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.
This fourth round of Magical Mystery Pour was chosen for us by David Bishop, AKA @broadfordbrewer, AKA Beer Doodles (@beerdoodles), and kicks off with a new beer from Magic Rock.
In case you’ve missed the previous instalments Magical Mystery Pour is where we ask someone else to select a few beers which we then buy with our own money. The idea is to broaden our horizons and get ourselves out of a rut we may or may not have been in. (We admit nothing.)
Most of the beers David chose for us are from Yorkshire and he suggested we order them from Leeds-based retailer Beer Ritz, which we did. Inhaler (4.5%) was £2.66 per 330ml can and David says:
It’s new to the Magic Rock range and one that fits the bill for a post-bike-ride beer. Refreshing, juicy, session beer…. packaged for portability, or something.
The can, like almost all craft beer cans, is very pretty and tactile. Magic Rock beers initially followed the BrewDog colour-coding system — green for pale ale, blue for IPA, red for amber, pink for prawn cocktail and so on. This one is a luxurious black and red which made us expect cherries and chocolate until we read the label: JUICY PALE ALE.
Continue reading “Magical Mystery Pour #14: Magic Rock Inhaler + Special Guest”
We’ve generally enjoyed Rooster’s beer on draught but have had mixed results with the bottled versions which we’ve put down to that scourge of the microbrewery — contract bottling. None of them have been bad, as such — just rather flaccid and stale tasting. The cans are packaged in-house, however, so we had high hopes that they might better capture the zing of the aromatic hops on which Rooster’s has built its reputation.
Fort Smith (5% ABV, £2.23 for 330ml from Beer Ritz) comes in a golden can with a matte finish, classy looking despite a vague reminder of Gold Label barley wine. It poured yellow-gold with gentle but generous carbonation which produced a thick, textured white head. The aroma was dominated by apricot and peach — a concentrated hit, like a scented candle — while the flavour recalled elderflower. The bitterness was assertive and almost surgically clean. Overall, it sits somewhere between a pint of cask pale’n’hoppy, as found up north, and a decent lager, and is certainly a cut above those cooked-tasting golden ales the supermarkets turn out.
Baby Faced Assassin (6.1%, £2.42 for 330ml from Beer Ritz) is a beer we’ve wanted to try for a long time ever since seeing Zak Avery’s joyful reaction to an early iteration. (“It’ll never be released commercially…”) Opening the can released a burst of tropical fruit and citrus — it somehow smelled sweet, like a tin of Del Monte. Clear orange in the glass, it too had on of those solid, wavy white heads which inspires confidence. Close up, there was some weedy-ness to round out the fruit salad. The first taste elicited an ‘Oh, yes!’ It’s not at all sugary or cloying despite the aroma and, in fact, teeters on the line of being too bitter. As we went on, we detected an intriguing note of hedgerow herbs — cow parsley? — which you might call cattiness. BFA is not massively unusual — there are lots of beers that look and smell similar — but it all comes together so well, with no niggling off flavours to distract or irritate, that we couldn’t help but love it. Top marks.
Perhaps the extreme freshness of both cans gave them a bit of added glamour. Certainly the Brooklyn East India Pale Ale we tried afterwards tasted like the mummified corpse of a good beer, the hops all gone, leaving only a husk of leathery toffee.
As we are in the middle of writing about and researching the career of Sean Franklin, founder of Yorkshire brewery Rooster’s, we were pleased to come across the beer that made his name, Yankee (4.3%), in a bar in London.
Just as Butcombe Bitter is a dogged survivor from the first flush of the nineteen-seventies ‘real ale craze’, Yankee is arguably the quintessential nineteen-nineties British ‘craft beer’, featuring American Cascade hops in a starring role. In 2001, Michael Jackson described it as follows:
[Yankee] is hopped entirely with Cascades… [and] brewed exclusively from pale malts, with soft flavours, so that the assertive hop can dominate. His use of the hop always emphasises aroma first, then flavour, rather than simple bitterness… In the Cascade hop, Franklin finds the robust citrus of the Muscat grape and the lychee character of the Gewürztraminer.
Franklin entered semi-retirement in 2011, handing over the reins of his brewery to Oliver and Tom Fozard. They face an interesting challenge: unlike Butcombe, which was born old, Rooster’s reputation rests on innovation and experimentation. Does continuing a twenty-year-old brand mean brewing twenty-year-old recipes (playing ‘the greatest hits’ and ‘golden oldies’), or continuing to push boundaries in the spirit of Mr Franklin? The answer is probably ‘a bit of both’. Tricky.
It’s hard to say whether the Yankee we drank last week tastes quite as it would have done fifteen years ago, but it certainly left us with a suspicion that the Cascade character which once seemed revolutionary — downright un-beer-like — has become rather respectable in its old age. Our pints were very enjoyable, but, like that other breakthrough brew Summer Lightning, this is a beer which struggles these days to stand out amidst a sea of louder, brasher imitators.