SMaSH beers (The Session #125)

This month (July 2017), I am hosting The Session #125 on the topic of SmaSH beers.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

This is my post on the topic, along with an initial recap of what I said in my announcement post.

Recap of Announcement

Our local, annual SMaSH Fest, part of Central Oregon Beer Week, happened two weekends ago [May 27th]. Sadly, I missed it this year due to a bout of illness. When considering whether I was going to make it or not, I jokingly asked myself if single malt and single hop beers can be considered a “thing” (trendy, etc.) until we have coffee-infused, barrel-aged, and fruit SMaSH beers. Maybe we do; I have not seen them yet though.

I will hopefully have brewed my first batch of beer—ignoring that attempt in Belgium in the early 1980s—between this announcement and The Session itself and, wait for it, that beer will be a SMaSH beer. It will be an all-Oregon, not too hoppy American pale, if anything.

  • Mecca Grade Estate Malt Lamonta pale malt
  • Sterling, 2016 whole flower, hops
  • Imperial Yeast A01 House yeast

So, at the moment, at least, it appears I think they have some value.

Here are some potential directions you could consider:

  • Answer my question above. 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?
  • What purpose do SMaSH beers fill? For you, personally, and/or generally.
  • Do they fill a niche in any beer style space? One that matters to you? Are they a “style,” however you define that?
  • Have you ever had an excellent one? As a SMaSH beer or as a beer, period.
  • Do you brew them?
  • 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.)
  • Do they offer anything to drinkers, especially non-brewing drinkers?
  • I consider this to be wide open and am interested in your thoughts, whatever they are, regarding SMaSH beers. I sincerely hope this is not too limiting of a topic in the number of people who have tasted and/or brewed single malt and single hop beers.”

My thoughts (at the moment) on SMaSH beers

As to my SMaSH pale ale, it is happily well into fermentation. I brewed it on 2 July and it got off to a vigorous fermentation, which has now slowed down a good bit. I intend to give it plenty of time for secondary and cleanup of diacetyl, etc. Sadly, it will not be ready for this post but no doubt I will post about it closer to the solar eclipse [see below].

This beer serves two purposes for me. Or perhaps one purpose with lots of extra meaning attached. Our home(brewery) is called Starshine Brewery, based on pet names the wife and I have for each other. Thus, the beer names will be mostly, if not entirely, celestially and astronomically-related.

The timing of the eclipse just worked out for me and my first homebrew batch. I needed to make a SMaSH beer to get a good handle on what I taste/smell in Mecca Grade Lamonta pale ale malt and on how it comes across on my system as I bought a 50-lb. bag of it back in April.

It is an all-Oregon beer, as best as I could do and within my “definition.” I would have preferred to be a bit stricter but I got what I got.

My semi-American SMaSH pale ale is named Path of Totality as the path of totality of the 2017 solar eclipse will be passing directly over Central Oregon. My Mecca Grade malt was grown and malted right under the path. [They are, in fact, hosting a big party on their property which I truly wish I was attending. But we are not campers and have decided trying to travel anywhere that weekend just adds us to the other a-holes clogging up the streets.] The water and yeast come a bit outside of the path, on either side. And the hops were the best I could do on a first go but are, at a minimum, OSU/USDA hops.

I was after Santiam hops as the Santiam Pass will also be under the path of totality but could only get 2015 (or older) pellets. I wanted 2016 harvest and wanted whole cones for this so ended up switching to Sterling, which I do not really know. It got chosen as I am not really a fan of Cascades, Centennial, and Chinook as the more famous OSU/USDA hops.

Sterling: “… aroma and oil composition very similar to Saazer (USDA 21077) and other Saazer clones. Pleasant continental aroma; suitable for replacing Saazer hops in brewery blends.”

Might be a strange hop for a pale ale but I wanted something I could ID and not be in the way of the malt flavor and aroma. Even if I decide I love these hops, I was warned when I bought them that they are rapidly being replaced. I did look into it and, yes, production has been minimal for a while now and is decreasing; something like <1% of hop acreage.

They were also probably grown in Washington, not Oregon, but my local Central Oregon hop growing friends only had Cascades and such on hand, in pellets, from last year. I will make another all-Oregon pale and source it completely from Central Oregon, except for the yeast and, technically, if I used Wyeast yeast then I could call it all Central Oregon. So maybe I will. I have several hop growing friends here so will get some whole flowers this year. I am thinking some (CO)-East Kent Goldings from Tumalo Hops, but we will see who has what that isn’t Cascades or Centennial.

As to my trendy question, my friend, Ryan Sharp, one of the folks who puts on Central Oregon Beer Week commented regarding my “can they be a thing” question with this info from the SmaSH Fest:

“22 beers this year.

3 of them lacto sours (and one using a wild sacc strain).

1 beer had fruit added (mangosteen).

16 different hop varieties represented, including 2 experimental varieties.

4 beers showcased Mecca Grade’s local malt.

Styles represented by brewer description: Fruited sour, Berlinerweisse, Dry Hopped Sour, Pale Ale Extra Pale Ale, IPA, IIPA, Hoppy Wit, Hoppy Lager, Vienna Lager, Pilsner, Blonde, Rauchbier.”

Based on the strength of current trends such as “IPA forever,” saisons, sours, barrel-aged beers and any other actually hot sections of the market, I do not believe that they are trendy. I am not sure I want them to be trendy either but I would love to see a lot more of them, especially commercially available.

Yes, there were soured and fruited versions available at SMaSH Fest but those are trends in themselves and, yes, perhaps I contradict myself from above but I believe it is actually a more thought out answer than my off-the-cuff jest.

I would love to see more commercial breweries producing them and touting them, though. Especially with the rise of craft malting—Mecca Grade is just one of many around the country—I think this would be a useful thing. If you are paying a premium for your malt then you ought be working at convincing yourself and your customers that the cost is worth it. What flavors and aromas is that malt bringing to your beers? Or the more basic (but misguided) question, does malt contribute to beer flavor or aroma? [Hard to believe but I have seen and heard this explicitly asked. It is our current focus on hops that has led to such ridiculousness.]

On top of the truly large and emerging issue of malt contributions to flavor and aroma, there is the question of bittering, flavoring and aroma provided by individual hop varieties and how they are used. We have new varieties with new and different flavors and aromas, and we have vastly different ways of using them versus mostly as kettle/bittering hops, thus some of that focus is certainly called for but not at the expense of applying the same kind of interest to barley and malt.

I believe that a well-produced series of SMaSH beers could go a long way to helping consumers understand these agricultural products and the ways in which brewers are using them. This assumes a brewery that feels consumer education is a part of their mission versus simply selling as much beer as they can. I am pretty sure that is not always the case though.

As for purpose, I think that SMaSH beers primarily serve as education, for both the brewer and the consumer. What do your ingredients and processes add? Reducing ingredients to a minimum is a great way to control the amount of variables.

I feel that they, currently anyway, fill a niche in style space for me both as a fledgling homebrewer and as an interested consumer. A brewery that helps to educate me is going to get a lot of extra love and goodwill from me. I assume that there are others who feel the same but no idea how prevalent this attitude might be.

As for are they a “style,” for me, I would say no. I consider them a sub-sub-style, if you will. Or more accurately, a “give me a box to brew within” constraint on brewing a style of beer; that is, you choose to work within certain limit while still aiming for a tasty beer in its own right within a specific style or sub-style.

I have had several excellent SMaSH beers. Perhaps my favorite was a SMaSH American pale ale made by Mazama Brewing in Corvallis, OR in 2015 with an early batch of Mecca Grade’s malt and Crosby Hop Farm Centennial fresh hops. We got lucky and were in Corvallis for the release of this, which included talks by Dr. Pat Hayes, OSU’s barley breeder, on the origins of Full Pint (variety) barley and by the Seth Klann of Mecca Grade on their experiences growing and micro-malting it. Perhaps, as stated above, the educational and experiential component added immensely to the experience and to the beer—there has been a lot of talk online lately of the experience versus the beer itself and I come down (almost) fully on the experience side, assuming nothing is off in the beer itself. But this was a delicious American fresh hop pale ale, one which I would be happy to drink repeatedly and routinely. Deschutes has also made several SMaSH beers with Mecca Grade malts, including a saison that was quite good and excellent in its own right.

Based on my friend Ryan’s comment, there were many styles of single malt, singe hop beers made for SMaSH Fest. Based on my own (limited) experiences I would say that pale ale, saison, Pilsner, light(-colored) lagers and golden ales are the styles that have the best potential for making a great SMaSH beer. Next in potential, I would add IPA and Vienna Lager. After that I expect it to be a total crapshoot. I see an I/DIPA in the list but I would want at least a touch of some specialty malts in my I/DIPA although I imagine many IPA lovers could appreciate one done well. I am not claiming that no other styles would work; judgment is fully reserved on those.

As to do they offer anything to drinkers, especially non-brewing drinkers, I would have to say “Yes.” I think they can serve as a very valuable component of educating drinkers. What exactly do the individual ingredients taste like? Do I like it? Do I like it on its own or is it better as part of a mélange? Am I happy (possibly) paying a premium for a beer made with a craft malted malt or one of the trendy, thus in high demand and higher-priced, hops?

Personally, I am not a fan of most of the trendy new hops. Many of them have more thiols and bless the hearts of people who get berry and whatever else flavor and aroma they are sold on as providing. I just (OK, mainly) get allium from them; garlic, onion, shallot, scallion, leek, …. Pretty much one of the last things I want in beer aroma and/or flavor. I have had some IPAs and DIPAs with them and despite the aroma or flavor I quite enjoyed them. But. That note was always present and I always wanted it gone. The beers would have been exquisitely improved without that damned allium note, in my opinion. If you like them, more power to you. No grudges from me. Non-trendy hops are cheaper anyway and easier to source often.

That covers much of my thoughts on SMaSH beers, as of now. I am truly interested in what the rest of you have to say and look forward to doing the round-up over the next few days.

Again, to contribute:

How to Participate in this month’s The Session

Today (Friday 7 July) or the next day or two, you may comment on this post or the previous one and leave the URL to your Session post in your comment, or you may email me with your URL at mark . r . lindner @ gmail . com, or you may tweet your link with the hashtag #thesession and it wouldn’t hurt to @ me too @bythebbl.

By the way, my blog’s comments are moderated for first-time commenters but it will be quickly approved as long as it doesn’t look like spam.

Within a day or three of the first Friday (July 7th) I will post a round-up of all of the submissions with links.

The links are already rolling in.

Cheers!

Discomfort Beer (Session #119)

This month’s The Session on the topic of “Discomfort beer” is hosted at mostly about beer … by Alec Latham.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

“For Session 119 I’d like you to write about which/what kind of beers took you out of your comfort zones. Beers you weren’t sure whether you didn’t like, or whether you just needed to adjust to. Also, this can’t include beers that were compromised, defective, flat, off etc because this is about deliberate styles. It would be interesting to see if these experiences are similar in different countries.

I think this could be a good archive for people researching fads, the origins of styles and the dearths of others – but especially how new ones were initially perceived.”

My wife told me to keep this simple and focus on this one specific aspect of the question. I will attempt to do that but from there I hope to extend the same concept because my discomfort beers are like that.

Not talking about

And to get it out of the way, as the host said, “bad” beer was not on the table. I agree. I am a BJCP Certified judge and I taste a few discomforting beers while judging; and, to be fair, the same is true at the one professional craft beer awards I judge at. Beer that is infected or full of diacetyl when inappropriate and so on. Bad beer.

I am also not including styles I simply do not like or even beer with ingredients I don’t like in beer; except in one instance. To cut to the chase, I have had to drink a few peanut butter beers to realize I do not think it a proper ingredient for beer that I am going to drink. They exist; drink them if you enjoy them. Same goes for most nuts. Nuts are simply too oily for beer, for me (Although Ninkasi’s versions of Ground Control Imperial stout with Oregon hazelnuts were exquisite). Same goes for a few other ingredients and that includes almost every instance of spiced beer. Fremont and a few others can pull off spicing, for me, but most cannot. I will not be going into detail about these beers in this post.

Styles not loved as a whole

What I will talk about are a few styles that I do not love as a whole; that is, I do not love the entire spectrum but a only very narrow slice of that style spectrum appeals to me; immensely so. Two particular instances are IPAs (any strength) and American sours. There are a handful of IPAs—that I am aware of and can get routinely—that I simply adore. The bounty of Oregon and nearby surrounds, again.

The same is true for American sours, although I am aware of and get fewer. My wife does not like any sours so being my primary drinking partner I get them at bottle shares and on draft here and there on occasion. But most American sours are way overdone for me. Making a beer sour for the purpose of being sour is just as unbalanced of a beer as going extreme on anything else (IMHO and not saying they are all made with that intent as that’s silly). I like very few of these. I do love many Belgian sours and Berliner Weiss and … though. Different animals often.

So I particularly love a (few) very narrow slice(s) of the IPA and American sour spectrum and there are large slices that are, to me, nasty beers. There are, of course, some that are tasty enough and are also superbly executed beers but simply not to my palate.

The point

The point is that to find this narrow slice of heaven that my sensory palate adores implies drinking quite a bit of discomforting beer. It is not that I inherently dislike the entire style nor is it that I “need to adjust” to them. The world is rarely that simple.

My palate / Judging

I have a long, interesting and hopefully fun, journey ahead of me but I have a pretty good handle on what my palate likes within a huge range of the beer spectrum, although there is always so much more to learn, which I am actively attempting to do.

Helping others is the point of judging, for one. It forces me to be better about recognizing my experience for what it is, as it is happening, and to turn that into words useful to the brewer of that beer. It also forces me to learn all about brewing and the causes and fixes of issues, and to have a good grasp of many styles. I did this for me for my own learning but the ethical duty is towards others.

As BJCP judge I must drink in styles that I do NOT like. But I can objectively tell the difference between a bad beer and whether or not it is to style (as codified currently). These are discomfort beers that I consume out of a sense of duty. Getting certified as a judge tends to bring along with it the duty of actually judging—everybody always needs judges—and sometimes you have to judge styles you do not like. “Christmas” spiced beers—and others—on a 90°F (32.2°C) day in May; for example. But you must be professional (and ethical) and do your best to determine whether the beer is within the style, if not so how not, and whether the brewing processes were successful, and if not, what and how to overcome. That is completely different than “do you want to be drinking that beer ever” or “just not right now.” This again implies drinking quite a bit of discomforting beer.

Reductionism is (generally) futile

Of course, I earlier critiqued the idea of “you weren’t sure whether you didn’t like, or whether you just needed to adjust to” as being simplistic. So is my current topic/reduction of “I think a few exemplars of this style are the bee’s knees of the beer world but I could not care less for the rest of the broad spectrum of the style” or I simply do not like that style or ingredient.

Because sometimes as you figure out whether you do or do not like a style (I find it sad to rule out a whole style unless you simply cannot do, say, sour then OK all of the sours are out, I guess, but, again, it is rarely that simple. IMHO.) or perhaps as you “adjust” to higher ABV/IBU/pH/… levels you are in the quandary as presented. There are other ways to be in it too but those seem the basics to me. Those are only some of the slices of life that can lead to consuming discomforting beer, as I see it, is what I am saying.

Complexity

I have presented two other angles above, and now I want to make it more complex.

There are also the styles I particularly love, my go-to-styles, if you will—Pilsners, Imperial stouts and barleywines, bourbon-barrel aged Impy stouts—to name a few.

But here’s the thing, you can’t just put some crap Imperial in a bourbon barrel and have me call it good. See the discussion of my palate above. I have a great handle on how my sensory enjoyment prefers these. There are few combinations of the various elements that can vary within ranges but I know what I like; even if it is a new combination. I also know the difference between a well-executed one and a bad/off one, as above.

The same goes for these other styles: Pilsners, stouts, barleywines. I might tend to stand a broader range of the style from “amazing” down to “meh” than I do for say, American sours, but that still implies I drank a lot of potentially discomforting beers to find this narrow slice of sensory heaven for myself.

Bringing it together

Within the beer styles of which I choose to drink any exemplars—whether I love the style as a whole or not—there is a very narrow slice of heaven for me. Those are the beers I want to drink as routinely as possible. But I also like experiencing many different beers, although that is slowing down. So maybe I’ll be better able to put this hard-won and often discomforting information to even better use.

To find out what my preferred flavor profile is for any individual style implies drinking lots of discomforting beer (Not to imply the many “merely good” beers also consumed are discomforting).

Secondarily, as a BJCP judge I have an ethical responsibility to both judge and to accept sometimes judging styles I would really prefer not to even consume. Lots of discomforting beers.

Main point, recapped, in brief

I experience discomforting beer in looking for outstanding examples of a narrow range of these styles to both learn what I do like and what I do not and to also learn that I do not like a style/ingredient wholesale and then being called on to consume them anyway.