Jewish World Review Feb. 9, 2000 / 3 Adar I, 5760


Stewart Ain

Brews for Jews --- and others


Quality and interest rising in the Chosen Beer, owner says


THREE YEARS after America’s so-called first Jewish beer hit store shelves, its owner says the venture is chugging along nicely. The taste is what Jeremy Cowan, an avid beer drinker and former bartender in New Orleans, always had in mind. And businesswise, He’brew, the Chosen Beer is “just about breaking even,” he said.

“And we’re getting a lot of interest,” he adds.

Cowan, 30, calls his company the Shmaltz Brewing Company, which he says is “dedicated to crafting quality beer and quality shtick for the Jewish community and beyond.” He says his is a “fun, funky product.”

He’brew first hit store shelves in December 1996, when Cowan managed to produce 100 cases (a dozen 22-ounce bottles to a case). He sold them all in just five stores in San Francisco. The following year, he increased his production and sold 1,700 cases. That figured climbed to 5,000 in 1998.

Econophone Cowan said he hoped to double sales in ’99 with distribution elsewhere in the country, including New York. It is sold in Fairway grocery stores, Gourmet Garage and the Knitting Factory — for about $4 a bottle — as well as at selected restaurants and bars.

The idea for the beer was sparked by a joke while he was playing high school volleyball in the Bay Area south of San Francisco.

“One of my Jewish friends on the team said Jews don’t have a beer we can call our own,” Cowan recalled. “We decided we could call it He’brew and that its tagline would be, ‘Don’t Pass Out, Passover.’ ”

It remained a joke for the next 10 years until he mentioned it to Jan and Bob Ginsberg, the parents of his wife-to-be, Tracy.

“They said, ‘If it tasted good, everybody would drink it. It’s a great name and there is nothing else like it,’ ” said Cowan. “Five months later, we had a product on the shelves.”

Cowan knew what he wanted his beer to taste like. He came up with a recipe and hired a local brewery to produce 100 cases according to his specifications.

Tracy used her skills as an artist to draw the label — a man sporting a beard and payes raising bottles of beer in each hand. With $2,000 in savings, Cowan bought the first batch of beer, as well as the labels and packaging, which the brewery applied. And with the help of some friends, he stocked store shelves with it.

The next year, Cowan switched breweries to one that he said is of the highest quality. And his beer, he noted, is now exactly what he was striving for.

Trakdata “In brewing tradition, an all-malts beer is considered the highest quality,” he said. “Hops are the spices that are added to give it flavor, and we use three kinds in the tradition of West Coast brewing.

Cowan says he has created a rich, flavorful, smooth and clean beer.

“Many beers are bitter and pasty. This one is slightly sweet and well balanced. It is clean, so there is no aftertaste,” he said. “Women like it, too, because it is not bitter. Beer drinkers will appreciate its quality.”

Although beer, like water, does not need kosher certification, Cowan said he obtained it anyway.

“Given the state of industry today, with producers making lots of things, I thought it was a good thing to have,” he said. “It couldn’t hurt. I wanted to make a beer for the Jewish community and so I wanted them to feel confident in it.”

He said he contacted the Orthodox Union, whose products carry the OU symbol, and was referred to Kosher Supervision of America, which agreed to provide the supervision.

“Seventy-five percent of the Jewish community lives in 10 major cities and I want to focus on them,” Cowan said. “But the beer also has some cross-over appeal. It’s not just Jews who go to delis or who watched ‘Seinfeld.’ ”

A Stanford graduate who majored in English, he did some desktop publishing, worked as a paralegal and was a volunteer for arts organizations. Cowan also spent five months studying in Israel and picked up some business skills working in San Francisco for a company that created audio tours for museums. But that didn’t prepare him for this venture.

“I did not understand how much money it took to do sales promotion, marketing, public relations and administrative work just to introduce a new product,” Cowan said, adding that he has borrowed money from friends to keep the company going.

Cowan said he believes there are a potential 1 million Jews who might try his beer and that if everyone bought even one bottle, “I’d be OK.”

His Web site (www.shmaltz.com) features a thank-you page to his family for their help. There are pictures of Tracy (they were married a few months ago), his in-laws, and his mom, Michael, who he thanks for her “delivery and support.”

“A fun part of this [enterprise] is beating up stereotypes,” said Cowan, referring to the notion that “gentiles drink and Jews eat.”


Stewart Ain is a staff writer of the New York Jewish Week. Comment on this article by clicking here.


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