Shmaltz Brewing Company
A decade ago, Jeremy Cowan decided to turn an inside joke into 100 cases of beer for Hanukkah. His endeavor spawned the Shmaltz Brewing Company, best known as the company behind several different lines of He’Brew. To celebrate the San Francisco microbrew’s 10th anniversary, Cowan has kept the shtick high and taken the alcohol content higher with Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. and Genesis 10:10, both of which are 10 percent alcohol by volume and delivered in 22-ounce bottles with funny, clever, and well-researched text on their labels. The A.V. Club recently spoke with Shmaltz’s proprietor about “The Chosen Beer.”
The A.V. Club: The names and labels are meant to be funny, but it’s obvious that you’ve put a lot of thought into them and that you’re pretty tapped into your religion. How do you toe the line between being serious and funny?
Jeremy Cowan: That’s the challenge, and that’s what’s fun for me—I try to be irreverent and satirical and playful, but at the same time be completely sincere and try to be authentic and legitimate within the context of Jewish culture and tradition. So I’ll quote Torah in one sentence and then try to put some example of some ridiculous pop-cultural phenomenon in the next sentence. That really fits with my own vision of how Judaism works in my life, and I think that fits with Jewish culture in the U.S., too. The reality is that most Jews in this country are not that religious. They might go to synagogue on a Friday night and then go out drinking with their friends and shoot pool and listen to AC/DC all night or whatever. To me, it really reflects a spirit of American Jewish culture, with a kind of San Francisco sensibility. One of the really cool things about doing the labels and the fliers is that I get to spend a lot of time researching Jewish topics and looking through a lot of different sources. For the Genesis 10:10, I was reading the book of Genesis over and over, and reading interpretations and other source material for the last six months before I actually wrote the seven or nine sentences or whatever that are on the beer label.
AVC: This is the first year you’ve gone up to 10 percent alcohol, but your beers have always had strong flavor.
JC: They’re all definitely supposed to be very flavorful. My ideas about the beer are that there should be lots of flavors, lots of ingredients, something really high-quality and special, but whatever it is that we’re trying to do, it’s always balanced. In fact, the Lenny Bruce beer is designed to be out of balance a little bit, but I still think we balanced it—it’s just enormous amounts of malts and hops and tons of flavors. Whereas the Genesis 10:10, the Messiah Bold, the Genesis Ale, and the Jubilation are all very balanced, so they’re very smooth. Tons and tons of flavor, but balanced.
AVC: The labels mention that the beers are kosher. Are most beers not kosher?
JC: It depends who you talk to. A lot of people in the Jewish community will say, “Oh, beer doesn’t need to be certified kosher.” Because as long as you’re using grains and malts and hops and yeast, it normally would most likely be kosher, although some natural flavors and other additives would not be kosher. When I started the company, I actually did not make the beer kosher for six months. But then as I started to make it more commercially available, I just felt that it was important if I wanted it to be a Jewish celebration beer. You know, have the rabbi come over, check through the ingredients, check through the brewing process, check through the conditions of the brewery, and then certify the beer so that everybody would feel really confident. —Marc Hawthorne