Home Brewing Clone Beers

A few months ago, I met my very hungover friend and home brewing consigliere Jeremy Friedman at the top of Brooklyn home brew shop, Bitters and Esters. It was brew day, and Jeremy and I had a plan to home brew a clone beer. Clone beers are simply a noble attempt of home brewers to brew beers identical to their favorites from commercial breweries. You might think of them as the “cover songs” of home brewing.

Our mission was clear: to clone my favorite beer of 2016, the Select #1 from the Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project. I first tasted and fell in love with Select #1 this past May at Crooked Stave’s tap room in Denver’s trendy River North, or RiNo, neighborhood.

Crooked Stave is rightfully known for their delicious sour beers. If you’re a craft beer nut you probably know that sour beers are having a bit of a “moment” right now. For the uninitiated, sour beers are beers that are intentionally crafted to be tangy, usually by introducing certain wild yeast strains and/or adding friendly bacteria to the beer at some point in the process.

As a proud sour beer fan, I can confidently say Crooked Stave’s sours are second to none in the American craft beer scene. Highlights include “Serenata Notturna Blueberry,” a 12 percent ABV Belgian style sour golden ale aged in sherry barrels with fresh blueberries and “Colorado Wild Sage,” a 7.2 percent ABV farmhouse ale brewed with white sage and lemongrass that was foraged from the slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

And you thought wine was geeky!

So what’s interesting about Select #1 is that it isn’t sour. In fact, it’s Crooked Stave’s first-ever “clean” (i.e. not sour) public release. At a mellow (for an IPA) 5.3 percent ABV, the beer is a delicious, hazy American IPA brewed with oats to impart a rich, creamy mouthfeel. Balancing hop character is one of the trickiest parts of brewing, and Select #1 nails it with perfectly juicy hops on the nose and slightly bitter hops on the palate.

When I first tasted this masterpiece at Crooked Stave in May, I knew two things: I wanted to drink a lot more of it, and one day I wanted to brew it myself.

That brings us back to Bitters and Esters. Using Brewtoad.com as a reference, our intuition and some optimism, Jeremy and I collected 11 lbs of malt, 2 ½ lbs of flaked oats, and nearly ¾ lb of hops. We weighed it out, bagged it up, and handed over $75 and some change. Knowing we’d end up with around six gallons of finished beer, this meant each 12 ounce pour of our Select #1 clone would cost us something like 85¢.  (Did I mention homebrewing is a very cost-effective way to drink delicious beer?)

Though I’ve made beer in my tiny kitchen before, we opted to brew in the spacious Brooklyn backyard of our friends Jesse and Melissa—both avid homebrewers with an awesome set of equipment. (Note that a gear setup like theirs is not necessary to make great beer. You can get everything you need for $100 or even less if you shop around.)

We got to our friends’ backyard brewery around 1:00pm just as Jeremy’s hangover was loosening its grip. To speed his recovery, we had a couple rounds of “research beers” as we boiled our mash water. We steeped our grains in the heated water and when enough of the delicious sugars were extracted from the malt, we boiled it and added our hops.

When the boil was over, we cooled it down, pitched our yeast and let nature do the rest. Two weeks later, our Select #1 clone was fermented. We transferred it to a keg, carbonated it and then tapped some celebratory glasses of the best beer we’ve ever brewed. Since Jesse and Melissa’s home brewery is in the Kensington section of Brooklyn, and I discovered Select #1 in Denver and all four of us came of age in the ‘90s when the O.J. Simpson trial was big news, we named our brew “Kenzo Brewing White Bronco.” You can find the entry on Untappd.com, but until we brew another batch you can’t find this beer.

Long story short, home brewing is a surprisingly easy, unbelievably fun and endlessly rewarding hobby. If you need a good book to get started snag this one by my great friend and a noted fermentation guru, James Houston.

PS: Our next brew will be a double strength batch tentatively named “Bloody Glove.”

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