Evaluating Hop Profiles with SMaSH Brewing

Over my 11 years of homebrewing, the one aspect of the hobby that has always captivated me is the myriad of ingredient descriptions for the different ingredients of beers. When I first started homebrewing, the details of the yeast, malts, and hops set my mind to thinking of the various ways these elements come together to make excellent beer. Before I put pen to paper to formulate a recipe, I read and researched as much as I could to learn about these ingredients.

Hops, in particular, grab my attention because they always have the most interesting words in their descriptions. Another reason why I emphasized learning more about hop profiles was that everyone who tried my beer would ask, “What hops did you use?” Rather than just answering with the name, I thought it would be even better to add some information about the key flavor and aroma characteristics most associated with that particular hop.
Lately more and more new hop varieties have became available to homebrewers and their descriptors were more exotic and thought provoking. In some cases, I didn’t have good flavor knowledge of the descriptors being used as they pertained to beer. I started to ask myself questions like, “Would I be able to pick out a passionfruit note in a pale ale?” “Do I even know what a gooseberry tastes like?” Researching and reading about these hops only took me so far in understanding them. As I was expanding my library of flavor memory, buying tropical fruits like mangos at the store to experience their flavors, I decided that the only way to really get to know hop varieties was to brew beer with them and perceive with my tastebuds.

Once I came to this conclusion, I needed to think about the best way of brewing a beer that would help me evaluate hop profiles. When I learned about the concept of SMaSH brewing (Single Malt and Single Hop), I thought it would be a great way to isolate and focus on the qualities of a hop. Using a neutral yeast strain and a single base malt, I could build a good foundation for the hop flavors and aromas to shine through for evaluation.

The Plan

Even though homebrewing for hop evaluation interested me, I was still hesitant about the time, money, and effort it would take to brew these beers. These SMaSH beers would be experimental in nature, and it was in the realm of possibility that they may not be enjoyable outside of their educational purposes. Plus, I didn’t want these experimental beers to get in the way of brewing beers I knew I would enjoy. With that in mind, I decided to scale down from my typical batch size of 5 gallons (19 L) to 1 gallon (3.8 L) to reduce the energy necessary to brew but still allow me to produce a beer that could be used for hop evaluation.

With the reduction in batch size, I was able to cut the costs of buying ingredients. For a 1-gallon (3.8-L) batch, I could use a 1-ounce (28-g) packet of hops and 2 pounds (0.9 kg) of malt, which was very economical. Using dry yeast, I could measure out a fraction of the contents of one packet to use in my 1-gallon (3.8-L) of wort. As for the other measurements, 1-gallon (3.8-L) batches were quicker to brew. The amount of time needed to bring a batch of wort up to boiling temperatures was shortened greatly, and because I scaled down my equipment the time and effort I needed to clean up was reduced as well.

1-Gallon (3.8-L) Batch Equipment

Before starting my SMaSH project, I took inventory of the equipment that I had collected over the years. With the scaled down approach, I knew I would need to use different items from what I use for my regular size batches. After I took stock, there were pieces that I owned already and there were things I had to buy to brew these beers right. The following is a list of items that I use to brew my 1-gallon (3.8-L) SMaSH beers:

Smaller Kettle
The first piece of equipment I scaled down was my kettle. Instead of using my 9-gallon (34-L) pot, I went for my 18-quart (18-L) model that I used when I brewed on my stove top.
I learned in the past that brewing small batches (less than 2 gallons/
7.5 L) in large pots does not make for great beer; the large surface area darkened the wort too much and threw off my expectations in the final beer. Using the smaller pot was better for replicating beers that I brewed in larger volumes.

Smaller Cooler for Mashing
The 10-gallon (38-L) cooler that I use for my typical batch size didn’t keep my temperature steady for the smaller-volume mashes I was making for the 1-gallon (3.8-L) batches. I needed to use a smaller cooler so I went with the one I used when I was brewing partial mash batches, which was a 5-gallon (19-L) cooler. Note: If I didn’t already own a 5-gallon (19-L) cooler, I would buy a smaller cooler (3 gallons/11 L). The less headspace you have in your cooler, the easier it is for the cooler to maintain your mash temperatures.

Fine Mesh Bag
I didn’t have a false bottom in my 5-gallon (19-L) cooler, but I had read about the Brew In A Bag (BIAB) method of brewing, so I chose to incorporate an aspect of this technique in my 1-gallon (3.8-L) brewing. I bought a large fine mesh bag, which makes it easy to line my 5-gallon (19-L) cooler. I mill my grain right into the bag, tie it up, and add my mash water into the cooler. (Lots of BIAB brewers also do this in the brew pot.) Using the bag made it much easier for me to separate the grain from the wort after the mash was done rather than using a big strainer over my kettle. With the bag, I was able to follow a no-sparge method of mashing as well. Instead of batch sparging like I do for my regular sized batches, I mash my one-gallon (3.8-L) batches with enough water to meet my boil volume. Again, with the reduction of the batch, I was looking to reduce the amount of time and effort needed to brew these beers, and the no-sparge method allowed me to shave a good amount of time off of my brew day. Also, because I chose to mash this way, I didn’t have to tend to a flame to maintain my mash temperature. I simply added hot water and let it sit for an hour.

After my mash, transferring most of the wort to my kettle was pretty easy but there was still some sweet liquor left in the grain bed. A colander makes it easy to drain the bag to ensure you are getting as much of the wort into the boil as possible and you can use it for draining pasta later on. Some BIAB brewers also squeeze the bag to get the liquid out — there is a healthy debate about this among brewers, but if you don’t want to squeeze, use the colander.

Scale for Precise Measurements
Scaling down the batches made for measuring specifics amounts of ingredient imperative. To make these SMaSH beers work, I needed a scale that could measure hops weights in small increments. I found a scale that could measure in grams, which was necessary for me to follow my recipe calculations as closely as possible. You may already have a scale that you use for your larger-batch homebrewing sessions, but for 1-gallon (3.8-L) SMaSH beers, you’ll want a unit that can measure very small amounts of ingredients.

Smaller Fermentation Vessel
For fermentation, I bought a 1-gallon (3.8-L) carboy/jug because it was the perfect size and I didn’t want too much headspace in the fermentation vessel. The 1-gallon (3.8-L) jug is easy to clean and sanitize, and I can put the same airlock I use for my large batches on top to keep air from getting in and letting gas escape with a universal-sized bung.

Big Funnel
For transferring wort from the pot into the 1-gallon (3.8-L) carboy, I bought a big funnel. Once the wort is cooled to fermentation temperatures, I pour the wort from the pot right into the jug through the funnel. It made the process a lot easier and less messy. Plus, I felt like I was getting a little aeration into the wort too.

Small Auto-Siphon
After using my auto siphon that I normally use for 5-gallon (19-L) batches on my 1-gallon (3.8-L) batches, I learned that that model was too big for the 1-gallon (3.8-L) job. The bigger auto siphon took too much effort to get the siphon going with the long tube, so I bought a model that is made specifically for 1-gallon (3.8-L) batches. Once I switched, the transfers from the fermenter to the bottling bucket became seamless.

Recipe Template 1-gallon (3.8-L) SMaSH Beers

Since I knew that I was going to evaluate many different hop varieties, I created a recipe template that I could follow for each of my brews. The SMaSH format simplifies the ingredient list to only the bare minimum that qualifies for making beer, so it was all about deciding which grains and yeast would allow me to experience the hops as directly as possible and dialing in the amounts needed for a 1-gallon (3.8-L) batch.

I tried a few different base malts for the SMaSH beers but I found that American 2-row malts provided a neutral background for a hop evaluation. This choice provides just enough of a malt foundation to showcase the hops flavors and aromas. Plus, in staying with my plan to keep costs low, 2-row tends to be the least expensive malt by pound. For yeast, I weighed my options and chose one based on its ease of use, price, and clean flavor profile, which was a dry American yeast strain — Fermentis Safale US-05. For water, my tap water works well for my other beers so I used it for my SMaSH beers without any brewing salt additions.

The following recipe template is what I use for each of my 1-gallon (3.8-L) SMaSH beers:
2 pounds (0.9 kg) American
2-row malt
1-oz. (28-g) packet of pellet hops (selected for evaluation)
2.3 grams Fermentis Safale US-05 yeast

Once I choose a hop variety, I calculate my hop additions based on their alpha acid percentages and
what type of hop they are (bittering, flavor, aroma). Using this amount of malt, my beers have a starting gravity of 1.050. I then calculate how many grams of hops I should use for a bittering charge based on the hop’s alpha acids. You can do this with most brewing calculators; I use the Tinseth formula (

After I have my bittering charge set, which I add with 60 minutes left in the boil, I make some decisions about when to add the rest of the hop pellets. I typically divide up what I have left into three parts and add one addition with 15 minutes to go, one addition at flameout, and one addition for dry hopping. If it is an aroma hop, I may add more at the end of the boil and to the dry hop as I have learned after brewing these beers a few times that hops labeled as aroma can sometimes have unpleasant bittering properties. The hopping schedule is something that I modify with each SMaSH brew and it’s something you can experiment with when you brew your own.

Brew Session Steps

My typical brew session follows these steps:
1. Mill 2 pounds (0.9 kg) of grain into fine mesh bag within mash tun (cooler)
2. Tie mesh bag in a loose knot
3. Heat 2 gallons (7.5 L) of water to 162 °F (72 °C)
4. Transfer water to mash tun
5. Stir/poke bag to make sure grain is fully immersed and saturated
6. Take temperature reading and make adjustments if needed to hit 150 °F (65 °C) mash temperature
7. Mash for 1 hour
8. Transfer wort into pot
9. Use colander to help drain bag fully into the pot
10. Boil wort for 1 hour, adding hops at predetermined times
11. Cool wort to fermentation temperature in ice water bath
12. Transfer wort into 1-gallon (3.8-L) carboy via sanitized funnel
13. Measure amount of dry yeast needed for batch and pitch
14. Swirl wort and yeast for 5 minutes to aerate/hydrate yeast
15. Ferment at 67 °F (19 °C) for two weeks

I still bottle these batches and I use the following steps when I am ready to package the beer:
1. Clean and sanitize ten 12-ounce bottles
2. Boil 23 grams of corn sugar in 1 cup of water for 15 minutes
3. Add sugar solution to bottling bucket
4. Siphon beer from one gallon jug to bottling bucket
5. Fill bottles, cap, and let condition for two weeks at room temperature

Findings From Tastings

My friend and fellow Brew Dude, Mike Warren, has been a key part of my SMaSH beer project. Over the past few years, Mike and I have tasted and evaluated the flavors and aromas of the hops as they present themselves in these beers and compare them to descriptors we have read from commercial sources. Here are notes from five of the most popular beers I brewed to evaluate hops:

When we tasted the Mosaic® hop SMaSH beer, we both picked up a piney aroma, with some orange citrus essence. The flavor had a pithy, grapefruit character with some resiny aftertaste with some notes of other fruits. We felt the overall presentation was close to a Cascade/Columbus hop character. The industry descriptions for Mosaic® included mango, citrus, lemon, and pine, but the one we were really trying to see if we could pick out was blueberry. From this particular SMaSH beer, we couldn’t taste a berry flavor. The way we would order the flavor attributes that we detected in this beer was pine, citrus, and a tropical fruit note that tied it all together.

Brewing with this variety, now branded as EkuanotTM, brought some surprises. After I opened the packet, I noticed a very strong aroma, much stronger than other hops I had brewed with before that point. The finished beer had a pronounced melon aroma, like a really ripe honeydew melon. In the flavor, there was more melon and grape-like qualities to it. In the aftertaste, the bitterness had a distinct green pepper quality. The overall hop flavor was very strong compared to other SMaSH beers I brewed. Different sources around the internet used a variety of words to describe this hop including those in the citrus family like lemon and lime, tropical fruits like papaya and mango, other fruits like apples and cherries, and lastly green pepper and pine. We didn’t really find any citrus flavors in our SMaSH beer but the melon flavors and the green pepper matched up.

I was really excited to brew with Azacca® hops since I had heard a lot about them from forums and at our local homebrew shop. The aroma we sensed first in our SMaSH beer was pear followed by dry pineapple. We also got a bit of cilantro freshness in the aroma and flavor, with maybe a little bit of mintiness, which was reminiscent of Warrior® hops. I specifically got a pine flavor when I tasted the beer. When we compared our notes to what we read in descriptions online, we matched up with the notes of pine and pineapple. Other websites had mango, papaya, orange, grapefruit, and lemon as fruit flavors with some more general terms like spicy, grassy, tropical fruit, and citrus. Outside of pineapple, we didn’t get much more tropical fruit notes. After tasting this beer, we were a little disappointed that it didn’t live up to the hype.

We had tried SMaSH beers from craft breweries that used GalaxyTM in the past before experimenting at home, but I was interested in experiencing a beer brewed with GalaxyTM that I brewed myself. My finished beer imparted a strong mango aroma with a small amount dark fruit. The flavor has a strong citrus and tropical presence and we found the bitterness was soft. The GalaxyTM hop oils were not clingy at all in the aftertaste. There was dark, fleshy fruit taste to this beer with no offensive notes at all. The commercial description listed passionfruit (maybe that was the dark fleshy fruit) and clean citrus aromas. After finishing the beer, we could see why beer fans and homebrewers adore this hop. This variety could really stand on its own in this format.

The SMaSH beer I brewed with Jarrylo™ didn’t have much of an aroma even with late additions in the boil and dry hopping. The hop presence was not as intense, and it had more subtlety in its flavor. Mike picked out a blackberry taste where I found it to be a bit peachy. It was a light tasting hop all around. When we looked up descriptions, we found that many brewers described beer with notes of banana, pear, and spice. Our thought about spice was that it matched up with the seediness of the blackberry fruit. This hop might be a nice complement to hops with earthy or spicy profiles like Saaz.

Final Thoughts

This project has given me a chance to learn more about hop varieties and what flavor characteristics they can add to a beers’ flavor. It was great to be able to brew in a format that allowed us to focus on one ingredient in a beer and describe what we were tasting. Beyond hop evaluation, these SMaSH beers have taught me to taste everything with a critical palate and helped me to tie descriptions to flavors and vice versa. This project has even encouraged me to seek out new sources to build up my flavor vocabulary. Many times the notes Mike and I picked out from the hop flavor and aroma did not match perfectly with what was used in the commercial profile description. Each of these hop varieties did bring something different to each beer and it was fun to try to understand them better. Taste can be subjective, but with more practice we’ll get better at perceiving flavors. One other conclusion I have from brewing all of these 1-gallon (3.8-L) SMaSH beers is that many hop varieties need to work together with other ingredients to make excellent beer. It seemed like only a few varieties could truly work well alone when brewed with just a single malt. Knowing that, your evaluation should provide guidance as to how the hop can work with other ingredients that you know well, and how you can brew with them in the future.

Issue: May-June 2017