I put letters into words into sentences into paragraphs that explode into coherent narratives.
When looking for a new recipe, the adventurous homebrewer is faced with a breadth of choices so vast that it can be debilitating.
You can, without too much exaggeration, brew almost anything you can think of. Want something spicy? Try a Jalapeño/Haberno recipe. Feeling a bit light, perhaps craving some fruit in your malt? Try a watermelon wheat, or a strawberry blonde, or blueberry lager. You can even start messing with the types of sugars or yeasts you base the beer on and journey deep into the weird world of sweet potato, pizza, creme brulee, or even beard (yes face-hair) beer.
With so many options, so much potential just waiting to be mashed and fermented, it seems wrong to brew a clone of an existing beer, to recreate what has already been created, to add nothing new and plagiarize the work of another brewer so brazenly.
But, despite being the safe and boring choice, cloning is one of the best things you can do to improve your homebrewing skills. We know why we like certain commercial beer, be it the flavor or smell or presentation (or a little from columns A, B, and C), so by attempting to brew a clone, we can see how exactly the brewers used their alchemical skills to bring about such a well done beer. It gives us a standard to measure our own brew, and ultimately brewing skill, against.
How to Brew a Boddingtons Clone
I won’t try to hide why I picked Boddingtons of all the beers out there; it was, and will always be, my dad’s favorite beer. As my Untappd profile says, I’m pretty sure I drank Boddingtons before milk. I understand it may not be everyone’s cup of Earl Grey, especially since it was purchased and retooled by Whitbred and then ABInBev, but this is the brew that my dad used to teach me about beer, his rambunctious youth in British pubs, and how to tell a good story over a pint of ale.
“The Cream of Manchester” is a standard English bitter, fiercely golden with a thick white head, that, outside of pubs dotting the northern English countryside, comes in tall yellow and black cans, each of which contains a floating beer widget. Hopefully my all-grain homebrew will be less like the stuff available in the US today, and more like the stuff my dad drank on tap back in Manchester during the late 70s and early 80s. He always said there was nothing quite like a cask-condition, freshly pulled pint of pub ale.
Stuff You’ll Need
For a five gallon batch:
6.2 lbs of 2-row malt (British preferred, American accepted)
4 oz of Crystal 40 (for that golden color)
1/2 oz Patent Black Malt (for roasted goodness, and a little more color)
1/3 lb of invert sugar (which requires brown cane sugar and citric acid, explained below)
1.25 oz Fuggles (for bitterness and aroma)
.75 oz Kent Goldings (for aroma and flavor)
British Ale Yeast (I used WhiteLabs WLP013 but WYeast 1098 should work well, too)
You’ll also need all of the standard all-grain brewing stuff, like a mash-tun, brew kettle, bucket, carboy, fire, spoon, etc.
Step 1: Mash it up
The first thing you’ll notice is that this isn’t very much grain for a 5 gallon batch. Most American Ale recipes call for at least 10 lbs of malt, and we’re nearly 4 lbs short of that here. That’s because Boddingtons is a pretty low ABV brew, bubbling in at thoroughly sessionable 3.9%.
Because it’s so little grain, it’s best to mash for a bit longer than normal, say 90 minutes instead of 60. Mash the 2-row and specialty malts at ~151 degrees, stirring once or twice to make sure there are no malty dough balls floating around. Sparge once to loose the sugars, settle the grain-bed by draining off a liter or so, then send the rest right into your kettle.
You might be surprised at how brown the wort is, but that’s OK. From my experience, the color of the beer in a carboy or other container is much, much darker than it is in a glass.
Step 2: Make some invert sugar
While the grain is mashing, you’ll want to start your invert sugar. For the record, you can buy something like Lyle’s Golden Syrup, but if you’re putting in the work for all-grain brewing, you might as well create all of the ingredients from scratch. Consider it a lesson in self-sufficiency. Or survival preparation. Your call.
Invert sugar is naturally found in a lot of fruits and honeys, but you can make it yourself by adding citric acid to normal cane sugar, and heating it in water. The citric acid breaks the bonds of the sucrose in the cane sugar, resulting in free fructose and glucose (which are both sweeter than regular old sucrose). For those curious, this is the same chemical structure as the dreaded high fructose corn syrup, but our version is made from completely different ingredients (namely: not corn).
You want to heat 1/2 a lb of cane sugar (not table sugar) in 3/4 a cup of water. As it’s heating, add 1/8 a teaspoon of citric acid. Let it simmer, stirring frequently, for at least 20 minutes. The longer it simmers the darker and thicker it will be. You don’t want it too dark or thick for this beer, so try not to simmer it for more than 30-40 minutes.
Step 3: Boil her up (or down, not sure how it works)
Now that your grain is mashed and your sugar is inverted, you can start your boil. As soon as it’s roiling enthusiastically, you’ll want to add 1 oz of your Fuggles and .5 oz of your Kent Goldings. Boil for another 45, stirring as your impatience dictates. Next, add your invert sugar, a teaspoon of Irish moss (or a whirlfloc, if that’s how you roll) and the rest of your hops. There are no hop additions at burnout for this recipe, so you just need to wait another 15 minutes. Now is a good time to drop your (cleaned and rinsed) wort-chiller into the beer so that the boil can do most of the sanitation work for you.
Step 4: Drink a beer and chill out (while the beer chills out)
I always try to drink something in the same style as what I’m brewing. Three guesses as to what I was drinking this time around.
This is a good time to use the excess water from your wort chiller to water your poor, droopy hydrangeas. You can also use some to hose the bird-poop off your car. Get creative with it.
This is also a good time to get an original gravity reading.
Step 5: Pitch your yeast
Around ~75-80 degrees you are ready to stir the hell out of your wort and pitch your yeast. Remember that the more oxygen the yeast has, the better it will get established, and the better it will attenuate. I sometimes seal my bucket and shake the hell out of it once the yeast is already in there, just to make sure it’s well distributed and has enough oxygen to breathe comfortably.
Step 6: Prime and bottle
Let the golden-brown joy ferment a week, then rack to secondary. Bottle by priming with 2/3 a cup of cane sugar. Let the beer very slightly carbonate (to mimic the traditional style) for another ~14-21 days.
That’s it! Enjoy one for me and my old man.