Joe Sixpack: Room at the inn for Shmaltz Brewing

The Shmaltz -Turducken poster, in commemoration of this year's conjoined Thanksgiving and Hanukkah holidays.
The Shmaltz -Turducken poster, in commemoration of this year's conjoined Thanksgiving and Hanukkah holidays.
Posted: November 22, 2013

LOOKS LIKE Jeremy Cowan and the rest of the team at Shmaltz Brewing are dipping into their own stash again.

America's least orthodox Jewish brewery is marking the convergence next week of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving with a fairly weird image of an "intergalactic turducken mothership" and a monster edition of its annual holiday ale, this year called Jewbelation Reborn.

The latke-eating turducken is powered by a menorah of nine flame-spouting beer bottles. The beer is powered by 17 varieties of malt and 17 types of hops, launching you into the far reaches of the galaxy with a stunning alcohol content of 17 percent.

Yes, it's all fun nonsense - perhaps the product of too many after-hours sessions with the brewery's high-octane brands. But that's exactly what we've come to expect from Shmaltz.

This is, after all, a brewery that declares that its He'Brew ("The Chosen Beer") is "perfect for bar mitzvahs, weddings and circumcisions." Its website carries an endorsement from God himself: "Christ, that's good beer!"

The rare dual holidays are fertile turf for Cowan's engaging, offbeat humor. When I asked him if it was easier to sell his holiday beer in November than December, when it goes up against all those Christmas beers, he replied, "Are you kidding? If you thought it was tough to get shelf space at Christmastime, try finding shelf space during Thanksgiving, when grocery stores are selling all those turkeys!"

But Cowan's beer has a little more going for it this holiday season.

Until last summer, the company was mostly just a name without a physical plant - no kettles or bottling lines, no trucks or brewery workers. All of the company's products - including its He'Brew and Coney Island brands - were "contract-brewed" at facilities owned by other companies.

"Basically, we were a laptop and a cellphone," Cowan said.

Contract brewers often get a bad rap from others in the industry because they're regarded as interlopers without skin in the game. That never bothered Cowan because, he said, "I have a unique brand. . . . But you reach the point where you're risking 100 percent of your eggs in somebody else's basket. It came to a point of wanting to protect 17 years of hard work. . . . It became obvious that this became the right direction to grow."

Room with a brew

This summer, after 17 years, Cowan took out a mortgage, hired staff and moved into a brewery of his very own, in New York's Saratoga County. The company announced its "rebirth" with typical irreverence, releasing a commemorative black India pale ale called Death of a Contract Brewer.

This year's version of Jewbelation continues the theme by declaring it has been "reborn" as "proof of our conversion to a new life as a brewery owner."

In typical He'Brew fashion, the label obsesses with the numerology behind its anniversary. Seventeen is the number of syllables in a haiku and the number of Shakespearean comedies, it notes. In TV's "The Office," Dwight recited Rule 17, which all Schrute boys must learn: "Don't turn your back on bears, men you have wronged or the dominant turkey during mating season."

Yes, there's a lot of shtick at Shmaltz, but don't let that fool you. The beer is mighty ta'im (that's "delicious") and certainly worthy of a toast on this Thanksgivukkah.

The beer is the creation of Paul McErlean, who was the brewmaster at Olde Saratoga Brewing, where He'Brew was previously made. He moved to Shmaltz when it opened its own facility in nearby Clifton Park, N.Y.

The 17 percenters

A closer look at the 17 malts in Jewbelation Reborn offers some insight on how brewers develop complex flavors in strong beer. The grain bill includes:

_ Two-row barley: The standard base malt for most craft beer.

_ Vienna, Munich and roasted barley: All are lightly toasted for both flavor and aroma.

_ Chocolate: Very dark roasted with bittersweet flavor.

_ Rye: Somewhat uncommon, provides spicy notes.

_ Wheat, roasted wheat, spelt, einkorn and emmer: These wheat varieties' proteins provide a full body.

_ Crystal rye, dark crystal, Cara-Munich 40 and Cara-Pilsner: Crystalline and caramelized sugars for added sweetness.

_ Flaked oats: Like instant oatmeal, mainly for body.

_ Kiln amber: Lightly roasted for a biscuit flavor.

As for the bitter stuff, the hops are a mix of Old World (Golding, Tettnang, Czech Saaz), the Three C's (Cascade, Centennial and Columbus), and newly introduced varieties (Crystal, Simcoe, Amarillo, Ahtanum, Citra, Summit, Chinook, Warrior, Apollo, Palisade and Santiam).


"Joe Sixpack" is by Don Russell, director of Philly Beer Week. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at www.joesixpack.net. Email: joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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