This article is blatantly poached from the AHA webpage.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to formulating homebrew recipes, but having too many choices of ingredients can manifest itself through the curse of muddy, unfocused beer.
Instead of cramming recipes chock full of hops and malts, try stripping them down to see what can be achieved with the bare minimum of ingredients.
SMaSH (single malt and single hop) brewing is a way to cut down on various brewing ingredients and appreciate what each aspect of a recipe brings to the table. There really is no better way to get to know your ingredients than using one at a time.
As the name implies, SMaSH recipes consists of one (base) malt and one hop variety, which can be used for multiple additions. Of course there is water and yeast, but SMSHSYaSW just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
SMaSH Bittering Hops While some of your favorite hops may have low alpha acid levels, these may not be the best candidates for bittering additions. Especially when brewing a hoppier style, having to use a large quantity of low alpha acid hops to achieve target IBUs can result in a grassy quality to the beer. If you must, use a higher alpha acid (7%+) for the bittering addition in your SMaSH recipe. We won’t tell!
To really get to know beer ingredients, try brewing a large single-malt mash, split it up between multiple boil kettles and use a different variety of hop for each batch. Or do the opposite and use the same hop regiment in different single-malt worts. If you do not have the ability to do multiple mashes or boils, simply switch out the yeasts of identical batches.
As long as you are tweaking minimal variables, you will be on your way to a better working knowledge of ingredients and their contributions to an overall recipe. You may be amazed by the improvements to a beer that has had unneeded specialty malts and hop additions stripped from the recipe.
Brewing on the Ones
SMaSH is an extremely valuable learning process that can create great beer, but being limited to one malt and one hop can get a bit drab over time. That’s where Drew Beechum comes in…
Riffing off of the “keep it simple” concept of SMaSH, Drew came up with a slightly more complex version that allows more freedom while still valuing the constraint and creativity of having to pick and choose limited ingredients.
In addition to one base malt and hop, “brewing on the ones” calls for one ingredient in each of the following categories: color/flavor malt or adjunct; sugar; spice.
Try taking a SMaSH or other simplified recipe and adding additional ingredients from the categories above to change the style altogether. In many cases it doesn’t take too many bells and whistles to evolve from one style to another, which John Palmer shows us in How to Brew:
Pale ale: base malt plus a half-pound of caramel malt
Amber ale: pale ale plus a half-pound of dark caramel malt
Brown ale: pale ale plus a half-pound of chocolate malt
Porter: amber plus a half-pound of chocolate malt
Stout: porter plus a half-pound of roasted barley
From SMaSH and “brewing on the ones” you can start to stray from the strict one-of-each exercises as you recognize a recipe could benefit from a little of this or a bit of that. The key questions to be asking yourself as you include more ingredients are “what does it bring to the recipe?” and “is it necessary?”