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Shmaltz Gets A Bar Mitzvah

On Thursday at PowerHouse Arena in DUMBO Jewcy is co-sponsoring the release party for Craft Beer Mitzvah, a beer memoir by Jeremy Cowan, founder of Shmaltz Brewing Company best known for their flagship beer, He’Brew.  We caught up with Jeremy to ask few question about beer and books.

Can you tell me briefly for the uninitiated, the genesis of the Shmaltz brewing company?

I started the company in 1996 as an experiment for Hanukah and we produced 100 cases of beer under the He’Brew brand.  The first beer that we made was Genesis Ale, they were hand bottled and labeled and I delivered them in the trunk of my grandmother’s Volvo.  I had a group of friends come over to hand squeeze pomegranates on the floor of my apartment in San Francisco’s Mission District because we couldn’t get commercially available pomegranate juice in the mid 90’s.   We brought it down to a tiny little brewery in northern California we added the pomegranate juice to the beer.  My girlfriend at the time did a beautiful provocative label for he Brew I wrote the shtick.  It started as a shoestring experiment to make the world’s first and only Jewish celebration beer.  15 years later were distributed in about 30 states around the country and we export to Canada, Japan and we’re working on a little bit of Europe.  We make about 20 different beers under the He’Brew brand as well as a brand called Coney Island Craft Lagers and we’ll sell about 1300 cases of beers this year and we have a staff of ten so we are officially a Shmaltz minion.

On the list of professions that a Jewish mom and dad want their son to pursue, where does brewmaster fall?

In the beginning since I’d already shattered my mother’s expectations of me going to law school they were very open to anything that would make me happy.  So the beer company was a opportunity for me to do something that would fit my personality and really create a place in the Jewish community for me to explore and celebrate my Jewish identity.  My mother even helped deliver a handful of the first cases of that first batch for Chanukah of 1996.

Why the name Shmaltz?

Shmaltz means chicken fat, as a traditional comfit food that grandmothers would serve their grandchildren, Shmaltz seemed appropriate to name a new generation of comfort food in the form of delicious craft beer.  Shmaltz also means kind of corny yet familiar sense of humor like Sid Caesar Mel Brooks and Henny Youngman and that fit perfectly with the company’s mission statement.  Finally in the word “shmaltz” has the word “malt” inside it, and malt is the core ingredient in any top shelf craft beer.

Do you have any tips for Jewcy readers who want to sound more like they know what they’re talking about when drinking craft beer?

A really fun element that I did for Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah, in the back I included beer pairings to go with each chapter that talks about the history of the company.  That appendix as well as the first chapter of Craft Beer Bar mitzvah is available for free on our website. It’s a great way to get into the complexities of drinking our beer.

As it says on your labels, “Why is this beer different from all other beers?”

That is a fantastic question that I try to address in everything that we do, from recipe design, labels and packaging to the events we promote throughout the year.  I try as much as possible to add layers of meaning and humor and flavor to each one of our products.  So when someone grabs a He’Brew whether it’s at home with friends and family or at any top shelf beer bar in Manhattan or across the country, there’s a lot of thought and creativity and passion that should be available to anyone who wants to explore our beers.  I thinks that comes through and is why we’ve been lucky enough to develop this cult following for Shmaltz around the country.

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