5 SMaSH Beers You Should Try During New York City Beer Week

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Photo credit: NYC Brewers Guild

New York City Beer Week returns next Friday, which is a fantastic reason to start previewing the annual 10-day extravaganza’s eighth (and potentially dopest) edition. We plan to cull our five don’t-miss events from Beer Week’s crammed calendar in one post, while another will offer an interview with Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery’s esteemed brewmaster, on the 21st birthday of Black Chocolate Stout. But let’s begin by exploring the return of a unique terroir-driven project that tasks many of the metropolis’s craft breweries with using the same sextet of locally grown ingredients to make “SMaSH beers.”

In this context, SMaSH is an acronym for “State Malts and State Hops” (typically it’s “Single Malt and Single Hop”). Beer Week’s governing body, the New York City Brewers Guild, introduced the project as part of last year’s offerings, and participants produced a fun and surprisingly diverse crop of beers emphasizing the same three hops and three grains. (The concept was similar to a collaboration between GrowNYC and NYC Brewer’s Choice in 2014.)

Consistent with the movement by craft brewers countrywide to use local grains, hops, fruits and honey in their recipes, SMaSH aims to “promote awareness of our farmers and growers and how integral they are to the beer community,” explains Kelly Taylor, the guild’s president. “Here in New York, the state has done an excellent job in doing that and this is another way to help.”

Taylor, who is also co-owner and brewmaster of KelSo Beer Co. and employs some local ingredients in his beers, is referring to the state’s recent series of legislative initiatives, led by the farm-brewery license, that has transformed New York’s craft-beverage industry and increased the demand for local products. As a result, start-up malthouses and hop farms are beginning to address the need. “Before one of the main issues was access. Things are finally starting to move now,” he says.

According to Taylor, the Guild chose this year’s SMaSH ingredients from 15 different malts and 10 varieties of hops (yeast was a variable, but no adjuncts were allowed). They selected malted spelt from Pioneer Malting and Germantown Beer Farm’s caramel and pale malts; the three hops—Cascade, Chinook and Willamette—were grown by Upstate Hops. “Most of us had never used these before. It was an educational experience as well as a fun one,” he says.

While the group of 15 SMaSHers will be available throughout Beer Week, designated venues across the city will tap them together for an event next Friday called SimulTap. A full list of locations will be posted on Beer Week‘s website soon, and these are five SMaSH beers to find:

KelSo Beer Co., Spelter Bock  (6.0%)

A bock is a historically strong German lager aged over the winter for extra-smooth malt character and designed to be enjoyed during springtime. We make our Recessionator Doppelbock typically for around this time of year; I love it because it’s so deep and nuanced, with toasted malt flavors and a mellow undertone of hops that make it very quenching to the soul. That’s essentially why I decided to make one for our SMaSH beer. I think this is a great way to showcase the character of these local grains, with support lent by these local hops, to result in a dark-colored brew with a clean, warming finish. This was the first time any of us used any of these ingredients, so the result will truly be a surprise. Experimentation is one of the many great things about being a craft brewer. —Kelly Taylor, co-owner and brewmaster

Brooklyn Brewery, Neziah Bliss (9.7%)

I’ll start by offering Neziah Bliss’ official description and finish with some additional words on the beer:

In 1851, an enterprising businessman named Neziah Bliss purchased a failed shipyard on 30 acres of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, waterfront, and set about building an empire. To solve the problem of transporting workers between Brooklyn and Manhattan, Bliss set up the first cheap and reliable East River ferry system. Greenpoint became a boomtown, doubling in size to 30,000 residents in 10 years and setting the stage for North Brooklyn to become a key center of industry in New York City.

We pay tribute to Neziah Bliss’ gumption and toast New York City Beer Week with our own eponymous beer. Neziah Bliss is a bourbon barrel-aged strong ale with all the spirit of its namesake. Crystal-20 and 2-row pale malt from Germantown Maltings and spelt malt from Pioneer Maltings meet with Willamette, Cascade and Chinook hops from Upstate Hops to create a powerful, complex beer that embodies the bold essence of New York. After a brief respite in bourbon barrels, Neziah Bliss came out swinging, ready to celebrate New York City Beer Week. Grab a glass and get dreaming.

Our fleet of oak barrels, 2,000 vessels strong, puts into port at the storied Brooklyn Navy Yard. Neziah Bliss originally tried to get the government to move the Brooklyn Navy Yard to one of his properties; it was only when he failed to persuade them that he started building on the Greenpoint waterfront. I thought that it would be fun to finally bring Neziah Bliss and the Navy Yard together at last. The flavors of the caramel malts and particularly the nuttiness of spelt are highly complementary to the light barrel flavors, and a short barrel residence helps marry the flavors. —Garrett Oliver, brewmaster

Coney Island Brewery, Trapp’ed on the Cyclone (8.5%)

We really wanted to bring something interesting yet classic to the table for New York City Beer Week. After going over the available local ingredients, we decided what better way to do that than by brewing an old-world Trappist-style tripel infused with modern-day New York brewing agriculture. This rich, golden, hazy Belgian-style beer has a high ester yeast profile that brings out fruit and clove notes in the aroma and taste. The strong malt backbone gives a sweet caramel flavor, which is balanced by a slightly spicy hop profile. —Eric Hernandez, head brewer

Transmitter Brewing, NY4 New Yorker Weiss (4.2%)

We made a SMaSH beer for last year’s Beer Week and called it NY1. We really liked the constraints of the project and the idea of exploring what it meant to make a beer with all local ingredients—so much so that we went ahead and made two more “NY” beers using those same ideas and outlines. One of those was NY2 Spelt Grisette, definitely my favorite beer we made last summer. The restrained approach made it interesting and very drinkable.

Continuing this year with our same SMaSH premise of restraint we chose to do a Berliner Weisse–style beer. The heritage of the local hops will allow for a bit more hop expression than would be traditional in the style, and we’re dry-hopping a little to give it a delicate floral-citrus nose. We expect a nice interplay between the subtle nuttiness of the spelt, the sourness brought to the table by Lactobacillus and that considerably delicate East Coast hop expression. For those attending the Brewer’s Choice event we may have an interesting surprise for you to enjoy with the beer as well. Stay tuned. —Anthony Accardi, co-owner

Sixpoint, LowBrow Brilliant (4.7%)

LowBrow Brilliant is a kettle-soured, dry-hopped golden ale. We went with a golden sour because it’s something that we want to do a lot more of in the future here at Sixpoint. And with the SRM available with these particular malts, we knew it would produce a brilliant bronze-golden color. With a grain bill of 70 percent 2-row pale malt, 10 percent crystal malt and 20 percent spelt, this beer has a full body and a nice sour taste bubbling off your tongue. Twenty-seven pounds of hops were used for dry-hopping it. Cascade, Willamette and Chinook all thrown together gives a huge aroma blast which complements the tart flavor. —Keir Hamilton, brewer

Katherine Hernandez

Katherine Hernandez is an Afro-Latina chef and multimedia journalist. Her work has been published on NPR Food, PRI's The World, Edible Manhattan, Feet in 2 Worlds, Gothamist and more.

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