Review of CBBM on

Many thanks to writer, Bryan Carey, for this fantastic review of Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah on!

Everyone has a career dream. For some, it involves achieving the educational attainment necessary to enter a specific field. For others, it involves the independence that comes with business ownership. If the independence of a sole proprietorship is selected, the path from idea to success can be a rocky one and nowhere is this truer than with the business ofbeer. Opening up a brewery is no easy feat, yet there seems to be no shortage of individuals ready to cash in their life savings, purchase a few fermentation tanks, hire some help, and hope for the best. One man with a brewing plan of sorts is Jeremy Cowan, founder of Shmaltz Brewing Company and he shares his series of growing pains in his business biography, Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah: How it Took 13 Years, Extreme Jewish Brewing, and Circus Sideshow Freaks to Make Shmaltz Brewing Company an International Success. Let’s take a look:

In the Beginning:

Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah is 332 pages of business and personal history of Cowan’s unorthodox attempt to launch his own brand of beer. The book opens with Cowan sharing some background information on his early years, his family, his educational pursuits, and his ultimate decision to enter the business of beer. Cowan was raised Jewish and in tongue-in-cheek fashion, he decides to name is new product “He’Brew” with the tagline, “The Chosen Beer.” He then set off on a business adventure that would consume him for the next decade and beyond.

Finding the necessary capital to operate a brewery can be very difficult and Cowan shares his financial struggles with the reader throughout most of the book. But money wasn’t the only problem- Cowan also had issues with copyrights, label approval, government officials, contractors, and most everything else. At several points, Cowan was forced to turn to his personal credit cards and any other means available to pay expenses and suppliers. And he was constantly challenged by others who tried to infringe on his brand name and tagline, even though he fully admits that he took far too long to jump the necessary legal hurdles.

Cowan Sees the Light:

Shmaltz Brewing was a constant struggle for Cowan in the early days, but the business did score a major breakthrough with the launching of a new lineup of beers tailor- made for the American East Coast. Shmaltz Brewing already had a foothold on the west coast with its Jewish- themed beer, so it made sense to expand to the other side of the continent. The move to the East Coast was partly inspired by the fact that the New York area had very few craft breweries and therefore seemed ripe for some creative expansion. New York already has a large Jewish population that would hopefully be receptive to the He’Brew line of beer, but Cowan felt a new direction was needed and, borrowing on the Coney Island theme and name, he created a new lineup of lagers based on the Coney Island theme park and its many attractions. His business finally appeared to be going places and just a little more work would put it over the top and into the black for the first time.

And it Was Good!:

Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah is a fun, perplexing, and yet inspiring book about one man who set out to make it big in the business of beer and finally succeeded. A real trip (in more ways than one), Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah is a book about perseverance and, in many ways, how not to plan and execute when starting a new company.

Jeremy Cowan’s success story is like few others in the beer business or any business. I have sampled beer from the Coney Island and He’Brew product lines and found them interesting for many reasons. Not only did they offer quality taste, but they featured eye- catching artwork on the Coney Island bottles and, of course, the humorous name and tagline on the He’Brew product line. They have a certain eccentric personality and when I learned that the guy behind this beer had written a business biography, I was anxious to grab a copy. If the man behind the beer was even half as intriguing as the beer itself, I knew the story would have to be one worth reading.

And worth reading it most certainly is! Craft beer Bar Mitzvah is an intriguing read that is every bit as interesting as the beer its founder helped create, and even more so. Here, you have a guy with an interesting idea for a brand of beer and a desire to make it work, but without any real direction on what to do or how to make the plan reality. Jeremy Cowan certainly had a love for fine malt beverages as well as a creative mind, but he had no real guidance on how to put a business plan into action. He did receive positive words of praise from many individuals who tried his beer and liked both its flavor and its amusing titles, all borrowing on the Jewish religion and theme. But Cowan had no practical business experience or prior experience brewing beer- not even on a home brewing level. His education on starting a company and establishing a brand are truly based on the school of hard knocks. He stumbled and fell down many times, with more bruises than most budding businessmen would be able to bear. But each time, he licked his wounds, pulled himself together, and continued on his pursuit.

Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah is all about running a brewing operation, but it isn’t like other business books on the same subject. The reason is because Jeremy Cowan is actually a contract brewer, which means he contracts other breweries to brew the product while he handles most of the marketing and CEO- type duties. Cowan openly admits that he isn’t really interested in brewing beer. His interest lies more along the lines of tasting, creating, and marketing. This stands in contrast to other beer success stories, which often involve an individual who started from the ground up first as a home brewer, then as a worker inside a brewery, then finally as an independent business person. Cowan has bypassed all of that, preferring instead to dedicate his time to promoting the brand and drinking it whenever possible.

Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah has many memorable moments and surprises. Cowan speaks openly and honestly about his own excesses with drinking; his recreational use of drugs; his failed marriage; and his issues with money. He even includes a snapshot of an actual Social Security earnings statement/summary he received, showing his lopsided earnings history over the years. He has some years where he made nothing at all and he admits feeling discouraged and frustrated more times than he can count. But in spite of the setbacks, the disagreements, the legal challenges, and the lack of cash flow, he continues to move forward with his plan, or lack thereof.

This book discusses what should be a serious subject, but it is actually very lightened up and loaded with great humor throughout. Readers will laugh out loud as they listen to Cowan’s describe his struggles with government officials to approve the wording on his labels (like his slogan, “Don’t Pass Out, Passover”), read some of Cowan’s selections for beer names, and ponder over the exhaustive appendix listing of the more than 600 laws taken from the Old Testament Torah. The fun and suspense never seem to stop and as you read, you wonder what misadventure, what problem, or what obstacle will take place next. Will Cowan finally achieve his dream of a successful beer brand or will he cave in to pressure and fold the business? Even if you have already sampled Shmaltz beer and know it is still around, the book’s good humor and unpredictability keep you turning the pages. Journalist James Sullivan co- wrote the book and he is undoubtedly responsible for some of its memorable moments of journalistic creativity, but none of that would be possible without the real- life humor supplied by Jeremy Cowan and his unorthodox approach to business and life.

My Bottom Line:

Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah is a memorable read. Certainly proof of Murphy’s Law, this is a book about business by direct experience; reaction instead of pro- action, learning by default, and success through stubborn perseverance. The antithesis of the typical business book, it’s a very good essay about business success and how not to go from point “A” to point “B” while still making everything work in the end. As Jeremy would say, it’s all about the schtick and the love of great craft beer. That, along with the entertaining writing and the endless humorous anecdotes makes Craft beer Bar Mitzvah one of the best books on this difficult but often rewarding business.

Craft Brews and Schmooze with the Jewish Federation of Delaware

On Wednesday, December 5, 2012 the Jewish Federation of Delaware presents Craft Brews & Schmooze: a Business Networking Event Featuring Jeremy Cowan. Attendees will have an opportunity to network with area business professionals, sample a variety of He’Brew beers and learn how Jeremy turned Shmaltz Brewing Company into a craft beer success story from Jeremy himself!

Craft Brews & Schmooze is open to anyone making a tax-deductible donation of $180 to the 2013 JFD Annual Campaign, payable by December 31, 2013 (more than a year away!).

Cost: $20 includes appetizers, beer tasting, and commemorative souvenir

Register online at

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.”

Matteo’s Public in Nevada City, CA!

Hello Beer and Book Geeks! 

Sending well wishes and hopes that your 2012 is starting out as the best one yet!

If you are in the Northern California area, please join us in Nevada City for some great wit and tasty beer on January 18th. Jeremy will be doing a book reading and beer tasting at Matteo’s Pub.

You won’t want to miss this gathering if you… like beer… lit a menorah last month… or just like to laugh. I’m guessing that means all of you.
Wednesday, January 18th @ 6pm
Hosted by: Matteo’s, Harmony Books, Tom McCormick & Kim Milligan

Gift books soaked in beer: A guide to what to get your favorite craft beer lover for the holidays

By Josh Noel, Tribune Newspapers

December 21, 2011

Should you be unclear what to get your favorite craft beer lover for the holidays, I have a suggestion, and no, it’s not beer: a book about beer. An impressive number of books about the world’s most wonderful beverage have come out in recent months and would make ideal holiday gifts. Here are a few possibilities.

“Brewed Awakening: Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the World’s Craft Brewing Revolution,” by Joshua M. Bernstein The best-looking and most fun to read on this list, it’s a how-to guide for the beginning hipster beer nerd. Extra cool points for the book jacket, which unfolds into a beer map of sorts that shows the relationship among various styles and offers suggestions for the best of each. $24.95

“Chicago by the Pint: A Craft Beer History of the Windy City,” by Denese Neu If interested in Chicago’s beer history long before Daisy Cutter, this is the book for you. Each chapter begins with a brief synopsis of a present-day brewery, followed by a passage about our city’s brewing history — all the way down to the city’s first commercial brewery, Lill and Diversey Brewery, which opened “about 1841.” $19.99

“Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah: How it Took 13 Years, Extreme Jewish Brewing and Circus Sideshow Freaks to Make Shmaltz Brewing Company an International Success,” by Jeremy Cowan with James Sullivan Cowan, founder and owner of He’Brew and Coney Island beers, writes an interesting and breezy autobiographical account of breaking into the beer world. Heavy on both beer and Judaism, it makes for — needless to say — a killer Hanukkah present, especially when paired with a six-pack of He’Brew. $25

Brooks on Beer: Gifts for Beer Lovers

For the San Jose Mercury News
By Jay R. Brooks

With the holidays fast approaching, there probably is at least one beer lover on your gift list. It may be tempting to pick up a ready-made beer gift pack — a “Beers of the World” approach — but it’s been my experience that the more passionate the beer lover, the  harder it is to actually buy beer for him or her. No matter what you choose, they’ve probably had it before.  (Samuel Adams’ 2011 holiday beer sampler may be an exception. The gift set includes their tasty Chocolate Bock, brewed with Ecuadorean cocoa nibs from San Francisco chocolatier TCHO.)

Still, that’s the nature of beer geekdom: We’re always looking for something new to try. So here are a few nondrinkable gift suggestions for the beer lover in your life.

Beer books
We’re in a golden age of beer books, with dozens of new titles published every year. But the most eagerly anticipated beer book of the year is the “Oxford Companion to Beer” (Oxford University Press, $60, 960 pages). It was edited by Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garret Oliver, and written by more than 165 experts in a variety of beer-related fields. It’s a hefty tome that’s easy to get lost in, but it’s also perfect for browsing. Open it to any page, and you’ll find something interesting to read. (I may be slightly biased, because I contributed about two dozen of the more than 1,000 entries.)

For the casual beer fan, try “Brewed Awakening” (Sterling Epicure, $24.95, 304 pages) by New York writer Joshua M. Bernstein. His book is jam-packed with fun facts, suggested brews and a thorough overview of today’s beer scene. It’s such fun to read you won’t realize you’re learning about history too.

Aspiring brewers will enjoy “The Brewers Apprentice” (Quarry Books, $24.99, 192 pages) by Greg Koch and Matt Allyn. It’s really a series of interviews with some of the world’s leading brewers on their craft. Over the course of the book, you, too, learn to brew beer. Interviewees include Bay Area brewer Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River, Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman and Eel River’s Ted Vivatson.

If biographies are your thing, you can’t go wrong with “The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.” (Ten Speed Press, $25, 208 pages), which details not only the story of San Diego’s Stone Brewing by its founders, Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, but also includes back stories
and recipes for home brews and even the food served at their World Bistro.

For a more irreverent take, try “Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah” (Malt Shop Publishing, $16.99, 368 pages) by San Francisco native Jeremy Cowan, who tells the tale of Shmaltz Brewing, makers of He’Brew, the Chosen Beer. The subtitle alone will give you some idea of the wild ride you’re in for: “How It Took 13 Years, Extreme Jewish Brewing, and Circus Sideshow Freaks to Make Shmaltz Brewing an International Success.”

History buffs will dive into “America Walks Into a Bar” (Oxford University Press, $24.95, 336 pages) by Christine Sismondo. It’s a journey through the nation’s earliest taverns, the speak-easy era and today’s modern bar scene.

But my favorite book of the year is Joe Sixpack’s “What the Hell Am I Drinking?” (CreateSpace, $11.95, 198 pages). Joe Sixpack is the nom de plume of Philadelphia beer writer Don Russell, and his little book tells the stories and history of 50 different types of beer, along with a checklist of examples of each style. No matter how much you think you know about beer, you’ll learn something new and surprising from Russell’s latest. (Check it out at

Beer gadgets

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a few stocking stuffers and these bottle openers are for a great cause. Called “Beers Not Bombs,” they’re made from “Peace Bronze,” a bronze alloy made from disarmed nuclear missile silos. There are four models, each $14.95, and a portion of the proceeds goes to Doctors Without Borders and thegrass-roots International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Check out the full line at

The other must-have is the new Lagunitas Butterfly Beer Opener ($15). Head over to and watch the video of how to master it, and you’ll quickly see why you need one of these openers, too, whether for yourself or as a gift — or both.
Malty Christmas and a Hoppy New Year!

Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah in Esquire Magazine!

The New Beer Bibles a Man Should Read

by Evan S. Benn
November 9, 2011

Funny thing about being a beer writer: I receive more books about beer than actual beer. The majority of them — the ones that open with “the differences between ales and lagers” — are a bore. Lucky for me, then, that three recent releases are anything but. If you’re looking to give something to yourself or the beer-lover in your life this holiday season, you might want to consider picking one of these up. After all, a book about beer is the next-best thing to beer. Trust me, I know.

The major release of the year is the highly-anticipated The Oxford Companion to Beer (Oxford University Press, $65). Big both in size (a whopping 960 pages, or four pounds) and in concept, the OCB is the result of years of research by editor Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, and his team of 166 contributors from every corner of the ale world. Even Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio drops in with a food-focused foreword. The encyclopedic chapters include everything from history (there’s a seven-page entry on Germany) to personalities and styles. In other words, there’s a little bit for everyone, and it’s easy to drop in anywhere you want. How else would I have found out that in Japan, a man will often declare “Toriaezu biiru!” (“I’ll start with a beer!”) when he enters a bar? Yes, the price tag is steep (you can find it cheaper online), but the insight is worth it. And if you pick up a box set in person at Brooklyn Brewery, you even get — yes — a free beer.

Greg Koch isn’t shy about promoting craft beer, especially those dispensed by his own Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego. I mean, the man travels with a megaphone. Now he has a new way to evangelize: The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance (Ten Speed Press, $25). Koch teamed up with Stone co-founder Steve Wagner and spokesman Randy Clemens (who’s also author of The Sriracha Cookbook, where we found one of our favorite Michelada recipes) to create a tome that is equal parts brewery history, surprising food recipes incorporating Stone’s bottles (stir-fried Brussels sprouts?), and lessons in homebrewing. You’d want to be a Stone enthusiast already (you can pick up their pale ale many places), but then it’s just about perfect.

And anyone who’s ever held a bottle of He’Brew Beer or Coney Island Craft Lager knows something about enthusiasm. Jeremy Cowan runs his Shmaltz Brewing Co. with a fair amount of shtick, but, circus-sideshow labeling aside, it’s clear that Shmaltz owes at least part of its success to Cowan’s ability to not take himself too seriously, which is accounted for in Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah (Malt Shop Publishing, $16.99), a look at the brewery’s 13-year history. Chapter titles like “Pomegranates and Cocksuckers” are anything but conventional, but then again, neither are some of the best beers. Bar Mitzvah is another reminder of how weird — and wonderful — the industry can be. At the very least, it’s more interesting than most books about a business startup.

Evan S. Benn is the beer columnist for the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His Hip Hops column, blog, and beer app can be found at, and you can buy his new book here. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.