SMaSH is a catchy – really rather smashing – acronym for a simple brewers’ learning exercise. There’s no doubt both pro and home brewers get a lot out of tasting the experiment of beers constructed from limited ingredients. But why is SMaSH – Single Malt and Single Hop – showing up as a description in commercial releases? Is it a buzz word, a brewer’s experimentation artifact or something the beer drinking public appreciates?
Not a lot of ingredients showing up on this brewing sheet from Black Sands Brewing Co.
Recently, just after noticing that SMaSH beers were a topic on The Sessions, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, and learning that Oregon even has a SMaSH festival, I ran into Cole Emde at the monthly Meet The Brewers Event put on by the SF Brewer’s Guild. Cole is the brewer and co-owner at Black Sands Brewery, a brewpub and homebrew shop in San Francisco. Black Sands often has a SMaSH beer on, so I was curious about how these brews are doing in his restaurant.
I wondered about the trendiness factor – since creative beers seem to be going in and out of style at such a hectic pace nowadays.
So I asked Cole whether SMaSH is still a thing.
“Duh! If you haven’t gotten on board, you’re behind the curve, to be honest,” he told me. “The simplest beers are typically some of the best beers.”
He felt that some of his Black Sands SMaSH IPAs have been as good or better than IPAs made there with multiple grains and hops. And his customers love the idea of learning about hop varieties.
Cole began brewing SMaSH beers for himself, to deepen his education about specific ingredients. “What does this hop mean, what does this grain mean?” It’s a learning experience for the brewers, but also for the consumer.
And for Cole, it matters most with new hop varieties or the release of the new annual crops. “I want to know exactly how that hop performs. It’s a great way to get really intimate with your ingredients.” He cited the model of Russian River’s Hop To It, an experimental pale ale made (and served at the RR pub) intermittently, exploring each of the latest new hop varieties that come into the brewhouse there.
This single-minded approach is not going away at Black Sands. “It’s by far the most important thing we do,” Cole said. “Our Kölsch is a SMaSH – we always have a SMaSH on draft, no matter what.”
After writing these notes up, I was tempted to look for a SMaSH beer in my own fridge. Even though modern brewing has developed a reliance on using blends of hops and malts and label laws do not require disclosure of materials that are built into the definition of beer, I knew I actually had one, made with a single pale malt and just Sterling hops.
But I also knew this bottle of beer was not going to give me the desired simple SMaSH effect. A beer from a complex sour fermentation, brewed with wild yeast and lactic bacteria, that pint satisfied another thirst entirely.
Which may go to show that a single strain of yeast is the unspoken partner of a simple SMaSH brew. SMaSHaSY?
The next day, I spotted a draft SMaSH beer listed at San Francisco’s Holy Water, a neighborhood cocktail bar with a great beer program. And, lo and behold, it was from Black Sands Brewing. Curiously, the name of the hop and malt chosen for what turned out to be an excellent IPA were not listed on the board, and the bartender didn’t have more information. But that was fine with me.
It was a mystery SMaSH – and it tasted good.
– Gail Ann Williams, co-founder of Beer By BART
PS: More about the July 2017 round of the Sessions, and more commentary on these simple beers, see host Mark Lindner’s blog:
Want to participate in the next one, for the first Friday of August 2017? You’re invited! I’ll be hosting it. Here’s the somewhat hazy topic announcement.
Explore Beer By BART: Use our list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.