For 40 days and 40 nights, Jeremy Cowan wended his way around America, spreading the word about “the chosen beer.” On a recent Thursday night, Cowan, the wisecracking owner of the San Francisco-based Shmaltz Brewing Co., was here in Milwaukee; it was night 17 of his Wandering He’Brew Beer Tour. As bowling pins fell, beer glasses tilted and cigarette smoke mingled with music, Cowan was a whirlwind of guerrilla marketing at the basement bowling night spot Landmark Lanes. He poured samples of his kosher Genesis Ale and Messiah Bold, shmoozed and snapped pictures of some 50 members of the Young Jewish Adults of Milwaukee as they bowled.
The Shmaltz company relishes shtick, including labels that announce “He’Brew The Chosen Beer” and depict a giant chasid raising two beer bottles over San Francisco. A slogan on a poster he gave away at the bowling alley declares, “Perfect for bar mitzvahs, weddings and circumcisions.”
The Wandering He’Brew brought Cowan to a lot of bars and liquor stores, allowing him to merge Shmaltz’s marketing needs with his longtime desire to drive cross-country. He’s thrilled that there are 40 days between Sukkot and Thanksgiving. It’s “a good Jewish number,” he said.
With Sukkot’s themes of Jewish movement and transformation and living under the stars — Cowan notes that his ’93 Pathfinder has a sunroof — the festival seemed the perfect time to hit the road, he said.
Still, it wasn’t easy. “It’s just like everything else I do. It’s as guerrilla as it gets. I feel like a teacher who has to stay two days ahead of his class,” he said.
About 50 members of Young Jewish Adults attended the Milwaukee tasting, among them businessman Arthur Elkon, who was sipping a Genesis Ale. “It’s a good beer. I would buy it,” he said, adding: “This guy’s a clever marketer. He’s standing out from the crowd. His promotional materials are clever as hell. You gotta admire him.”
— ANDREW MUCHIN