt to convert, so they cannot make up a huge proportion of the grist. I am going with more wheat than oats since that is a more common ingredient in Saisons, too much oat and the body would make for a slicker mouthfeel than I remember. I have read that the White Labs Saison yeast can have some attenuation issues, so I assume a little dextrose is added to ensure that the beer finishes dry.
7.5 lbs American Pale malt
.75 lb flaked wheat
.25 lbs flaked oats
6 oz dextrose (corn sugar)
120 min boil, to get what should be light colored runnings dark enough to match the finished beer.
27 IBU (approximate IBUs for a Saison of this gravity according to the BJCP saison style guidelines and other sources.)
.5 oz Phoenix @ 60 min (enough to hit the IBUs)
.5 oz of Tett @15 min (looking to compliment the spices and yeast, without dominating or getting lost)
Spice blend ground up and added with 7 min left in the boil:
.75 g Ginger
2 g Orange Peel
1 g Black Pepper
.75 g Grains of Paradise
The spice amounts were taken from the spice advice in Farmhouse Ales, a great book about Saisons and Bier de Gardes by Phil Markowski, the brewer at Southampton Publick House. I want a subtle spice presence, which will be blend with the yeast and hop character.
White Labs Saison (I know from previous research that Tomme is a White Labs guy) fermented at elevated temps, optimally into the mid-80s.
25% Amigo Lager Clone
Basically this beer sounds like a standard American Lager that is made without adjuncts (corn/rice). I just split the malts 50/50, this should provide a bit more malt character than just plain pils while still keeping the beer pale. For the hops I went pretty easy, but gave it enough hop flavor to make it “craft beer” worthy.
1.5 gallons (assuming I will lose .25 gallons before blending)
1.5 lbs Pilsener Malt
1.5 lbs American Pale.
15 IBU (a bit higher than a standard American/Mexican lager, but not by much.)
.06 oz Magnum @ 60 min (enough to reach the IBUs I am targeting)
.20 oz Saaz @ 15 min (should provide a subtle spiciness)
75 minute boil, this should be enough time to drive off any DMS without darkening the beer much.
White Labs German Lager fermented at lager temps for 2 weeks followed by a month or so of lagering.
15% Avant Garde
Based on the info about Bier de Gardes in Farmhouse Ales. The basemalt again dominates with some home toasted malt for complexity, and just a touch of honey malt which can easily get overpowering.
1 gallon, (assuming I will lose .25 gallons before blending)
2.25 lbs American Pale
3 oz Toasted Malt (toasted in a pie plate on a pizza stone)
1 oz Honey Malt
20 IBUs (Since the OG is on the low end of the style I wanted to keep the IBUs low as well, especially because I remember this being a malt focused beer.)
.125 oz German Brewer’s Gold @ 60 min
.05 oz Strissespalt @ 15 min
.05 oz Spalt @ 15 min
.05 oz Czech Saaz @ 15 min
90 minute, “standard” boil.
White Labs German Lager fermented in the low 60s for 2 weeks followed by a month or so of lagering.
Putting it all together:
So after all three beers are done fermenting I will combine them in one 5 gallon carboy. I may also add a splash of red wine to mimic the wine barrel aging that I believe the Avant Garde (En Garde) went through before blending.
Sadly, I don’t have a sample of the microbes used in the original beer, but I do have a starter I made from oak chips that Vinnie from Russian River inoculated with his house culture and passed out at this year’s National Homebrewers Conference. I’ll add a few cups of the funky starter and attach an oak topper on and let it age for a year or so. The wood and oxygen diffusion should help to mimic barrel aging. After the beer has aged adequately I will bottle condition it, aiming for medium-high carbonation (2.8-3.0 volumes) based on reviews on BA/RB.
Hopefully I’ll be able to give the true Cable Car a try at some point to see how close I come.
After writing all of this, I decided to employ one of the best tactics of the clone recipe writer, contacting the brewer. I emailed Tomme to see just how close my estimates were, being the kind man that he is he gave me the blend ratio, 3:2:1. That is to say 50% Red Barn, 33% Avant Garde, and 17% Amigo Lager. Amazingly this works out to an effective OG of 1.0605, literally right where I pegged it! The combined gravity after primary should be around 1.011. Assuming the 7% ABV number is correct, it should land right around 1.006 at bottling time.
The difference between the ratio I came up with and the actual ratio is all due to the bad assumption I made that a whole barrel of Red Barn was used in the blend, apparently they blended from kegs. The lower portion of Red Barn then knocked off my percentage of Amigo Lager, with a lower amount of the relatively high gravity Saison I will not need as much Amigo Lager to lower the overall gravity. All in all though I think I came pretty close, and I believe that brewers are more likely to help you if you show that you have already put some effort into it.
I will post the full details of each of the brews when I get around to making them over the next few weeks. I will rescale the recipes using Promash above to do a 3 gallon batch of Red Barn, 2 gallon batch of Avant Garde, and a 1 gallon batch of Amigo Lager. I am also going to make some substitutions based on what ingredients that I can get locally, such as using Wyeast strains instead of White Lab and changing some of the hops around based on what is available.
Look for the results of this one sometime around the start of 2009.
In early 2010 I got the chance to taste my clone along with an actual bottle of Cable Car (Batch #2). The color was spot on, but mine didn't have quite the sourness of the original. I wish I had added the wild yeast and bacteria along with the primary yeast at the start of fermentation as I do for most of my sour beers.