Thanks to Mark Lindner for hosting this month’s The Sessions, aka Beer Blogging Friday, Session #125 on SMaSH beers. Mark is author of By the Barrel, Bend Beer Librarian. We’ve never been to Bend, but we’ve brewed a lot of great beers, both ales and lagers, with Oregon hops.
We decided we’d write about our own experiences brewing historic SMaSH beers (an acronym which stands for Single Malt and Single Hop). We’ve brewed SMash ales and lagers and through our research we’ve uncovered recipes for historic SMaSH beers. Many have descriptors like “3,458 lbs malt” and “Coastal hops” or simply “Imperial” in reference to hop varieties, making them nearly impossible to pin down without secondary research.
We’ll answer Mark’s questions which he posed in his prompt hosting The Sessions. His questions regarding SMaSH beers appear in italics below.
Are they trendy? When would they be considered to be trendy? Have you seen/had a variant (x-infused, fruit, …) single malt and single hop beer? More than one?
It’s hard to say specifically when SMaSH beers were trendy. This depends on the location where you are and how long you’ve been there and how long you’ve been observing the local brewing scene. For myself (Mike) and Pete, who live in DC, many of our “hottest” beers are not SMaSH. Looking south, with Josh in Miami, many of the trendy commercial beers he sees are brewed with fruit and blends of exotic hops so that even if a SMaSH Gose or Berliner is brewed with all Pilsner (and no wheat malt) it will likely have fruit. If a Gose, kefir lime, coriander, salt, and if a Berliner, potentially other additions like mint, hibiscus, vanilla, lactose, and the list goes on. Though as you likely know, Berliner and Gose typically consist of a pils/wheat grist. You needn’t look too far in the Florida beer scene to find many non-SMaSH beers. With homebrewers its another story. Josh brews an incredible barleywine that is 100% Marris Otter and 100% Goldings hops with an English ale strain of yeast. This beer is incredible and I can recall brewing it with Josh and enjoying it with him when he lived in DC, nearly 10 years ago. This beer while only one malt and one hop, typically under goes a 120-240 minute boil. Effectively the process adds complexities that would otherwise be malt-driven.
We wonder about the style of SMaSH. Our concern is that varying fermentables, be they molasses, corn, or rice, might be considered in violation of SMaSH beer. In the link Mark shared in his announcement for the 2017 Central Oregon SMaSH festival, at least one beer there was fruited so we assume that leaves corn and rice in the realm of SMaSH beers. We certainly think it does!
What purpose do SMaSH beers fill? For you, personally, and/or generally.
For us, personally, SMaSH beers build our esteem for great brewers. Why use 10 malts when you can use 5? And why use 5 malts when 1 will suffice with a more challenging brewing process? They also show how the brewers who came before us were savvier than modern people think. Often in olden times beer process made up for what ingredients lacked. One article from the Sacramento daily record-union which appeared in 1887 said that the “choicest Hallertau, Wolznach, and Saaz hops are known in this market by name only; the real article is scarcely ever sent, because our buyers would not pay the price, so we have to put up with the inferior sort known principally as export hops.” Ouch! The article makes it sound like it was tough to be a west coast brewer making a Saaz or Hallertau SMaSH beer in 1887.
Do they fill a niche in any beer style space? One that matters to you? Are they a “style,” however you define that?
Quite often the beers that matter most to us are historical. Personally its a way to reconnect with brewers who were marginalized and written out of the history books, brewers of color, female brewers, and the Jews of the new world who cooked and cooled many a lagerbier. SMaSH beers often fill the niche in something like lager. Particularly pilsner, which for us consist of just pilsner malt and Czech Saaz or a German Hallertau variety hop. Of course these beers are much easier to brew today in that quality malt and hops are more easily available to source comparatively to historic homebrewers. Still, looking at the entrants from the 2017 SMaSH fest, the outliers were clear with only one entry for Berlinerweisse and Rauchbier. I think the styles of Berlinerweiss comparatively to pale ale or Rauchbier to IPA, couldn’t be more different.
Have you ever had an excellent one? As a SMaSH beer or as a beer, period./Do you brew them?
We’ve been lucky enough to drink AND brew (without sounding too pretentious) an excellent SMaSH beer at the recently-opened Portner’s Brewpub in Alexandria, Virginia. Owners Catherine and Margaret Portner, are Robert Portner’s great-great granddaughters, Robert Portner’s being one of the most important names in Virginia Beer History. Our beer was a SMaSH Strong Ale brewed with Golden Promise malt and East Kent Golding hops. We dry-hopped the beer for good measure which definitely moved it from a balanced historic Scottish ale with pale malt and English hops, towards the modern pallet. This was a collaborative beer with our historian colleague Garrett Peck who wrote a short biography on Wales. Wales is DC’s first brewer, as well as Alexandria, and in 1772, George Washington paid Andrew Wales over £8 for Strong Beer.
Are there any styles besides pale ale/IPA that can be achieved via a single malt and single hop beer? (How about achieved versus done quite well.)
Strong Ales, Lagers, and many other styles can be successfully achieved via a single malt and single hop. The same goes for Sour Ales (assuming you can use more than one yeast strain or yeast and other bacteria/microorganisms). Achieving a GREAT SMaSH beer is largely dependent on the brewer and his/her/they/them/ze/sie/hir practices and experience. For a dynamite pilsner you can use Weyerman’s floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner malt and Saaz Hops. OR a locally malted pilsner malt, if you’re in Massachusetts consider Valley Malt’s 2-row pilsner malt and Hallertau Mittlefruh. Or if you want to brew Vienna lager consider an all-Vienna malt SMaSH with your hop of choice. Or go historical and use Saaz. One could surely conceive of an IPA brewed with Golden Promise or Marris Otter and Cascade hops that would be recognizable to a more experienced palate, and still be enjoyable to those newer to craft beer. Why not double or triple dry hop? You could even dry hop twice and then tertiary dry hop in-keg if you’re a kegger and not a bottler.
Do they offer anything to drinkers, especially non-brewing drinkers?
It affords the drinker an opportunity to understand a specific type of malt or hop variety better, or better yet, drinkers are happy to enjoy a beer that tastes like beer.
Well we finally did it. Brewed a historical beer as close to 100% accurate as possible. We didn’t “take inspiration from” or brew “an homage to.” And as much as we’ve had tremendous success with “recreating” those beers, there’s just something so disheartening about lacking an actual recipe. When we do have one it makes the beer all the more special.
This special beer of which we speak is called Praize the Maize, and it’s a delicious drinker that will debut at the Lake Anne Brew House on Thursday, February 16, 2017, at 7:00 PM. The small 2-barrel batch was brewed with Lake Anne Head Brewer Jason Romano on December 12, 2016.
More often than not we lack a complete recipe. Ingredients often seem up for debate, but it helps that we had a “complete” recipe. Quotes surround complete because while the recipe undeniably called for “N.Y. hops” the variety was not specified. Today New York state grows many hop varieties. Even in 1912 (the beer recipe date) there were multiple varieties grown by NY hop farmers. “N.Y. hops” might as well be listed as rice in a recipe…white? Brown? Jasmine?? Basmati???
The recipe came from the notebook of a friend, Paula, who’s grandfather, Paul, worked at many historic breweries, some of which are still around today. Paul worked at Lone Star Brewing Company in San Antonio, Texas, Anheuser Busch in St. Louis, and eventually the Weger Brother’s Brewing Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These stints in his brewing career were prior to prohibition (generally listed as 1920-1933). Post prohibition he continued his work as Brew Master of the Buckeye Brewery in Toledo, Ohio (that brewery closed in 1972, not to be confused with the modern Buckeye Brewing Company in Cleveland).
Beyond his illustrious career as a brewer, he was an avid chemist and brewing student having graduated from the Wahl & Henius Institute and serving as Chairman of the Educational Committee while a member of the Master Brewers Association of America.
Back to the recipe. Pretty straight forward. It reads, “Draught Beer 1912” and calls for “Malt,” “Wheat Flakes” and “Grits.” Easy enough! After fermentables it reads “60 C. 60 C. 30 N.Y. hops” in gorgeous cursive. There’s no mistaking “N.Y. hops” but “C.”? Our research has lead us to this being a California hop.
To replicate the New York hops we used the Cluster variety from Crooked Creek hop farm. For California, we used an heirloom Cluster variety hop, called Ivanhoe®. Per Hops-Meister, the family farm who grew the variety, it “is Lake County’s very own hop variety that Hops-Meister has brought it back after a 100 year sabbatical. Ivanhoe® is a California original that makes you think of grandma’s garden. Hints of tomatillo, herbs, and veggies tantalize the nose of any beer that this is included in, and brought out through delicious pairings with food. Ivanhoe® is a dual purpose hop that has been named after the chivalrous farmer who gallantly permitted cuttings to be taken from his lands and offered many words of wisdom and encouragement to these pioneering California hops farmers.”
Following Paula’s primary sources and family history, we located Paul in Philadelphia in 1912 at the Weger Brother’s Brewery. Thanks to Rich Wagner’s Philadelphia Beer we know that Weger Bros. brewed three brands of beer: Bavarian Beer, Erlanger Light, and Hohenschwangau Export Dark. This 1912 “Draught Beer” was likely Erlanger Light. It is followed with two more recipes titled “1913 Bottle” and “1913 Export.”
Often in 1912, as is done in modern breweries today, beer that was sold across the bar or on your grocer’s shelves was called something entirely different by the people who made it. Today you might know your favorite beer as the brewery brands it, for example, “Lover of Lager Double Doppel Dunkel Bier,” whereas the brewer might simply refer to it in the cellar as “Bock.”
We are known to often utter the phrase ourselves and given that the 1912 AND 2017 recipes were 40% corn, we echoed Tom’s sentiment with our title, purposefully spelled incorrect. In Tom’s own words, as brewmaster at the Manayunk Brewing Company 20 years ago:
“People started to brew with corn for a reason, taste being the bottom line. Don’t scorn the corn. Praise the maize!”