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Today, 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.
But Shmaltz 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.
Cowan, 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.”
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.
“Since 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 before.”
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.