For most people, a spiritual awakening may lead to charity work, renewed membership in a local synagogue or church, or a large donation to a good cause. But Shmaltz Brewing Company founder Jeremy Cowan is not most people. And for him, it meant something very different: beer.
In the 1990s, as a mid-twenty-something, Cowan went to Israel for what he figured would be three months of a good time on a small budget. But instead, he says, “I just got inspired to participate in the community in a way I had never done before.” Returning to his home in San Francisco, Cowan wasn’t sure how exactly to do that. He had been living in an Orthodox Jewish community, but despite the spiritual and emotional satisfaction, there was just something missing. “For me, I still wanted to have my feet in both worlds.” And that meant not abandoning society’s “secular and pop culture” influences.
So he decided to make beer.
Still though, it took some time for Shmaltz to tap into its full potential. “In the beginning, I thought that I was starting a Jewish non-profit in the form of a beer company,” he says. “And unfortunately that was like a self-fulfilling prophecy because it was not profitable for a long time. It took many years for me to realize, ‘No, I’m running a beer company.'”
Once that switch was flipped, though, progress flowed quickly. Since its establishment in 1996, Shmaltz has gone from a Mission District, San Francisco apartment operation, where Cowan brewed his first hundred cases of HE’BREW Beer that he enlisted his mother to deliver, to a company that sells across 35 states through more than 40 wholesalers and 4,000 retailers. And with the recent opening of its own brewery just north of Albany in Clifton Park, New York, expect to see more of the brand’s “chosen beers” here, with shelves filling with brews like Messiah Nut Brown Ale, Genesis Dry Hopped Session Ale, and the Rejewvenator 2013, which was recently announced as a new permanent member of the company’s seasonal “mishpocha” (re: family).
By the way, it’s not just the names (“schmaltz” is Yiddish for “excessive sentimentality in art or music”) and Kosher certification that make this beer Jewish. Everything from the artwork to the causes the company supports to the ingredients (Cowan likes to incorporate the Biblical Israel’s famous fruits and grains like figs and pomegranates, aka the “Seven Species,” into the brews) contains meaning culled from Cowan’s heritage.
Coming this holiday season, you can celebrate that: Jewish revelers excited to eat in huts and shake palm leaves in celebration of Judaism’s harvest (and lets be honest, most cultish) holiday Sukkot may be disappointed to learn there is no lulav or etrog flavored brew, they can find comfort in the news that Shmaltz will be offering the perfect Chanukah gift for the beer-lover in their family by way of The HE’BREW Holiday Gift Pack, featuring eight HE’BREW Beers, a matching HE’BREW glass, and even a set of Chanukah candles so the creatively inclined can use the empties to build their very own beer menorah.
Not ready for that kind of commitment yet, even to a Nice Jewish Beer like HE’BREW? Stop by the Brooklyn Pour craft beer festival in Fort Greene on October 12 for a taste of one (or several!) of the many HE’BREW recipes. Your Jewish mother will definitely approve.