Craft beer is serious business these days, representing about 12 percent of America’s overall beer market. But when Jeremy Cowan first launched Shmaltz Brewing Company and its original line of He’brew beers in 1996, this country’s craft beer landscape was still in its toddlerhood. Forget the “Jewish celebration” brews that Shmaltz was peddling. The concept of small, independently owned breweries—as opposed to behemoth suds factories like MillerCoors or Anheuser-Busch—was novel enough.
But when it comes to beer (and Jewish dad-level shtick) Cowan has always been a trailblazer. And this winter, the Clifton Park, New York-based brewery is celebrating its 21st year with the release of Jewbelation 21 Anniversary Ale. The beer, a triple brown ale packed with jammy, coffee, and dark chocolate notes is made with ten malts and 11 hops (do the math). Despite clocking in at a hefty 12.1 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), it remains surprisingly light bodied and drinkable.
As America’s legal drinking age, reaching 21 years is a symbolically significant milestone for any brewery. But for a company that caters to an arguably niche market, and competes for space on increasingly crowded beer shelves, surviving for more than two decades feels downright miraculous. “I’m proud and honestly a bit shocked we made it,” he said in an interview with Craftbeer.com.
Since the beginning, Cowan told me his focus has been two pronged, “making a good quality ale and putting it in unique packaging.” The solid handful of platinum, gold, and silver medals Shmaltz Brewing Company has won throughout the years attests to his success with the former. As for the latter, it is hard to argue that Shmaltz’s Technicolor labels, dancing hassid mascot, and pun-heavy brand names like Genesis Ale, Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A, and Messiah Nut Brown Ale are anything but unique.
Looking toward the future, Shmaltz seems poised to continue making worthy brews until the proverbial 120. In addition to the He’brew line, they also represent a few other brands including Alphabet City and 518. Shmaltz’s Coney Island Beer brand was sold to Boston Beer Company in 2013.
21 years on, Cowan is not the same kid who launched He’brew beer in part because the he thought the name was funny. Meanwhile, consumer tastes in beer continue to change and evolve. Cowan has maintained his devotion for good beer, his schmaltzy sense of humor, and his sense of perspective. “I never set out to be the biggest, or even big. “I have always wanted stay niche—that’s where I enjoy participating in the community,” he said. “My goal now is to keep evolving, make beer that holds up, and have fun.”