Friday, 7 July 2017

Beyond SMaSH

The topic for this months Session, hosted by Mark Lindner at By The Barrel is SMaSH beers - Single Malt and Single Hop.

The first thing that I'd say here is that as far as I'm concerned, SMaSH is very much a learning tool for brewing rather than a trend that particularly interests me as a drinker - and in fact, while single hopped beers are fairly common, I can't ever remember having seen a commercial beer that made a virtue of its single-maltedness.

As a bit of homebrew pedagogy, thought, it seems to have a lot of traction; searching homebrew forums will turn up dozens of threads on suitable combinations and recipes for SMaSH brews. The reasons for this popularity are fairly clear - it's a simple formula to remember, it has a catchy name, it's got obvious learning value, and it steers the brewer clear of a number of recipe-building pitfalls while encouraging them to focus on the fundamentals of producing a good, clean, balanced beer.

What's interesting, though, is that this is generally the only expressly "educational" style of recipe that people use, and it's obviously limited in its scope. We conduct methodical explorations of Maris Otter and Pilsner malt, or Goldings and Cascade, but when it comes to roast and amber malts, sugars and yeast, we still tend to bash on haphazardly on a basis of "well, I brewed a thing with it once that came out well..."

If I ever published a book on homebrewing - something that might take a while, as it'd require me to become at least vaguely competent first - it'd be a book of recipes. Or rather, a book of families of recipes. Each one would have a basic version, which would be reliable, simple and bordering on bland, but then a series of variations, each of which would put a different ingredient under the spotlight. So a malty bitter might be used to learn about different varieties and grades of amber and crystal malts, a pale Belgian ale could be a good starting point for trying out different brewing sugars, and a clean American IPA grist would provide an obvious base to experiment with New World hops.

It's obviously possible to work towards this sort of approach as a novice homebrewer, but it's slowed down by the fact that even reliable basic recipes take a while to work out at this stage, and picking suitable quantities for your more exotic additions is bit of a shot in the dark.

So if anyone is thinking of writing a homebrew book, this is one that I'd buy! And if anyone isn't thinking of writing a book, but has recipes that they use in this way, then I'd love to hear about them.