18 Dec It’s a Holiday Season Miracle: Shmaltz Brewing Undergoes a Re-Genesis
Last November the Shmaltz Brewing Company, with its He’Brew line of beers, announced that it was closing. Owner Jeremy Cowan had led the company for 25 years, and now he explained that he needed to spend more time with his other companies (a couple of other breweries and a lot of consulting), so it was time to put out a final beer – Exodus Barleywine – and to close the doors.
Jeremy Cowan had been involved in beer for decades, as the owner of several breweries, as the co-founder and first president of the New York City Brewers Guild, and author of the book, “Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah.” He serves as a consultant for ProBrewer.com, Atmosphere TV, as well as others, so he had the experience to know when it was time to go. He didn’t even hint at a way that Shmaltz could make a comeback.
Well, the way for it to happen has come about. On The Jewish Drinking Show (podcast link here) in November, Cowan explained that he would entertain selling the brand/brewery to the right Jewish couple of entrepreneur, but he hadn’t seen what was coming down the pike – a rabbinical student from New York with an idea to revive Shmaltz as a way of joining together the Jewish religious community, the Jewish social community, and the social community at large.
Jesse Epstein, a 3rd year student at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in NYC (also has campuses in Cincinnati and Los Angeles), was born the same year as Shmaltz Brewing itself. Now, at the same time as his double Bar Mitzvah (he turned 26 last month), Epstein has completed a deal with Cowan to restore Shmaltz Brewing and He’Brew – the Chosen Beer. Epstein had reached out to Cowan via email when he heard the brewery was closing, and after a couple of meetings and phone calls, the deal was sealed in November of 2022. Cowan retains a 10% share of the business and will serve as a consultant for the new Shmaltz.
Cowan said he was drawn to Epstein because of his vision for the brewery, the way he conducted his life up to this point, and the idea of turning Shmaltz into a connection between the synagogue and the community. Cowan stated that he had originally started Shmaltz as an arts and cultural organization, but found out soon that he needed a way to make money, so he turned the brand into a brewery. Now, Epstein has a chance to merge Cowan’s original idea with the brewery he turned to in order to be solvent.
Jesse was a student at Skidmore College in Troy, NY when he became aware of Shmaltz and He’Brew which was located in nearby Clifton Park and of their taproom in Troy. He was so taken with the idea of a Jewish beer brand and craft beer in general that he started homebrewing when he moved back to NYC for rabbinical school, and he kept up with the happenings at Shmaltz.
In a story in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, by Andrew Lapin (link here), Epstein explained that his goal for Shamltz is to, “use beer as a vehicle for rethinking the idea of a synagogue, and of Jewish communal gathering spaces.” He added, ““How, through beer, can we embrace the values of welcoming in the stranger, freeing the captive, opening the eyes of the blind?”
While the shtick of interesting beer names and visuals was a big part of the original Shmaltz, Epstein wants Jewish practice and ritual to play just as big a role as fun with the new iteration of the company. To accomplish this, Shmaltz will launch the re-genesis with a series of pop-up events working with several Jewish groups. Author Lapin stated, “At these gatherings, Epstein says, attendees will do the kinds of activities they might normally come to synagogue for: ‘Build community, do justice, look at a text, but over a pint of beer.’ He sees Shmaltz as a peer of Jewish young-adult gathering projects such as Moishe House, OneTable and Base. But he says it will rely on a for-profit business model rather than institutional Jewish support.”
This new vision of Shmaltz will not start with distribution and big sales, as was the pattern for He’Brew before the sale (I used to love the release of Jewbilation each year). Working with an all-volunteer staff to begin with, it is envisioned that perhaps a deli/brewpub will be in the works as a Jewish/beer space, yet another way to merge the two worlds. At the pop-up events and for the near future, Epstein will be using existing inventory from Cowan’s Shmaltz Brewing, and then will turn to production of new beers. Look for a Purim-inspired beer, and beers linked to weekly Torah readings.
While this might not be your father’s (OK, your older brother’s) Shmaltz Brewing, this new version is exactly what craft beer is all about. Using beer to bring people together, break down barriers and foster discussion is the craft industry at its best. Keep up to date with the progress of the brewery, even if we can’t get the new beer easily here, and support the ideas that the Shmaltz represents.