If you haven’t yet brewed a SMaSH beer, then you’re certainly missing out on one of the very best ways to get to know your ingredients. Short for “Single Malt and Single Hops,” a SMaSH beer includes just what the name suggests: one kind of malt and one hops variety. You also get one yeast strain, but SMaSHaSY doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
Stripping beer down to its essential elements provides an opportunity to learn how ingredients work together, and the possibilities are endless. Pale malt and Centennial with the Chico strain (Wyeast 1056/ White Labs WLP001). Maris Otter and East Kent Goldings with the Timothy Taylor strain (Wyeast 1469). Moravian Pilsner and Saaz with Pilsner Urquell’s “H” strain (Wyeast 2001). Vienna and Styrian Goldings with the Westmalle strain (Wyeast 3787/ White Labs WLP500). The list goes on and on.
The only rule of SMaSH brewing is that you get but one type of each ingredient. This limitation introduces a few challenges that you might not encounter in conventional recipe design. Working with only one grain, for example, means sticking to malts that possess enough diastatic power to self-convert—the so-called base malts. Pale malt, Pilsner malt, Munich malt, Vienna malt, and unique British cultivars such as Maris Otter and Golden Promise will all do great. In theory, you could even use 100 percent wheat or rye malt, but you’d likely need to take a week off work to lauter the gummy mess.
SMaSH brewing also means you can’t rely on specialty malts to provide complexity. So you need to select a base malt—and a mash protocol—that will complement the hops and yeast character you layer upon it. Consider the above suggestion of combining Moravian Pilsner malt with Saaz hops and Wyeast 2001: This is essentially the formulation for Pilsner Urquell. Urquell’s complexity comes, in part, from a labor-intensive triple decoction mash, which offers but one way to manipulate the character of your SMaSH malt base.
And then there is the single hops variety. Working with just one variety means using the same kind for bittering, flavor, and aroma. If you wish to brew, say, a Maris Otter barleywine SMaSH-style, then a low alpha-acid hops such as Strisselspalt probably isn’t your best choice: You’d need so much plant matter to get sufficient bitterness that your beer might start to remind you of a vegetable garden. On the other hand, many high-alpha varieties have been bred mostly for their bittering potential, with little regard for their other properties. Magnum, for example, is a fantastic bittering hops, but there’s a reason you don’t see a whole lot of Magnum dry-hopped ales.
Finally, a single yeast strain isn’t so unusual since most of us brew with only one at a time, wild and sour ales notwithstanding. But without a lot of specialty malts and hops complexity to hide behind, SMaSH brewing gives your yeast an opportunity to either shine or to remain quietly in the background. A fruity Belgian yeast strain can do wonders for a base of Pilsner malt and Hallertau.
It would be tempting to think of SMaSH brewing as limiting creativity. But, as with many of life’s most worthwhile pursuits, it’s often in simplicity that we discover the greatest joy.