San Francisco Chronicle

Jeremy Cowan: Shmaltz Brewing chief writes memoir

by Louis Peitzman, Special to The Chronicle

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Beer and Judaism go together like – well, by all accounts they don’t. But although the Jewish religion may not have a rich history of brewing, Shmaltz Brewing founder Jeremy Cowan notes that the “Jews don’t drink beer” stereotype is way off the mark.

“As I’ve said for years, and as we know from experience,” he says, “the Jewish fraternity guys, like my father, probably drink just as much beer as the non-Jewish fraternities next door.”

With the release of his book “Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah: How It Took 13 Years, Extreme Jewish Brewing & Circus Sideshow Freaks to Make Shmaltz Brewing Co. an International Success,” Cowan tells the story of his brewing company’s humble Bay Area beginnings, and how Shmaltz Brewing grew.

Writing it all down was always part of the plan, but when Cowan founded his company in 1996, he wasn’t sure how far it would go.

“For many years when I was starting the business, and it was such a struggle to break even financially, I always thought that it would make a fantastic story,” he says, “even if it wasn’t a spectacular business.”

The impressive growth of Shmaltz Brewing – including two lines of beer, He’brew Beer and Coney Island Craft Lagers, as well as having sold more than 10 million bottles of beer to date – should serve as inspiration to anyone thinking about starting his or her own business. At the same time, “Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah” highlights the challenges Cowan and his employees have faced – not to mention the amount of work it takes to keep the company afloat.

“We really are living the dream,” Cowan says, but “we really do work incredibly hard for such small margins, no paid sick days and obsessive dreams about work.”

Although “Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah” is a memoir of sorts, it was important to Cowan that he leave the story unfinished. After all, this is far from the end of Shmaltz Brewing.

“The point of the book was to give a glimpse of a small business and an owner’s perspective while in the throes of the project,” Cowan says. “The reader at the end of the tale realizes that we are still in the middle of the story and are writing the adventure every day we stay in business.”

And while “Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah” does pair well with Shmaltz Brewing’s beers, Cowan says his book should also appeal to nondrinkers. It goes without saying, but being Jewish isn’t a requirement either.

“Anybody who has dreamt of or is obsessed by owning their own business, and anyone who gets a kick out of the challenges involved … should be able to appreciate the book,” Cowan says. “My goal from the beginning was to simply write a compelling story that would stand on its own as a meaningful work of writing.”

This article appeared on page G – 21 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Time Out New York: The Brewmaster’s Bookshelf

The Brewmaster’s Bookshelf

Boost your suds IQ with these standout tomes.
By Andrew Frisicano

For the aspiring entrepreneur…

Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah: How It Took 13 Years, Extreme Jewish Brewing, and Circus Sideshow Freaks to Make Shmaltz Brewing Company an International Success (Malt Shop, $16.99) By Jeremy Cowan with James Sullivan

Jeremy Cowan started the Shmaltz Brewing Company in 1996 with little more than the tongue-in-cheek name of his signature line, He’Brew. His story traces the evolution of Schmaltz from its humble beginnings in his San Francisco apartment to its current success with the He’Brew and Coney Island labels. It turns out to be an inspiring, if cautionary, tale, with detours into drug use, divorce and near bankruptcy. Cowan is an affable and irreverent storyteller, and while the beer knowledge dispensed is minimal, his mix of cheeky anecdotes and hard-earned business wisdom drives the narrative.
Beer wisdom:
“[Cowan’s business plan after five years:] I figured I’d get a one-way ticket to Bangkok and go at it from there.”