Session #125: Single Malt, Single Hop

Cascade Express -- hop-themed boarding card.

Mark Lindner at By the Barrel has asked us to consider so-called SMaSH beers – that is, those made using one variety of malt and one variety of hops.

We were going to give this a miss because we couldn’t think of any such beer we’d drunk in recent years, or at least not any that made a virtue of their SMaSH sta­tus and pro­claimed it at point of sale.

(St Austell did release a series of SMaSH beers a cou­ple of years ago but unfor­tu­nate­ly, like so many of the more inter­est­ing prod­ucts of our (not for much longer) local giant they proved impos­si­ble to actu­al­ly find on sale in any of the pubs we vis­it­ed at the time.)

But then we began to won­der… How many quite com­mon­ly found beers are SMaSH beers even if they don’t declare it?

Rooster’s Yan­kee, for exam­ple – a beer we wrote about at length in Brew Bri­tan­nia and have often touched on else­where – is (as far as we can tell) made with 100 per cent Gold­en Promise malt and 100 per cent Cas­cade hops. And we believe (evi­denced cor­rec­tions wel­come) that Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold, anoth­er long-time favourite of ours, is made using 100 per cent Eng­lish lager malt and 100 per cent, er, Brewer’s Gold hops.

You might say, in fact, that the pale-n-hop­py UK cask ale sub-style is often SMaSH by default. Sean Franklin, the founder of Rooster’s, has long cham­pi­oned the idea of using 100 per cent pale malt to pro­vide the clean­est pos­si­ble back­ground for hops to express them­selves, and that’s cer­tain­ly approx­i­mate­ly how most of the best exam­ples of HLA seem to be engi­neered. Per­haps there’s some wheat in there (see Jarl) or a dab of some­thing like Munich malt just to round it out a lit­tle but, gen­er­al­ly, Franklin­ian sim­plic­i­ty seems to be the pre­ferred route.

So, what oth­er exam­ples of Stealth SMaSH are out there in UK pubs?

And does any­one know, for exam­ple, if Oakham Cit­ra might be a SMaSH beer? Online home­brew forums are full of guessed recipes (guess­cipes…) but we can’t find author­i­ta­tive infor­ma­tion. Our guess is, yes, in which case, it turns out we’ve drunk tons of SMaSH beer after all.

8 thoughts on “Session #125: Single Malt, Single Hop”

  1. I seem to remem­ber see­ing the bot­tled ver­sion of Sum­mer Light­ning is all pale malt and gold­ings.

    1. Fair­ly cer­tain Arbor did a huge range of smash beers about 8–10 years ago. Dif­fer­ent hop each thing me, and a good 2 dozen dif­fer­ent brews

  2. As per link above – Jarl has tor­ri­fied wheat, which is nor­mal­ly added for extra body and head reten­tion. Even most gold­en ales I sus­pect have a lit­tle bit of wheat, rye, crys­tal or eg a pilsner/Maris Otter mix.

    Pre­sum­ably a lot of the bet­ter lagers are not much more than pil­sner malt + Saaz/Hallertauer.

    And I imag­ine that if you go back in his­to­ry, at least pre-1870s when Fug­gles was intro­duced, then most (not all) British beers will have been just Gold­ings on the hops side (although it’s debat­able whether Gold­ings count as a sin­gle kind of hop – in Kent they don’t). Think back to farm­house beers, that would have used home-made malt, pre­pared in one batch but with some parts of the grist quite toast­ed and oth­ers not.

    As I said in my lit­tle con­tri­bu­tion to this Ses­sion – SMaSH is a Thor­ough­ly Good Thing to do at home and in the pilot plant – hom­me­brew­ers in par­tic­u­lar­ly should do more of it to learn their process and ingre­di­ents – but in the pub I don’t want home­work, I want the best pos­si­ble beer, which means the com­plex­i­ty and con­sis­ten­cy that comes with mul­ti­ple ingre­di­ents. The wine world has already gone down this route – in most cas­es reject­ing the blend­ing of vari­etals that made the names of Bor­deaux, Chateauneuf and Cham­pagne, it’s inter­est­ing to see that winer­ies are now com­ing back to the idea of the best pos­si­ble blend rather than vari­etal puri­ty.

  3. This trend towards sin­gle vari­etals has been going on in the wine indus­try for some time now. Have a look in your local super­mar­ket – there are very few wines that make a virtue out of being made from a blend of grapes. It’s all shi­raz from one place, mal­bec from anoth­er and mer­lot from every­where else. Ten or twen­ty years ago those same shelves would have fea­tured much more strong­ly both tra­di­tion­al and inno­v­a­tive blends of dif­fer­ent grape vari­eties. I like French reds, and I would always look for vins de pays – local blends of local grapes – but these are almost com­plete­ly van­ished nowa­days.

    A sim­i­lar thing now seems to be hap­pen­ing with beers – this idea of a sin­gle malt, very often some­thing fair­ly insipid, is used so that the drinker’s atten­tion is drawn to the dis­tin­guish­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of the sin­gle hop that is splashed across its bland, blank can­vas. The idea is to gen­er­ate a kind of loy­al­ty in the mind of the drinker. So just as mod­ern drinkers of super­mar­ket wines will look for shi­raz, or for chardon­nay, so mod­ern real ale buffs will look for cit­ra, or for amar­il­lo. This seems to me a lazy approach to brew­ing, just as it is for wine­mak­ing, with the eye firm­ly on the tar­get of easy prof­its.

    In my opin­ion, the bet­ter brew­ers, and the more dis­cern­ing drinkers, will be look­ing for the more inter­est­ing effects that can be obtained from doing some­thing dif­fer­ent with the ingre­di­ents, and com­bi­na­tions of ingre­di­ents.

    There will always be plen­ty of peo­ple who like to drink the same thing every time, with­out upset­ting the parts of their brains that are con­nect­ed to their taste buds. I hope that there will always be more adven­tur­ous brew­ers to cater for those of us who look for a bit more stim­u­la­tion.

    1. With respect, those sin­gle-vari­etal wines on the super­mar­ket shelves are the equiv­a­lent of the Doom Bar and Bod­dies in the next aisle – they reflect what the cool kids were drink­ing in the 1990s. I talk to wine­mak­ers that are clos­er to the bleed­ing edge, and there’s def­i­nite­ly renewed inter­est in blends – not just from the wine equiv­a­lents of the Ker­nel and Cloud­wa­ter, but from the more for­ward think­ing of the next group back from the bleed­ing edge – the wine equiv­a­lents of Adnams and Snozzell. That doesn’t mean sin­gle vari­etal wines will dis­ap­pear – things hap­pen much more slow­ly in the wine world on the agro­nom­ic side if noth­ing else – but there’s def­i­nite stir­rings.

      I’d dis­agree with you though on the lack of blends at the bot­tom of the mar­ket – they’re def­i­nite­ly still there – and are bet­ter than ever, due to bet­ter tech­nol­o­gy and aim­ing for a more sophis­ti­cat­ed flavour pro­file. It makes sense – if you blend two cheap wines togeth­er you get more com­plex­i­ty and you’re fur­ther from the extremes than if you just have one cheap wine. Yes, the “Sains­burys” mar­ket is all about sin­gle vari­etals (with some excep­tions, like Shi­raz-Viog­nier blends), but you are see­ing more blends in the wine equiv­a­lent of the craft beer bar at the £8–12 retail lev­el. It’s also worth point­ing out that even “sin­gle” vari­etals and appel­la­tions will often have 20–30% of oth­er vari­etals despite what the label says.

      It always hap­pens when you have a rev­o­lu­tion – the old and new guards start off at dag­gers drawn, but you end up with a syn­the­sis of the best of old and new. So the Old World has adopt­ed stain­less steel and tech­nolo­gies like microoxy­gena­tion from the New World, mean­while the New World is doing more blends and is being a bit more restrained with the use of oak. The result is bet­ter wine on both sides.

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