NEW YORK — With the creation of David’s Slingshot Hoppy Summer Lager,
beer maker Jeremy Cowan is evoking the image of the legendary battle
between David and Goliath — a match-up that’s also apt for Cowan
Though still a small player in the world of craft beers, Cowan is catapulting himself onto a much larger field.
years in which his company, Shmaltz Brewing, paid others to produce its
He’Brew beers, Cowan is preparing to open his own brewing facility in
suburban Albany, NY
The Clifton Park facility, which will open July
7, includes a 1,700-square-foot tasting room, custom-made brew tanks and
a 120 bottle-per-minute Italian packaging line.
On May 13, local
officials and community leaders participated in a ribbon-cutting
ceremony. Now the only thing left to do is wait for the hops to brew.
“We’re controlling our destiny,” says Cowan, Shmaltz’s owner and founder.
certainly been “shofar so good” for the beer maker, who has relied on
Jewish puns and assorted kitsch to move 3 million bottles in 2012 alone.
Those 125,000 cases — Cowan’s largest run yet — have grossed $3.9
million, a 42 percent increase over 2011. Cowan’s libations are now sold
by 4,000 retail specialty shops in more than 30 states.
recognizes that members of the tribe don’t typically drink as much as
other barflies. So if it’s not Jewish consumers lugging home those
distinctive six packs, or throwing one back at the legions of bars where
He’Brew and its sister label Coney Island Lagers are sold, just who is
consuming his booze?
“You don’t have to be Irish to drink
Guinness. You don’t have to be Belgian to drink Chimay. And you don’t
have to be Jewish to drink great Jewish beer,” Cowan says. “If the beer
tastes great and the shtick is funny, then why wouldn’t anybody like
Though Jews carry a reputation as lightweight drinkers,
Jewish brewers have a storied history in the United States. One of the
earliest Jewish-owned breweries in the country, Rheingold Beer, was
founded in 1850 by Samuel Liebmann and became quite popular.
beer lovers looking for Jewish-inspired alternatives to He’Brew can
choose from Maccabee, marketed in the United States by Israel’s Tempo
Beer Industries; Lompoc Brewing’s 8 Malty Nights, a chocolate rye
porter; and the microbrews of New York-based Lost Tribes, which
incorporates exotic ingredients from the Middle East.
has embraced its Jewish side with a gusto unmatched by any of the
others. Its newest addition, David’s Slingshot Hoppy Lager, joins a host
of quirky labels including Funky Jewbilation, Hop Manna, Genesis Dry
Hopped Session Ale, Messiah Nut Brown Ale and Rejewvenator.
a Stanford University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English,
devises the shtick, as well as the written product descriptions and
marketing concepts. His art director, Nat Polacheck, interprets the
concepts into the company’s signature style.
The new brewery is a far
cry from the brand’s humble beginnings in 1996, when Cowan started
selling cases from his grandmother’s Volvo – a story he shares in his
memoir, Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah: How It
Took 13 Years, Extreme Jewish Brewing, and Circus Sideshow Freaks to
Make Shmaltz Brewing Company an International Success.
company’s success owes much to the burgeoning appeal of the wider craft
beer industry. Sales of craft brew increased to $10.2 billion in 2012,
up from $8.7 billion in 2011. The ranks of small breweries are larger
than they’ve been at any time since before Prohibition.
the 1970s, the growth has been small but linear,” says Cowan, who
spearheaded the creation of the non-profit New York City Brewers Guild
in 2012 and currently serves as its president. “In the last four or five
years, there have been more breweries opening every year than ever
According to the Brewers Association, small craft
brewers produce fewer than 6 million barrels of beer annually. Like
Shmaltz, these brewers typically take distinct, individualistic
approaches to connecting with their clients. They also use both
traditional and non-traditional ingredients, like the fruit juice found
in He’Brew’s Origin Pomegranate Ale.
With his new facility, Cowan
is now brewing 50-barrel batches every two to three weeks, with an
annual capacity of 20,000 barrels.
“It’s incredibly exciting,
incredibly gratifying to be part of an industry that is going through
positive change right now,” Cowan says.