Trying to clone Bell’s Two Hearted Ale

My latest brew is an attempt to clone Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. Bell’s is one of my favorite breweries, but I can’t buy their beer out here in Colorado. Instead I buy a bunch every time I head back to Iowa, but it doesn’t last forever.

Of Bell’s beers, their Two Hearted Ale, an American style IPA, is one of my very favorites. It is hoppy without being unbalanced, and the use of only Centennial hops works far better than I would have expected.

Since the six pack I bought during my Christmas holiday won’t last forever, I decided to try to brew a clone instead. The clone is based on a recipe posted to a popular homebrewing forum, with only minor changes to the malt bill and adjustments to the hop additions because of the higher alpha acids in the batch I used. I took this brew as a chance to try the Colorado two-row pale malt I’ve been eyeing for a while.

I actually did this brew back in January, but I only bottled it a week ago, and it’s not quite ready to drink yet. I’ll probably follow this up with a side by side comparison with actual Two Hearted Ale when it is.

The recipe (60 minute boil):

I know my simple brewing system well enough to target a 75% mash efficiency, which I usually hit within a couple of points. It was therefore easy use the grain bill from the forum recipe and have confidence I would hit the target. It took almost a half dozen brews to have that confidence in my skill and equipment; previously I had brews both above my target OG and well below. The beer was still good, but I wasn’t hitting the numbers I wanted. I have a much better chance now.





Harvesting the yeast

The one new thing I had to do for this brew was harvest the dregs of a bottle of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and cultivate the small amount of yeast left in the bottom of the bottle into enough clean yeast to brew a 5 gallon batch of beer.

I had to build up that small amount of yeast by feeding it wort and oxygen so it could multiply. I started by preparing wort for a normal yeast starter. I prepared some santizer and sanitized the lip and inside the neck of the bottle after opening it. I carefully poured the beer into a pint glass and reserved it, leaving all the yeast in the bottle at the bottom, which was then pitched into the starter while I drank my glass of beer.

Further reading showed that I may have wanted to start the first round of cultivation with something more dilute, but the yeast seemed to take to it well.

After a couple of days on the stir plate I had a decent amount of yeast. I refrigerated it and then decanted the beer off the top of the yeast layer. I pitched a new batch of starter wort on top of the yeast and put it back on the stir plate for a couple more days. I did this one last time, and at the end of that had about as much yeast slurry as I do for a normal batch of beer.

As noted above, the internet is pretty sure that Wyeast 1272 would give essentially the same results, but it was fun to grow the yeast from a single bottle into something I could use for a whole batch of beer, and to know I was using the same yeast that Bell’s did (assuming it didn’t mutate).

The stats and style notes

Per the BJCP guidelines this beer is an American-style IPA. I have a few notes on the Bell’s beer that indicates it is about 7% ABV with a starting gravity of about 1.064. This is the best I had to go on though.

American IPA

American IPA Homebrew Bell’s Estimate BJCP Reference
Calories (12 oz) 210 N/A N/A
IBUs (bitterness) 59 55 40 – 70
Color (SRM) 6.0 (light amber) ?? 6 – 15
ABV 6.8% 7.0% 5.5% – 7.5%
OG 1.064 1.064 1.056 – 1.075
FG 1.012 1.010 1.010 – 1.018

So I’m near 7% ABV, and within all the style targets for an American IPA. The notes I have on actual Two Hearted Ale are similar.

Early taste checks

As is normal for my process I taste samples of the beer as it moves along the fermentation and conditioning processes. This beer has by far the strongest hop aroma of anything I have brewed. I am not sure it is the most bitter, but the large late hop additions and dry hopping mean there is a big forward hop smell and flavor. The color is about right too.

When the beer has fully carbonated I’ll refrigerate a bottle of Bell’s Two Hearted and a bottle of my clone, and do a side-by-side comparison. It will not be a double blind taste test, just a comparison of color, clarity, head, aroma, taste, feel, and so on. I’m curious to know how close I got.

Even if it isn’t perfect, I think this is going to be a good batch. And my notes show it is my first IPA.

— Steve

Posted on 12 March 2013