Thursday, 10 November 2016

Brewing a Maine Beer Co. Lunch clone (No. 8 in the Maine Beer Clone series)

Another year, another attempted clone of a Maine beer! It never ceases to amaze me how many awesome breweries this state has. My wife and I took a beer trip to Portland in May; it was our first trip without kids to Portland in about a year and a half... that was a real eye-opener to me, since I regularly used to make it to Portland about four times a year before my daughter was born. With that big of a travel gap, there were a few new breweries that had popped up, and it looks like some more have opened even since then. My point is, there are plenty of great beers brewed in Maine, and therefore plenty of great beers to try to "clone" at home... but I keep coming back to the classics, most of which are brewed by Maine Beer Company.

Lunch was MBC's fourth release (after Peeper, Zoe, and Mean Old Tom), and their first American IPA. Let me tell you, even though it's been years now since they started brewing it, it is still considered - rightly so - a fantastic IPA. Here's how the brewery describes it:

Intense hop flavours and tropical, citrus fruit and pine aromas dominate the flavour profile, balanced by subtle malt sweetness.

That's actually a perfect summation of this beer. If you look at the many pictures snapped of Lunch, you can see immediately that it doesn't look quite as pale-coloured as many IPAs are now; it definitely is on the dark-golden/light-amber side of things. That's not to say this is a sweet beer; it certainly isn't, thankfully. But there's more malt character than a lot of newer breweries put into their hoppy beers. But with Lunch, it all works perfectly. Hoppy, yet balanced. Bitter to a degree, but smooth and easy-drinking. A great beer! And, interestingly, not named after the meal, but after a whale that swims (swam?) off the coast of Maine that had a bite out of its fin, and was named Lunch by the locals as a result.

I've always wanted to brew a clone of this beer. I've done many other MBC clones in my Maine Beer Clone series, and Lunch has been the next one planned for some time. And I'm certainly not the only homebrewer to have tried to clone Lunch; there's plenty of attempts out there that have been documented on blogs, homebrew forums, etc. But this time around, I didn't have to do any work. Nope, no digging, no bugging brewers, no analyzing the beer at all.

You may be wondering, has he developed some sort of a psychic sense when it comes to homebrewing? No, I can assure you that if I had, I would be making better beer. What happened was months ago, someone emailed me and we chatted about at least one of my MBC clones. That person eventually told me that they had been giving a photo taken of the MBC actual brew log, turned to a double-brew day of Lunch. They asked if I'd like a copy; I said sure, even though I admit I was skeptical. But when they sent it along, I had to admit that it looked genuine! I guess only a brewer at MBC could confirm, but it really does appear to be authentic. Everything is there: grist and percentage of each grain, exact hop times, amounts, and alpha acids, pH readings... everything. EXCEPT the dry hop. However, this person told me they had questioned Dan Kleban (MBC's co-owner and head brewer) on this, and that he confirmed they use a total of 2.3 lbs/BBL, shared equally between all three of the hop varieties in the beer (Amarillo, Centennial, and Simcoe).

I've actually had this recipe for months now (maybe even over a year?), but only got around to brewing it in September. I'm no fool; I know that recipe is only part of what makes a beer great, with technique being at LEAST half of it. But I wanted to give it a try! I've had Lunch about ten different times, so I'm at least a little familiar with it, and had an idea what to expect it to look, taste, and smell like. So I finally found the time to fit it in my brewing schedule, and scaled the recipe down from ~400 gallons, to 5.

The grist is made up mainly of 2-row, with small amounts (~4%) of Crystal 40 L, Munich 10 L, and Red Wheat, and an even smaller amount of Carapils. I also threw in some Acid malt as I always do for pale beers, to bring my mash pH into range (MBC's mash pH for Lunch is ~5.4). I will note that I asked Dan Kleban a while back if they did pH adjustments when making large dry-hop additions (e.g. Dinner), and he responded by saying that they didn't do any pH adjustments. I assume this means no adjustments throughout the brewing process at all, and the brew log seems to indicate this; I see no mention of Acid malt, phosphoric acid, etc. The OG I was aiming for was 1.063; Lunch is a 7% ABV beer, and MBC lists their OG as 1.059. Personally, I can't get the attenuation they seem to be getting, so I always aim for several points above their target when brewing one of their beers, to make up for that. I should also note that the Lunch mash temp is listed as 149 F.

As with all their beers, MBC lists on their website the hop varieties used in each. Lunch uses Warrior, Amarillo, Centennial, and Simcoe. Without seeing what is, apparently, the actual recipe for Lunch, I would probably come up with a clone that involved large additions of all three flavour hops, late in the boil (or maybe even just a flameout addition), and a large dry-hop... I would have been half-right.

Check out that hopping schedule! Let me begin by saying their 60-minute addition is actually Warrior, not Centennial; I'm not sure what I was doing. Maybe lowering the IBUs to where I wanted them? Dunno, but if you want to follow the MBC recipe, use 3 grams of Warrior (17.7% AA) at 60 minutes. Otherwise, there are many additions throughout the boil, but they're SMALL additions. I can see why they're not large; it's not like you're going to get much aroma or flavour at 45 or 30 minutes, and they weren't going for high IBUs. Obviously this approach works for them, so while it was against how I normally brew now, I followed their schedule to a tee. Minus the 60-min addition, of course. The flameout addition I used was also changed; MBC lists a whirlpool addition at half of what I have, 12 g of each variety for 5 gallons. I upped it because I assume their whirlpool is longer than 20 minutes at that size, so I made a hopefully-educated guess. A single, large dry-hop (almost 6 oz total), and you're set! Ferment the beer with a neutral American strain, of course (WP001, Wyeast 1056, US-05, etc.).

So, the beer was finally brewed and fermented, with no real issues to report; I admit it felt a little weird adding so few hops before chilling the beer, but I had faith. I pitched a rehydrated package of US-05, and fermentation took off quickly. The FG made it down to 1.011, which was about what I expected. The dry-hops went into primary for about 5 days, and then I kegged the beer and carbonated it with my typical 36-hours-at-30-PSI approach, which usually works well.

This was one of those beers where I really liked it at first, then felt that both the hop aroma and flavours dissipated quickly... and then came back a few days later. I'm still not sure if this is actually a part of the process, or one of my... quirks, but it can certainly be frustrating! Now that the beer (or me) has settled down, I'm enjoying it. While it's certainly not the best IPA I've brewed, it's got a pleasant blend of pine and citrus, with a fairly powerful aroma, and moderate bitterness. But how does it compare to Lunch?

Well, luckily I recently made a trip to Portland, and had a friend pick up a super-fresh (as in, bottled two days before I bought it) bottle of Lunch for me! And now that I've done a side-by-side with these beers, I can say that this recipe will get you VERY close. Complete tasting notes are below, but these beers are extremely similar: they look virtually identical, and the aroma and taste are pretty much spot-on as well. The biggest differences were that my clone smelled a bit hoppier, while the real thing had the edge in the taste department, with a smoother balance between the malt and hops.

If there's one thing this beer has taught me, though, it's that IPA tastes and expectations have changed in the last couple of years. I really enjoy Lunch, but it's not the type of IPA I usually seek out now. It's still a great beer, no doubt about that, but it doesn't really seem to be in line with the REALLY great IPAs out there, such as Bissell Brothers The Substance - hazy/cloudy, super-hoppy, with little perceived bitterness.

But if you're a Lunch fan - and I think most of us still are - give this recipe a try! I don't think you'll be disappointed. And a big shout out to the person responsible for sending it to me; I apologize for losing the email and forgetting your name!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.063, FG ~1.011, IBU ~50, SRM 6.9, ABV ~6.8%

4.75 kg (82.3%) Canadian 2-row
250 g (4.3%) Crystal 40 L
250 g (4.3%) Munich
250 g (4.3%) Wheat malt
150 g (2.6%) Acid malt
125 g (2.2%) Carapils

Centennial - 5 g (9% AA) @ 60 min
Centennial - 7 g @ 45 min
Centennial - 5 g @ 30 min
Amarillo - 4 g (8.7% AA) @ 30 min
Simcoe - 3 g (12.2% AA) @ 30 min
Centennial - 11 g @ 15 min
Amarillo - 6 g @ 15 min
Simcoe - 5 g @ 15 min

Amarillo, Centennial, Simcoe - 24 g each @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)

Amarillo, Centennial, Simcoe - 58 g each dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (1 pack, rehydrated)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum and 7 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on September 27th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water; mash temp on target of 149 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 8.5 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~3.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.050 (target 1.051). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.7 gallons; OG low at 1.061. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 64 F.

- Airlock bubbling strong by the next morning, continuing on for a few days before slowing down. Temp got up to 72 F during the peak.

- 4/10/16 - FG 1.011; added dry hops into primary.

- 10/10/16 - Racked beer to keg, cooled, and carbed to 10-12 PSI.

Lunch on the left, homebrew on the right

Appearance: Colour is about exactly the same; the homebrew is just slightly lighter in colour, and more clear. In the commercial version, the head lasts longer and there's more lacing.

Aroma: Virtually identical, hard to tell the difference. The homebrew is a bit stronger in the hop department - fruity and citrusy - while the commercial beer has a bit more malt presence.

Taste: Again, extremely close, with the commercial beer having the hops come across as smoother, somehow; lots of hops in both, citrusy and fruity, balanced by a bready malt backbone. Medium bitterness in both.

Mouthfeel: The real thing is slightly creamier. Both are medium-light bodied, moderate carbonation.

Overall: You can tell them apart, but not by much. Doing it blind (the triangle-test would be best) would make it even more difficult. I'm going to give the edge to Maine Beer Co. though, thanks to the smoother body and flavour profile.


  1. the hopping schedule isn't massive on this? is there a reason behind it?

    1. No, it isn't, but the dry-hop is pretty sizeable, really - I would rarely dry-hop with more than 6 oz of hops in total.

      I guess what they're doing works for them, though! They're well known for having very little hop amounts added before the end of the boil, and I guess this proves that it works, in a way.

      I've wondered aloud on this blog before if maybe homebrewers (myself included) are overdoing it with the hop additions, and I'm believing it more with this beer.

  2. Just finished a bottle of this, and am again attempting to clone the original. I notice a slight sulfur note on Maine's version, as well as a mineral character that isn't present in versions I've tried. Any thoughts on those? Could they be using a British ale yeast that leaves more body and adds a slight sulfur character, which may explain the creaminess issue you mentioned?

    1. Not sure, haven't had it in awhile, but they assured me before that they use the equivalent of US-05/WLP001/Wyeast 1056; I don't THINK they would change their yeast at this point.