My SMaSH Best Bitter

I have noticed a recent trend of brewing beer using a very simple set of ingredients. The extreme end of this is what is called SMaSH, Single Malt, Single Hop. These beers really try to explore the individual characteristics of the chosen malt and hop variety. This type of beer restricts what the brewer can do within the total range of possibilities, but restriction in materials often can bring other types of creativity.

I was introduced to this idea by Scott Witsoe up at Wit’s End Brewing, and it led me to some reading and exploring on the internet. After I finished my relatively complex American pale ale something this simple was a very attractive idea, and I chose to create a SMaSH recipe for my next brew.

I wanted to explore a traditional style using traditional ingredients, but with a restricted palette. After brief consideration, I chose a British Best Bitter as my recipe type. Crisp Maris Otter or Simpson Golden Promise were the obvious choices for malt, and East Kent Goldings or Fuggles the obvious choices for hops. I’ve created several excellent brews using Maris Otter as the base, making it the choice for me. I selected Goldings for hops, basically on a coin flip. I spent a lot more time thinking about what yeast to use, as there are dozens of choices of English yeast available. Eventually I settled on the Fullers ESB yeast, as it has lovely characteristics and results in a very clear finished beer.

A Best Bitter is intended to be a session beer; good flavor but not very strong, a beer you can sit and have a few of without much danger. My original target was a flavorful beer with less than 4% alcohol. When I brewed though I ended up with better mash efficiency than planned, and so the final beer is estimated to be about 4.3%. Still quite a bit lower than my recent pale ales.

My system is actually not very well suited for a 5 gallon low-gravity batch. My mash tun, which is great for brewing a strong beer, is a little too large for a low gravity ale. It works fine, but it can be hard to establish a good grain bed for filtration, since it is only a couple of inches deep. The large air space above the grain can also lead to more rapid temperature loss in the mash. A strong beer like my farmhouse ale needs much more grain and helps with both of those things.

I wanted a relatively high finishing gravity for more body and malt flavor, so I targeted a mash at the higher end of the temperature range. I also chose a less attenuative yeast for the same reasons. The beer was bottled yesterday, and my measurements show that this worked out quite well. The taste of the warm, uncarbonated beer at bottling time gives me great hope for success. I’ll know for sure in 2 or 3 weeks.

The recipe:

This recipe was tuned for my simple brewing system where I can get a 75% mash efficiency consistently. Since I got 80% efficiency in the actual mash I was actually slightly higher than my recipe target. I used a single infusion mash at 154F to extract more unfermentable sugars for more body.




Mash (Single infusion, 154F)


Measurement Expected Actual Reference
Efficiency 75% 80% N/A
OG 1.043 1.046 1.040 – 1.048
FG 1.014 1.013 1.008 – 1.012
ABV 3.8% 4.3% 3.8% – 4.6%
IBUs 39 39 25 – 40
Color (SRM) 5.4 Gold 5 – 16

— Steve

Posted on 29 July 2013