Beer styles The Session

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 replies on “Session #125: Single Malt, Single Hop”

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

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.

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.

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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