Friday 10 May 2013

Brewing a Maine Beer Company Zoe clone (No. 3 in the Maine Beer Clone series)

When deciding on the third clone for this, my "Maine Beer Clone series" (previous entries were Oxbow's Freestyle #5 and Rising Tide's Daymark), I continued to have a lot of options. Sorry to beat a dead horse by saying that Maine has a lot of awesome breweries, but it's the truth. Despite all this, however, picking what was next was actually very easy... in fact, I would have done this beer even earlier, but I wanted to wait until I thought I had enough info to take a real shot at it. The brewery is Maine Beer Company, and the beer is Zoe, an American Amber Ale in the U.S. West Coast sense - bigger and hoppier than your "typical" Amber.

When I took my first beer-trip to Portland, ME in June of 2009, Maine Beer Company had basically just started as a professional brewery. Started by brothers Daniel and David Kleban, they only had one beer at the time, an American Pale Ale called Spring Peeper. This was actually the first Maine beer I had on this trip, and I was blown away by it. It was, and still is, one of the best APAs I've ever had... super-hoppy in a very citrusy way, bitter but not overly-so, with a supporting malt background. This beer is still available; the name has just been shortened to "Peeper". Since then, every beer that they have released has been awesome, in my opinion... and a lot of other beer drinkers would agree with me. MBC has grown quite a bit since 2009, and they just moved to larger headquarters in Freeport.

The second beer that MBC released was their self-described, "Happy, Hoppy Amber", named Zoe after the daughter of one of the Klebans. At 7.2%, the beer pours a dark red color, has a really nice caramel malt background (with a touch of chocolate), and a pretty large hop presence, citrusy and piney. A delicious beer. I've had a lot of the "bigger" Ambers over the past few years, and Zoe is still probably my favorite of them all. Like I said, I love all of the MBC beers I've tried, and would be happy trying to clone any of them... but I haven't brewed an Amber in a while, and Zoe is the perfect one to try.

I had actually emailed MBC a couple of years ago about help with a Zoe clone, but the only reply I received directed me to the info on their website. The site DOES actually say what the starting gravity is, and what malts and hops they use... enough to start with, but I wanted a bit more, if possible. About 6 months ago, however, I stumbled upon a clone recipe for Peeper on one of the homebrew forums online. Obtained from Dan Kleban, it was very detailed. It was noted that the recipe was given to the homebrewer back when MBC was just getting started, and that it was more difficult to get this much info out of the brewers now. So, I sent a direct message to the person who had posted it, and he sent along the email address that Dan had replied from.

Knowing that emailing a brewer and just saying, "Give me the recipe for your beer, please" is not the way to go about it, I emailed Dan and told him what I was thinking for the recipe. Here's what I originally came up with:

"~42% each 2-row and Marris Otter, 5% each Victory and Munich, 2.5% each Crystal 40 and 80, and maybe 1-2% Chocolate malt. Mash 152 F. Columbus for bittering, Centennial and Simcoe @10 min, lots in the whirlpool, and a good dry-hop of each as well. Maybe 65 IBUs? Ferment with a neutral American Ale yeast at about 68 F."

Now, as I mentioned, I had the list of ingredients from the MBC website. I based the amounts on the Peeper description and the corresponding clone recipe online... basically, they seem to list their grains in decreasing amounts. I knew that Zoe has a touch of chocolate flavor, but nothing severe, so I figured the Chocolate malt was more just to darken the color of the beer a bit. I guessed on the hop combinations and "amounts", but knew (again, from the Peeper recipe) that Dan does large flameout additions; Zoe may not be as hoppy as Peeper, but it can be pretty darn close. Also, Zoe is bitter but not super-bitter, so I thought ~65 IBUs was a fair guess.

I waited for awhile and never heard back. I sent the email a second time, about a month later, just in case, but still never got a reply. Then, about a month ago, I sent a message to MBC through their Facebook site, and they gave me Dan's email... which was different from the one I had been using! Whoopsie. I emailed the new address, and Dan replied almost right away:

"You are remarkably close. Mash a little cooler, 150. Simcoe bittering. Keep Columbus in the late hop additions and DH."

Ok, maybe not as much info as the Peeper recipe, but hey, I had something to work with now!

So, I basically had the grist decided, since Dan didn't suggest any changes there. When developing the hopping schedule, I kept it fairly simple. I went with a bittering charge at 60 minutes of Simcoe (despite my reservations, using a valuable hop like Simcoe for bittering!) to ~36 IBUs... the rest of the bitterness would be from late additions. Originally I had planned on one flavor addition, and a whirlpool addition for a hop steep, but I decided to go with 1/2 oz each of Simcoe, Centennial and Columbus at both 10 and 5 minutes. I really have no idea if MBC uses equal amounts of these hops for flavor and aroma, but I know that they DO use equal amounts of late-addition hops for Peeper, so I chose to follow this lead. Two large flameout additions of all three (one AT flameout for a 10-minute hop steep, the other when I turned on the chiller), and a decent-sized dry-hop to finish off.

Not much left to deal with, here. I DID make a couple of water adjustments. I have no idea what the Portland, ME water analysis looks like, and I didn't bother trying to figure it out, since I would have to find out exactly what MBC does to their water (if anything) when brewing. However, Mike Tonsmeire of The Mad Fermentationist provided a water profile he calls "San Diego - Hoppy" on his blog, from when he was helping Modern Times develop recipes for their year-round beers. A hoppy Amber was one of the beers that Mike helped develop, and I really liked the look of the water profile, so I adjusted my water to meet those targets (basically, increasing calcium, chloride, sodium, and sulfate to moderate levels).

In terms of yeast, "neutral American Ale yeast" means, for us homebrewers, anyway, either Wyeast 1056 American Ale, White Labs WLP001, or US-05 for dry yeast. I suspect that MBC uses a strain with better attenuation than any of these yeast strains, mainly because of the numbers listed on their website. For example:

Peeper: OG 1.047, ABV 5.5%... so, the FG would have to be ~1.005, which is 90% apparent attenuation
Zoe: OG 1.064, ABV 7.2%... FG must be ~1.009; 86% average attenuation

Their other hoppy beers follow along these lines. However, Wyeast 1056 lists an attenuation as between 73 and 77%, which is a lot lower than upper 80s. I personally would have preferred to use 1056 here, but the pack my LHBS had was over two months old and would have required a two-step starter to get the yeast numbers I needed, so I ended up using about 1.5 packs of US-05, rehydrated. I've never had attenuation with US-05 approach 86%, so I really doubt I'll get this beer down to 1.009. We'll see.

This brew marked the first time in a while that I have purchased new equipment. I finally broke down and made a move into wort aeration that doesn't simply involve shaking the carboy. Williams Brewing, an online home oxygen aeration system for sale that's pretty cool - it's simply a stainless steel aeration stone, some tubing, and an oxygen regulator that you hook up to one of those small oxygen tanks that you can buy at hardware stores. However, it's a sure-fire way to get the required amount of oxygen into your wort... shaking can only add so much, and this becomes more of an issue with higher-gravity beers. I plan on posting about wort aeration in the near future, so more on that later.

With a trip to Portland planned (hopefully) for next month, it should be pretty easy for me to find another bottle of Zoe to take back to compare to my beer; this is great, considering the beers I've been trying to clone lately that aren't available nearby at all. I really like this style of beer, so I'm hoping to make tweaks to the recipe over time until it's close to the real thing.

Thanks to Dan Kleban for his help with formulating the recipe!

Recipe targets: (6 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.064, FG ~1.009, IBU 66, SRM 15, ABV ~7.2%

2.77 kg (41.75%) Canadian 2-row
2.77 kg (41.75%) Maris Otter
372 g (5%) Munich
372 g (5%) Victory
168 g (2.5%) Crystal 40 L
168 g (2.5%) Crystal 80 L
100 g (1.5%) Chocolate malt

Simcoe - 28 g (12.9% AA) @ 60 min
Simcoe - 14 g @ 10 min
Centennial - 14 g (9.9% AA) @ 10 min
Columbus -14 g (14.5% AA) @ 10 min
Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus - 14 g each @ 5 min
Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus - 21 g each @ flameout, 10-minute whirlpool
Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus - 21 g each when started chiller
Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus - 28 g each dry-hop for 7 days

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: US-05, 1&1/2 packages, re-hydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Epsom Salt, 4 g table salt, 6 g Gypsum divided between the mash and sparge water

- Brewed on May 5th, 2013, by myself. 60-minute mash with 20.5 L of strike water, mashed in a bit high at  151 F. Sparged with ~4.75 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons in the kettle.

- SG a touch low at 1.051 (target 1.052). 60-minute boil. Chilled to 65 F in about 20 minutes with immersion chiller. Poured ~5 gallons into Better Bottle. OG 1.063. Aerated wort with 60 seconds of pure O2. Pitched yeast and set BB in laundry room sink, ambient temp about 68 F.

6/5/13 - In AM, airlock bubbling q 2 seconds or so, temp 64 F. By PM, temp had increased to 68 F, and airlock was bubbling every second.

7/5/13 - In AM, activity has increased, airlock bubbling probably twice per second; temp had increased to 72 F. By PM, starting to slow down at every second, temp still at 72 F.

8/5/13 - Steadily slowing throughout the day, bubbling every 5 seconds by the evening, temp dropped a bit to 70 F.

23/5/13 - Added dry hops into primary.

30/5/13 - FG 1.013. Bottled with 120 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 with a max temp of 72 F reached.

25/6/13 - Tasting notes from a week ago, compared to the real Zoe... came out really great, very similar to Zoe.


  1. Nice to see the O2 setup!
    My fermentations took off like crazy after I started using pure O2. Let me know how it goes!

  2. I'd love to hear more about the peeper clone you are talking about. Love that beer.

    1. I'm planning on brewing that one sometime in the near future! I had a super-fresh one a couple weeks ago; it's such an awesome beer. And it's kind of the Bud Light to bars and restaurants in Portland, now... all over the place.

  3. I would love to see a King Titus recipe! Love that beer!

    1. Agreed... that is one fine Porter! Maybe I should make that one of my next projects...

  4. Great info. Good stuff. You've inspired me to brew this Amber. Cheers!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post... and I really recommend the recipe, if you're a fan of hoppy Ambers!

  5. Hi, great work. I'm looking to brew this next weekend to have a few bottles for Easter. Just wondering if you can tell me what the EBC was for the Munich? Thanks, Adan

    1. I believe it's 8-10 SRM... if you only have darker, I don't think it would make much of a difference, if any, at only 5%. Good luck!

  6. Hello Shawn, thanks for the sleuthing and developing a recipe for a really great beer! I gave it a go, with the one notable variation from your recipe being the yeast. I used WY1450 (the local was out of 1056, go figure!). I also scaled down a bit, OG of 1.060, FG 1.013, 6.2%ABV with 76% attenuation. Happily, MBC just started distributing to New York City, so I've done side by side tastings with my bottles next to their bottles, as well as on draught. The big difference was in malt presence. Their roast/chocolate flavor was much more pronounced, and their overall malt flavor was more solid and balanced. In the hops, I got more Simcoe character (what some find as cat piss) from Zoe, with more of the standard American citrus in mine. There are so many variables, both between home brewer's setups, and especially between home brewing and pro scale, that I'm not sure I would recommend anyone else adjust the recipe based only on my experience though. Thanks again, its one of the best beers I've made!

    1. Glad to see we're on the same page about the real Zoe having more roast/chocolate flavor to it. As I mentioned in my tasting notes, I remember my first bottles of Zoe being more hop-forward, with little chocolate character to the aroma or flavor, but now it seems like the beer is more malt-oriented.
      In terms of you getting more Simcoe from the real thing, maybe they hop more heavily with Simcoe. Dan told me my guess at 1:1:1 Simcoe/Centennial/CTZ was fine, but that may have been more of a "sure, that should get you close" type answer.
      Either way, glad you were happy with your clone! Thanks for letting me know how it turned out!

  7. Hi Shawn! Thanks so much for the recipe. I appreciate your work and effort to put this all together. After over a year of watching Youtube videos and homebrew club meetings and brewing with friends; I decided to finally start brewing. This was my first ever homebrew! She is so good! I went straight to all-grain and kegging. I will be making this again, the taste is amazing. There is no Zoe around here right now, so I can't compare side by side. Life is good. Thanks again, cheers!

    1. Thanks, Steve! Glad the beer turned out well for you, and congrats on your first brew! That's impressive that you started immediately with AG and kegging, good work. Hope you continue to have success with this "hobby"!

  8. Awesome post, thanks for the effort in going after the brewer and in sharing!

    1. Ha, you're welcome! The way I read that quick I pictured myself actually running after the guy!

  9. great beer, very close to what I remember of Zoe. thx for the recipe.

  10. mine was a bit lighter in color than yours but still delicious