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.
Participants can talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped develop their local beer scene. There’s also the -bad- role of books that regrettably misinform readers because their authors did not do their work properly. There are many different ways to tackle this topic.
In this world of misattribution, lack of legitimate sources, and not a fact checker in sight, it’s amazing anything is correct anymore.
But then, with longer-form formats like books it sets our hearts at ease to know there are beer historians like ourselves that take historical research VERY seriously. One of those historians is our good friend Garrett Peck. With this post we are writing to the theme of “books that helped develop their local beer scene.”
While Garrett’s 2014 book “Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C.” didn’t necessarily develop our local scene it did go above and beyond to document the history of the local brewing scene in our nation’s capital. In cataloging that long history of beer, DC’s scene does feel a new sense of legitimacy. For all of the “firsts” that our scene has experienced in the past 5+ years (first production brewery, first cidery/winery, first distillery), We still have an pre-prohibition OG history to celebrate.
DC is by nature a transient city. Representatives are re-elected. Representatives are unseated. New staffers come into town. There is the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 and the Presidential Transition Act 2000. And every summer new interns, “hill rats” as they’re endearingly referred to, flood the district and look for cheap housing. Yet it seems every year affordable housing gets less and less. Gentrification some call it. Others call it ethnic cleansing.
Not to veer too far from beer, Garrett’s book is important because it has informed many brewing projects that are of the utmost import to us as beer historians. We have recreated beers that the historic Washington Brewery at Navy Yard produced in 1812. We have also recreated the lager of the largest-ever and most successful DC-brewery with a pre-prohibition style lager.
Garrett’s book asks big questions like “who was the first Brewer to make lager in Washington?” While this may seem trivial to the casual drinker it is of dire import to beer historians today. Brian Alberts, a PhD Candidate at Purdue University, is currently exploring the rise of lager breweries in the Midwest as a lens to explore how new German immigrants navigated the market revolution and dealt with assimilation into American culture.
While pre-prohibition style lagers gain popularity, and are generally indicative of a beer brewed with rice and/or corn, there were of course all-malt pre-prohibition lagers. Finally, pre-prohibition connotes a time as the genesis of lager brewing is not a monolith. The time frame of lager beer brewing is different in every state. Garrett’s research pinpoints the 1850s as the decade of the very first brewing of lager beer in Washington, D.C. And that means that a pre-prohibition lager in Washington, D.C. could be 160-years-old or 99-years-old at the youngest. The beer brewed in 1856 was called “lager” just as it was in 1917 (the last year of pre-prohibition brewing in Washington, D.C.) but it would be naive to think that the means of production like raw ingredients, brewing materials, and fermentation practices remain unchanged. Lager is not a monolith and neither should the brewing practices and flavor profiles of modern pre-prohibition lagers be all the same.
Garret’s book informs us that the District’s first brewers were immigrants. The first brewers in DC were Scottish, English and eventually German. His book does a fantastic job of documenting the earliest Brewers in DC. But perhaps the most important thing in Garret’s writing is the thirst it imparts to search for further answers to questions as important as “who brewed DC’s first lager?”
While I don’t want to give away Garrett’s book I will post what he writes in regards to his open-ended question:
A June 1856 article in the Evening Star noted that Joseph Davison, owner of the Washington Brewery, had brewed 20,000 gallons of lager the previous winter, meaning that he probably started in late 1855. Davison also advertised in the 1858 Boyd’s Directory that he was brewing lager in addition to his English-style ales.
Charles Gerecke advertised in the Evening Star in November and December 1856 that he was brewing lager at his brewery at Pennsylvania and Nineteenth Street. Gerecke then disappears from Washington’s historical brewing record. He was probably related to the Gerecke family that was importing lager from Philadelphia in the years’ prior, whose advertisements pop up frequently in that same newspaper. (Peck, 34)
It is likely that the first brewer of lager was not even a German, but an enterprising brewer of English ales. Certainly, the story of immigrants assimilating into American culture is classic, but so is the story of appropriating immigrant culture for financial gain. But this blip does not hide a much deeper German-American brewing tradition heralded by DC’s Christian Heurich, one of the longest brewing and most successful of his generation.
Very few people today equate DC as a beer town. But with a closer studying of the facts, DC as a brewing center does have deep historical roots. If indeed, DC’s first lager was brewed in 1855, that’s only 15 years after what is generally accepted as the first lager brewed in America. That distinction “first lager in America” belongs to John Wagner a Bavarian immigrant of Philadelphia.
So, America’s first lager was brewed in Philadelphia 176 years ago. And DC’s first lager was brewed 161 years ago. At least until another beer historian uncovers an earlier lager elsewhere (we’ll be looking).