Philadelphia Beer Week kicked off with a daylong bar crawl downtown Friday.
On Sunday, a slightly more cerebral event awaits. Local homebrewers will compete in a “clone” taste-test at City Tap House in West Philadelphia to pit their brews against commercial beers they tried to mimic.
Langhorne beer writer Lew Bryson said being able to claim your beer is indistinguishable from a Guinness or Yards gives ultimate bragging rights, akin to a home chef serving a meal at a top restaurant with the diners being none the wiser.
“It’s one of the big things for them to say, ‘Yeah, I put mine in a contest with the big boys and they couldn’t tell the difference,’ ” Bryson said.
Bryson said even with a recipe it is rare to get a good match in a scaled-down home brewing setup.
“You don’t know for sure you have the right yeast, you don’t know for sure you have the right malt, you don’t have the same equipment,” Bryson said. “The size of the vessels can make a difference and, certainly. the precision of the temperatures.”
Matt Tarlecki from Phoenixville closely followed a recipe he found for English-style amber ale from a California brewery for this weekend’s event. He made up a batch on his patio, then aged half of it in an oak barrel according to instructions, to give it an aroma of vanilla. He said even the water used makes a big difference.
“If the mineral contents are different, you’ll get different ending flavors in the beer,” Tarlecki said.
He added calcium, sodium and sulfate to his Pennsylvania water to bring its mineral profile closer to the water used at the California brewery, with the hope it would react with the hops in the same way.
“When you add those minerals in, it’ll make the hops give the beer a little bit fuller taste and a little bit more of a bitter taste,” Tarlecki said.
In the past, Tarlecki has cultured yeast from sediment captured from the bottom of bottles to make beer. The ale he is cloning this time is filtered before bottling, so he’s hoping that a store-bought strain of yeast is close enough.
“Sunday will be the moment of truth,” Tarlecki said.
The beer he tried to match is not available for sale in Pennsylvania, and he said he hasn’t actually tasted it since last Thanksgiving. He won’t taste it side-by-side with his creation until the competition.