Friday, 16 July 2010

Clone Beers

A local spoogebeerian recently sidled up to me and asked if I'd been to Brew Wharf lately. Brew Wharf is/was a joint venture beer-themed restaurant near Vinopolis in Borough which opened in 2005 with its own 5-barrel plant inside the premises.

I hadn't, though I was aware that the brewing plant, which had suffered several false dawns since test brewing commenced in the Autumn of 2005, was now turning out some drinkable and well-regarded beers. The spoogebeerian told me that the current brewer, Phil Lowry, had brewed a clone of RRBC's Blind Pig IPA.

Spot the clone...

I chewed this over. Cloning of craft beer isn't unusual. The large number of homebrewing clubs in the USA are a vast repository of recipes belonging to commercial brewers, which they use to attempt their own versions. However, I believe it's rare for anybody to commercially brew clones. In the end I didn't make the trip, but Matt Wickham from the Evening Star did, pronouncing the beer as very good, and he would know since he spends a week a year drinking the real thing locally around SF and Sonoma County.

For me, I'm curious and a bit split down the middle. Not too many drinkers here would know Blind Pig, so they'll be judging Brew Wharf's on its own merits. But, is it right to use another commercial brewer's recipe in this way? The name of the beer, Hopfather, is also, I believe the name of a different RRBC beer. I'm pleased that somebody is at last making a go of the Brew Wharf plant. I can remember when they were test-brewing and sold (bloody SOLD!) some very sub-par batches. But part of me thinks that using the recipe in this way might be encroaching onto thin ice. Or is there no harm when the original Blind Pig isn't available outside the US?


Leigh said...

I gues it depends how much of a copy it is. Despite there being so many beers out there, they are all, at the end of the day, variations on a theme; food recipes are exactly the same. It's doing no harm, I would imagine. I've given this place a wide berth until now - i'll check it out. I've never tasted Blind Pig; without this article, would I have known the link between it and HopFather? Maybe not.

Sid Boggle said...

True. All beer is derived from variations of the same small handful of ingredients, and there's also the endless debate about style. Issues such as 'passing off' crossed my mind, but I was in the end more interested in the idea that a US homebrewing phenomenon crossed over, and here of all places.

Blind Pig has an intense citrus bitterness to me. Very distinctive. I think (not having been into BW myself) that there are tasting notes or similar in there explaining its provenance.

Mark Dredge said...

I think it's more of an inspiration that a like-for-like clone - searching for something similar but not going for the exact replica.

To be honest, even if the recipe was exactly the same, followed exactly the same instructions, both would still taste different because of the idiosyncrasies of ingredients and equipment.

EyeChartBrew said...

They (BW) would have been better served not sharing to the world that it's a clone beer -- a clone of a very well regarded beer, at that.

They could have named it something totally unrelated to Russian River -- oh, I don't know, "Borough's Best IPA"? -- and then have all the praise and accolades go towards *their* beer. Even if they tag with "...inspired by a certain Russian River beer", etc.

Rather, the beer will always be compared to Vinnie C's beer, and any awards or what-have-you it receives will always have a Barry Bonds-esqe asterisk.

And lastly, does Vinnie see this as homage to his beer, or simply swiping a good idea semi-nefariously?