You may have noticed something called a “SMASH” beer on the shelf at your local beer store. While the name sounds aggressive, this type of beer tends to be more subdued than your average brew. The term is actually an acronym – S.M.A.S.H. – referring to beers containing a Single Malt and Single Hop. Unlike most beers, which feature carefully-balanced and closely-guarded mixtures of various malted grain and hop types, SMASH beers highlight the unique qualities of an individual grain and hop paired, ideally, in simple harmony.
Achieving this balance is more difficult than one might suspect. Much like a plain omelet reveals the skill of a chef, since it contains only a few ingredients prepared simply, SMASH beers offer little cover for off-flavors or poor technique. For a SMASH beer to achieve its aim, the choice of grain and hop variety must be made carefully and executed adeptly to showcase the qualities of each ingredient, both individually and in combination. Alongside the growing trend toward clean and unadorned craft lagers, the SMASH beer seems to be a vehicle for some brewers to demonstrate mastery through simplicity.
Even the most basic pale ales and lagers typically employ a few different grain and hop types to produce an array of style-appropriate flavors and aromas. Stouts and brown ales will use blends of malted and toasted grains to achieve complex colors and aromas, while others employ wheat and oats to boost flavor and body. And until the relatively recent development of potent, multi-purpose hop strains, examples of commercial beers employing a single hop were incredibly rare. The use of different hops for bittering and aroma has been standard practice for years. The SMASH beer pushes against these foundational assumptions of brewing, trading an entire chorus of ingredients for an unaccompanied duet between barley and hops.
There have been some recent local versions of this style, both relying on a simple pale barley malt as a base. Southern Tier makes its 2XSMASH beer with Mosaic hops while Genesee Brewing Company released a SMASH beer featuring Simcoe hops under its Genesee Brew House Pilot Batch label. But perhaps the most celebrated SMASH beer doesn’t even bear this acronym on the label. Founders’ Mosaic Promise combines Mosaic hops and Golden Promise malt from Scotland, producing a beer of considerable depth considering its simple recipe.
This week’s recommendation: Mosaic Promise, a seasonal SMASH beer appearing on shelves by late July. Founders Brewing Company. 5.5 percent ABV. Grand Rapids, Michigan.
— Jon Hill is a writer, historian and craft beer enthusiast from the village of Poland, New York.