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 himself.
Though still a small player in the world of craft beers, Cowan is catapulting himself onto a much larger field. After 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, N.Y.
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.
“We’re controlling our destiny,” says Cowan, Shmaltz’s owner and founder.
It’s 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.
Cowan 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 it?”
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.