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Shmaltz for the Holidays

(This article first appeared in the Dec. 2010/January 2011 issue of the Ale Street News)


2010 has been a good year for Jeremy Cowan.


The proprietor of Shmaltz Brewing released his first book, a rollicking autobiography chronicling his childhood, foray into the brewing world, near collapse and eventual slingshot-like success. He opened a pico-brewery on Coney Island for the summer months and just in time for Chanukah has released a vertical bottle pack, from the last seven years of Jewbelation, his anniversary ale.


Oh, and he also won a silver medal – his first – at the Great American Beer Festival.


“This is by far the biggest year we’ve had, the most complicated we’ve ever had and the most successful,” said Cowan. “We were very ambitious.”


The best example of that ambition can be seen in the HE’BREW Holiday Gift Pack, which is a collection of Jewbelation years 8 – 14 and a bottle of the barrel-aged Vertical Jewbelation, a combination of all seven recipes and then barrel-aged in Sazerac 6-year rye whiskey barrels.


Keeping true to the shtick that has made Shmaltz stand out, the holiday pack comes complete with Chanukah candles and instructions on how to build a beer menorah from the empty bottles.


Back in 1996 when Cowan launched Shmaltz from San Francisco and bottled, labeled and delivered the first cases himself, it could have been easy to mistake the brewery as just another gimmick, a way to make a quick buck and one that would just become another piece of craft beer history. In fact, as he notes in his new book Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah: How it took 13 years, Extreme Jewish Brewing, and Circus Sideshow Freaks to make Shmaltz Brewing an International Success ( Cowan admits that the whole thing started as a joke with friends.


Soon however, Cowan realized that he could have a legitimate business and was not content to be just another fad or a joke label (although the bottle artwork and tongue-in-cheek phrasing helped propel that mantle) and backed up the product with quality made beer.


In a rapidly growing craft beer market with more choices than ever before, people were slow to respond to Cowan’s “Chosen Beer” and seven years after that first delivery, the young entrepreneur had lost tens of thousands of family and friends capitol investment funds and despite some beer name recognition was about to find his business become a brewery causality.

Cowan pressed on, sold his beer in New York by going shop to shop, bar to bar and eventually gained more and more traction and was able to turn the whole thing around.

Shmaltz now has seven full-time employees. The beers are made at the Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. in upstate New York and Cowan said they will likely produce about 7,200 barrels by the end of 2010. His beers are available throughout the country.


“I am proud of what we have accomplished,” he said in a recent telephone call from New Orleans where he was between sales calls and a promotional appearance.


There is no rest for the weary, however. In recent years Cowan has expanded his offerings beyond the torah and yarmulke and into the arena of weird, the circle of strange, the world of carnival sideshows.


Coney Island Craft Lagers launched a few years ago and now has three regular offerings, including the Sword Swallower Steel Hop Lager, and two seasonal brews. Proceeds from the sales benefit a non-profit corporation looking to rehab the Brooklyn seaside attraction.


Coney Island also became home this past summer to a 1/8 barrel brew house operated by Cowan and designed to be a side show much like its neighbors the Bearded Lady and Human Blockhead.


“It’s really a non-profit arts project,” said Cowan. “The idea is to show people how beer is made and to get creative with what we make.” This included the creation of a funnel cake beer and candy apple ale. The small brewery will return to Coney Island again in the summer of 2011.


In September Cowan continued his lucky streak and received further validation that his brewery was coming into focus when he took home a silver medal for the He’Brew RIPA on Rye in the wood and barrel-aged category beating out 75 other brews.


He joked that what he really needs after the last year is a nap. The reality is that the brewery is pressing forward with Cowan revealing that Shmaltz will establish a permanent barrel aging program with three specialty releases planned for 2011.


“We are going to focus on what we do every day and throw in some fun along the way,” he said.




It’s a beer with a lot of heart. Literally.

(This Article Appeared in the Dec. 2010/Jan. 2011 edition of the Ale Street News)


Celebrated chef David Burke has combined forces with the Boston Beer Co., makers of Samuel Adams, to create a limited release ale that is really unlike anything else on the market.


“I first wanted to make a beer with barbeque sauce,” said Burke in a recent phone interview. “Then we thought about oxtail in the beer. Then we moved over to the idea of beef hearts. They are leaner and bloodier. We wanted that meaty bloody note.”


Vegetarians beware.

David Burke, Jim Koch and some grilled beef hearts


Burke grilled the beef hearts with a little bit of rosemary, giving them a slight caramelization that added some depth to the flavor before adding them to the brew kettle. Because it was going to be released in the colder months Burke said they added ginger, cinnamon cloves and molasses, spices commonly found in Christmas cookies to give the beef a twist.


The end result draws a variety of curious responses from those who taste it. The ginger and spice comes on strong in the nose and with a medium mouth feel drinks smooth with the beef hearts coming on in the finish, almost like a butcher shop but not in an unpleasant way.


Burke is known in the culinary world for his inventive streak and groundbreaking cooking techniques. His restaurants and recipes are lauded by gourmands and fellow chefs and this ale has certainly helped bring craft beer to the attention of his patrons, who, he said, usually prefer wine with dinner.


The ale, known as Burke in the Bottle is currently only available at Burke’s restaurants in New York and New Jersey in 12oz bottles.


“Honestly, I was surprised at how good it was,” said Burke,” and people seem to like it too.”




Zinburger: Not your average burger joint

It seems that across the Garden State a new burger joint opens each week. Places like Five Guys and Smashburger offer tempting patties piled high with fresh toppings and served with sides of thick crispy fries. Places that are good for a quick fix of an American classic.

Now there is a new player on the burger scene and they have upped the ante. Zinburger is not your typical burger place. Inventive toppings and sauces tempt diners with delicious choices. They also serve and promote wine, a sign that Zinburger is trying to elevate how people view a food that is typically considered casual.


Read the full story on New Jersey Newsroom here.



The Story Behind Infinium

(This article first appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of the Ale Street News)




When the call came through to Jim Koch’s Boston office about three years ago he thought the person on the other end of the line was making a joke. The caller identified himself as Dr. Josef Schrädler, managing director of Germany’s famed and historic Weihenstephan Brewery. The thick German accent sounded authentic and the brewing terms were accurate. But, what this caller was proposing was so far removed from anything that had been done before that Koch was convinced it couldn’t be real.


The man on the other end of the line proposed that the two breweries collaborate on a beer.


Collaborations have become common in the brewing world, often bringing together breweries with different philosophies and strengths together to create a special, one time brew. However, for Weihenstephan, which dates back to the year 1040 and is firmly rooted in the old-world of brewing to reach out to an American brewery that is barely 26-years-old was something unheard of.


However, the call was legitimate and soon after Koch, the founder and brewer of Boston Beer, which makes the Samuel Adams lines of beers was at the historic Weihenstephan brewery located in the Bavarian city of Freising. Neither side, said Koch, was content on making just another collaboration beer, not content to just tweak an existing style.


No, Koch said they wanted to create something completely new and do it under the constraints of the Reinheitsgebot or German Purity Law, which states that beer is to be made with just four ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast.


The vision, said Koch, was to make a Champagne-like beer.



So the two sides set to work. Weihenstephan, which has perfected the brewing process and employs some of the finest and most accomplished brewers and scientists in the business and Boston Beer, which routinely updates classic styles and isn’t afraid to take risks found a harmonious middle ground.


They named the beer Infinium. Packaged in cork-finished, foil topped 750ml bottles, it will be available beginning in December for a limited time. The beer is very dry with a bit of sweetness that belies its 10.3% alcohol by volume. It retails for about $20 a bottle and the breweries suggest serving it in a traditional Champagne flute.


Infinium, said Koch, challenges the very perception of beer in a very different way.


“This beer is truly a marriage of the German brewing heritage that our brewery has upheld for almost a thousand years, combined with new, innovative brewing techniques that take beer beyond what anyone expected to be possible under the constraints of the purity law,” said Dr. Schrädler in a statement.


How exactly the brewers were able to make a new style of beer while staying true to the Reinheitsgebot remains proprietary knowledge, said a Boston Beer spokeswoman who noted the breweries had applied for patents to trademark the process.


“We deconstructed the brewing process and put it together in a new way,” Koch said in an interview earlier this year while the beer was still being perfected and tweaked. “We need to patent the brewing method that creates the style. You can’t get there with out the brewing techniques that we developed.”


The beer was made in both the United States and in Germany, giving Infinium a global reach. Here in the US, Boston Beer contracted a winery in upstate New York to clarify and bottle the champagne-like brew.


Koch has admitted that it took longer than anticipated to get Infinium to the people, but in recent interviews and appearances has beamed like a proud father when talking about the collaboration.


When the partnership was announced a few years back, the breweries said they would likely do a trio of beer but there are no official plans in place for creating and releasing the remaining two.


For now, Boston Beer and Weihenstephan will give Infinium a chance to make its mark.


“We are all excited to finally share Infinium with drinkers this holiday season,” said Koch.





Talking Craftbeer on the Radio

Over the last several months, I’ve been fortunate to get to know and spend time with one of New York City’s great beer men, Jimmy Carbone.

Owner of Jimmy’s no. 43, creator and advocate of the Good Beer Seal and all around raconteur,  Jimmy is also the host of Beer Session’s Radio on the Heritage Network. A while back, I was invited to appear on the show and gladly accepted.

On Dec. 7 I had my chance to hit the airwaves and spent one of the most enjoyable hours talking beer with Jimmy and Ray Deter (Owner of d.b.a.).

Also on the panel was Warren Monteiro, who writes the beer sansei  column for Ale Street News and Jeremy Cowan the proprietor of Shmaltz Brewing.

You can listen to the broadcast here

Among other things, we talked about how the Indiana Breweries book came into existence and I floundered when asked about a beer and food pairing.

The hour flew by and I hope I have a chance to do it again.

If you’re not a fan of the program, give it a listen. You will be.

John Holl chatting it up on Beer Sessions Radio


Give the Gift of NJ #Craftbeer

For the beer lover there is an endless supply of gift ideas that crop up around this time of year. Glassware, bottle openers, books, apparel and even beer itself are all great ideas.  There are homebrew kits and instructional DVDs that can bring hours of enjoyment.


The New Jersey Beer Co. has gotten a little creative with its holiday offerings and is selling memberships to its Reserve Club, an exclusive group that is eligible for insider benefits and the opportunity to brew on NJBC’s 10-barrel system.


The first 200 people to sign up for the $100 memberships will receive a second year in the club at no additional cost. Members will receive a growler of each of the brewery’s four seasonal beers before they go on sale to the public as well as a first chance to sample and purchase small-batch special releases.  A brewery t-shirt and 20% off all merchandise from the brewery store for the duration of membership is also included.


Steinberg plans to hold several members-only events at the North Bergen, NJ brewery and regular opportunities to brew alongside the New Jersey Beer Co. staff, something many home brewers will appreciate.


“We want to give people a chance to experience the brewery in a deeper way,” said Matt Steinberg, the brewery president. “This is more than the standard tour and tastings we currently offer, it’s really a chance to be part of the brewery family and connect with like-minded people.”


Memberships to the Reserve Club are available at or by contacting Steinberg via email at


(This article appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 Issue of the Ale Street News)