From almost the minute I learned it was possible to brew beer at home, I began having little fantasies about what it might be like to brew a beer as good as some of the ones I purchased in the store. At that time, I'd never seen anyone brew beer at home. I'd never had any beer brewed in anyone's home. I had no idea how you did it, how long it took, what it cost, etc. Times have changed.
In the last six years or so, I've probably brewed a dozen batches of beer. The first several were done with a Mr. Beer kit that I bought from Woot.com on sale. Later, I realized the limitations inherent in that little 2.5-gallon kit and wanted something more. This year, I've brewed quite a few things.
In March, I went to North High Brewing and brewed a 15-gallon batch of a Belgian Tripel. It turned out well, and the simplicity of that particular recipe sparked me to acquire the equipment and ingredients necessary to do some new recipes at home - but not with the canned ingredients from Mr. Beer.
I did a beer in April, another in August, two in September, and one is in the fermenter a few feet away as I write this sentence. That one is based on a recipe from this book, Clone Brews by Tess and Mark Szamatulski. The book is available in print and digital formats, with the digital format available from Amazon through their Kindle Unlimited program - which is how I received it.
The book opens with a description of what it takes to clone a beer. Their advice in this area is pretty straightforward. Research the beer before you try to clone it, as many breweries share at least some details about the malts, hops, etc., used in their beers on their web site. Some will even tell you what's in the beer if you ask. Sometimes you'll find information on the bottle itself. It also helps to know "generic" recipes for the style of beer you're making, as it's likely that your favorite version of that beer is a variation of the well-known style.
After this, the authors talk about how to calculate bittering units, measuring and storing grains, using extracts to brew, calculating alcohol by volume, using grains, determining the color of your recipe, and a variety of other topics related to brewing in general.
The main section of the book provides the recipes for the commercial beers in the book. (If you want to see all the recipes listed in the book, go to Amazon.com and click the "look inside" link on the image of the book's cover. You'll be able to see the full table of contents and recipe list.) For each recipe, they give the name of the beer the recipe attempts to clone, the name of the brewery that makes the original beer, a description of it, specifications for the beer (such as style, yield, original gravity, final gravity, IBUs, and ABV), serving notes, food pairing notes, and brewing instructions.
The brewing instructions cover all the stages, amounts, times, and temperatures involved. Most recipes are extract based, but they do provide mini-mash and all-grain recipes at the end of each instruction set so that those who want to do a mini-mash or all-grain clone can do so without additional conversion effort for the recipe.
There are three appendices at the end of the book. The first features the style guidelines for the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) for a variety of beer styles. For each, they provide the style name, original gravity, final gravity, alcohol by volume, bitterness in IBUs, and color in SRM. The second appendix lists hops varieties, their origins, their uses, alpha acid ranges, and other hops varieties that could be substituted for them. The third and final appendix lists the various grains and adjuncts, their color ranges, gravity, characteristics, and beer styles they're used in.
Ultimately, what you buy a book like this for is to get the recipe for a beer you personally enjoy. Among the 200 recipes in the book, I found recipes for several beers I enjoy and hope to make someday. These include: Celebrator Doppelbock, Dragon Stout, Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout, Aventinus Wheat Doppelbock, Affligem Abbey Tripel, Barbar Belgian Honey Ale, Bush De Noel (also known as Scaldis Noel), Chimay Red, Petrus Tripel, St. Bernardus Prior 8, Trappistes Rochefort 8, La Trappe Quadruppel, and Magic Hat #9.
If you're an IPA fan, you'll probably appreciate the many recipes for those as well. Clones of Alesmith IPA, Dogfish Head 60 Minute, Lagunitas IPA, Stone IPA, and other pale ales can be found in the book.